Tom Crosby: The new 201 330e BMW sedan has touch of green

Tom Crosby

BMW went for a trifecta with the 2016 330e compact sedan – launching a robust five-seater performance vehicle combining electric plug-in with a hybrid vehicle operating on batteries and gasoline.

It’s an innovative combination that helps the German manufacturer get discounts for U.S. buyers because the 300e can travel without using its turbo-charged gasoline consumption engine, albeit for only a short distance (14 miles).

However, the 300e retains the driving thrill of its sibling 300 models. The BMW 3 series is one of the world’s best selling luxury sedans.

The 300e gets decent mileage using only gasoline (EPA average 31 mpg) and EPA rates 72 mpg (equivalent) using electricity and gasoline. (Our tester averaged 30 mpg on mostly high-speed Interstate travel).

For those who love green, the plug-in charges in two-hours (240V) and when charged keeps the lithium-ion high-voltage battery ready for economically aiding or teaming smoothly with the gasoline engine.

The 300e is pricey. Green costs. Our test drive had 14 options totaling $15,500, which is the base cost of some compact cars if all you want is to get from point A to point B.

But if you want adrenaline pumps along the way, the 330e complies with BMW’s marketing mantra “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”

Environmentalist or race car enthusiast, the 330e satisfies with five drive settings: ECO-PRO reducing fuel usage; COMFORT+ for the softest ride; COMFORT; SPORT and SPORT+.

Using steering wheel mounted manual paddles, SPORT+ generates jackrabbit starts, tightened sport suspension and tighter steering wheel along with appropriate exhaust growl. It’s behind-the-wheel pleasure addiction. The green-friendly eDrive button has three settings, AUTO, MAXe (electric only) and SAVE battery.

AUTO’s default setting occurs every startup, prioritizing electric mode. Accelerating or going over 50 mph, the combustion engine kicks in, seamlessly combining the torque of both drive systems.

The sport-oriented suspension system operates with 50-50 front/rear balance providing world-class handling.

An auto-start/stop saves fuel but sometimes jerks into action. The interior is classy and plush but visors aren’t extendable visors and knick-knack spaces few, as BMW focuses more on driving performance than driver ergonomics. BMW’s iDrive knob integrates an 8.4-inch dashboard screen offering encyclopedic-like information. Map and navigation detail are sharp, although voice-recognition is only average. The outside Series 3 profile remains attractive. Doors are designed to not swing back on shins when opened. A heads-up display helps measure speed.

LIKES: Handling, ride, luxurious interior, driving modes, lean to green

DISLIKES: Start/stop, price, non-extendable visors

BOTTOM LINE: Plug-in range will improve in future, a top hybrid now

2016 BMW 330e SEDAN

Base price plus destination fee $44,695 ($60,245 as tested)

Vehicle weight: 3,915 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.6 inches

Length: 182.4 inches

Width: 71.3 inches

Engine: 2.0-liter, I-4, DOHC plus rear electric motor

Horsepower: 181-hp/248 hp (gas/electric combined)

Torque: 310 ft-lb (gas/electric combined)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/manual

EPA rating:  Averages 31.2 mpg gas only; 72 mpg electric and gas, 14 miles electric only

Range: 10.8 gallons, premium required

Performance: 0-60 in 5.9 seconds

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.