The E in Executive: Driving the BMW F30 330e iPerformance

The F30 sixth generation of the BMW 3 Series has been with us for a while now and we have seen it gone through a few iterations, evolving into what we believe to be the final editions of BMW’s much celebrated and much loved benchmark sports sedan.

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With BMW’s introduction of the iPerformance moniker across the its entire stable of cars, the 330e we have today was in fact, the first mode to be christened with the iPerformance designation.

With a number of specialist model names in the BMW range, it might get a little confusing for new-comers to the marque to understand all the various badges that now adorn the cars from Munich, so let us try to clue you in.

First off, there’s the core brand of BMW cars that serve as the basis for (almost) all BMWs. Then, there are the M-Sport cars which like the name they reference, are the core cars equipped with the highest trim levels as well as an assortment of M badges.

Then there are the M-Performance line of cars, which can be thought of as M-Lite cars that straddle the line between the cars from the core brand and the hardcore M-specific ultimate driving machines that have been fettled by BMW’s highly respected Motorsport Division.

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Thereafter, we come to BMW i, another sub-brand of BMW that came to fruition from BMW’s Project i initiative. “Project i” was a program created to develop lightweight eco-friendly urban electric car concepts designed to address mobility and sustainability needs, and the BMW i sub-brand was then created to market the vehicles produced under that project, the i3 and the i8.

This is where our 330e comes in. With the knowledge and experience gained from developing the “Project i” cars, BMW began introducing an electrified Plug-in hybrid variation for each of the core models across the entire range, and with that, iPerformance was born. Bridging the gap between high performance driving characteristics and emission concerns.

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With the local distributor no longer bringing in the petrol-only variant of the 330i or 340i, the 330e we have now sits at the top of the (non M-car) range but with only subtle badging and accents of iPerformance blue tints lightly dabbed on, few will be hard pressed to tell this apart from other 3s.

That said, with a body design void of trendy over-styled cut lines, this still remains a rather handsome car even after being around for over 6 years. Especially so in our test car’s shade of glacier silver. While it might not be as enchanting as it used to be, its clean and elegant design has kept it looking modern and relevant.

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Inside, much of the driver-focused cockpit remains the same except with the introduction of a new eDrive button sitting below the shifter, allowing you to toggle through the various hybrid assisted driving modes complimenting BMW’s Driving Experience Controls. Ergonomics are as usual, spot on, but visually, it can appear to be rather spartan for those looking for a bit more flash in their interiors. Hopefully BMW will introduce a little more design flair when the next 3 comes around.

Our test car came with Dakota leather but those wanting this natural hide in their car will have to check an additional option box as standard cars come with a synthetic trim BMW calls “Sensatec”.

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Now we come to what sets this car apart from all other 3s. The engine. With an electric motor now complimenting BMW’s already excellent and award winning 2-litre Twinpower Turbo unit, maximum power is now boosted to 252 horses with torque almost doubling to a fat 420Nm, propelling this little sedan to 100km/h in a 6.1 seconds. This combined power output is one of the reasons why we think our distributor has no longer decided to bring in the less powerful petrol-only 330i variant as it would make little financial sense in our local market to pay more for less. Economical efficiency perhaps?

Driving it through local traffic and cruising down our local highways was effortless and with the benefit of quiet electric power, drives back home after a day at work can be rather relaxing.

Which brings us to the various modes of the hybrid drive system, modes that can be toggled easily with a button on the center console.

In the default “Auto eDrive” setting, the car takes care of power management, allowing the combustion engine and electric motor to work in harmony to give you the best mileage possible while allowing for a pure electric drive up to 80km/h. Heavy throttle inputs will awaken the petrol engine for additional power when required and the transition feels almost seamless.

“Max eDrive” mode is rather self-explanatory, pure electric power only but range is dependant on how much charge you have left. BMW claims a range of 40km but is reality, we only managed around 20-25km.

The mode i used most was the “Save Battery” mode, which allows you to either hold the battery’s current charge level if its sitting above the 50% mark, or will charge the battery back up to the 50% level once it goes below that mark. This was the mode i used when commuting on the highways and upon exiting the highways i toggled into “Max eDrive” for the remaining journey home. While BMW has allowed us the option of toggling various drive modes, it would be nice if they added an additional eDrive button onto the steering wheel for much faster toggling between modes.

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As with all other 3’s in the range, the 330e also comes with BMW’s Driving Experience Control. These dynamic driving modes have also been altered to work in tandem with the eDrive system so don’t expect to run on pure electric power when you hit Sport mode.

Through a series of narrower and tighter roads, the 330e held its composure well but its more comfort biased damping does show through when pushing hard into the bends though it does so rather predictively. It would definitely benefit from BMW’s dynamic dampers but even without, the car remained fun to pilot through more challenging roads, especially with 450Nm of torque available on tap to energise through corner exits.

I guess the best way to describe how this car drives is that it feels quite like every other current 3. Which might sound rather unremarkable, but given that this car has an additional electric motor and battery to haul around (a weight penalty of over 250kgs), for it to feel as light on its feet and remain as energetic as its stablemates is a testament to how well balanced BMW have developed the car.

If there was one complaint we had about the car though, it was range. It never quite felt enough, but since this is more of a technological issue, we’re sure it’s something BMW will address in the near future. So while the BMW 330e lacked in EV range, it made up for that with an engaging chassis and excellent drivetrain.

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Currently priced slightly above S$270,000, the 330e tops the price list in the 3 series sedan range but it has quite a bit more (i)performance up its sleeves and with a S$10,000 CEVs rebate factored into the price, we think it might be worth taking a look.

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