BMW has a lot of differently named groups of cars at the moment. There’s the obvious and famous M Division cars, like the BMW M3 and M5. Then, there’s the electric i Division that develops electric and hybrid cars, like the BMW i3 and i8. After that, it has M Performance cars, which aren’t actually M cars but sort of look like them. It also has iPerformance cars, which are plug-in hybrids but aren’t made by the i Division. On top of all of that, there are M Performance Parts but they can be added to any BMW, not only to M or M Performance cars. It’s all very confusing and sort of makes my head spin and I’m paid to know this stuff. Imagine what customers think? If you can follow it all, keep reading, because I recently had the opportunity to test a BMW 330e iPerformance with M Performance Parts and it was surprisingly good.
This specific car is a BMW iPerformance car but not an i Division car and it was wearing a suite of M Performance Parts but it was neither an M Performance car or M car. Comprende? Okay, so now that we have that over with, let’s get on to what the car is actually like.
Being an iPerformance car, the BMW 330e is the plug-in hybrid variant of the 3 Series. That means that it packs a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that develops 180 hp on its own. Paired to that engine is the ubiquitous ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic. Sandwiched between them is an 87 hp electric motor that replaces the torque converter for the automatic gearbox. Underneath the trunk floor is a 7.6-kWh lithium-ion battery that helps power the electric motor, so the 330e can drive completely under electric power alone for a total of around 14 miles.
Aside from all of the electric hybrid stuff, the BMW 330e is a pretty standard 3 Series. So it runs, feels and drives like a normal 3 Series, which is actually really quite refreshing. In fact, one of the more entertaining parts of the 330e is driving it in pure EV-mode, as it handles as well as a typical 3 Series just with the silent torque surge of an electric motor. I do wish that it wouldn’t constantly switch the gas engine off when puttering around in traffic, as it isn’t the smoothest plug-in hybrid in the world at switching between gas and electric. If you keep the powertrain in Sport mode, the engine stays on and combines with the electric motor to give you the most power. But then the transmission holds on to low gears so much longer, so it’s not great for just driving around in normal traffic.
Having said that, when the powertrain is in Sport, the BMW 330e is quick. Not quick for a hybrid but properly, sport sedan quick. BMW claims a 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds but it feels so much quicker than that. With the instant torque of the electric motor helping to fill in the gap left by slight turbo lag, the 330e can actually make some sports cars look silly from 0-30 mph. Where the BMW 330e is most impressive is at speed. On the highway, just give the throttle a stab and it surges forward with seriously surprising authority, thanks to that electric torque-fill. It makes shooting gaps in highway traffic an breeze and turns the 330e into a highway weapon.
Admittedly, the car we had on test had a bit of an added advantage — it’s M Performance Parts. Of these parts, you’re eyes will first be drawn to the M-colored stripes, the 20″ wheels and the carbon fiber bits. They certainly do add a bit of flare to an otherwise rather vanilla-looking car. We actually took the 330e to the Jalopnik car meet in Newark, New Jersey and it received some attention. I say some, that’s actually quite a lot considering the incredible cars that were on display. I was able to sit in a Lancia Delta Integrale for the first time in my life, there was a McLaren 720S there and about a million R34 Skyline GT-Rs. So, yea, the amount of attendees checking out a 3 Series hybrid with some stripes were few and far between. But, still, there were some and that’s impressive.
Though, the advantage that the M Performance Parts added to our tester came by way of its suspension. Fitted with manually-adjustable M Performance suspension, the BMW 330e felt like a track toy on the road. That’s actually because it basically was. The people at BMW M Performance Parts actually had our exact 330e on the track shortly before we took it for the week. So its suspension was slammed, as it was set up for the track. Combine that with its 20″ wheels and Pirelli P Zero summer tires and the 330e darted into turns with surprising responsiveness and agility. That added sharpness, in combination with the electric motor’s instant torque punch and our little 3 Series hybrid had the ability to slice through road traffic like few other cars. It was surprisingly effective at dispatching any road with ease.
My only issue with the suspension and wheel setup was how it felt over sharp bumps or any sort of hard edge. Over normal bumps, it was actually fine, supple even. But over anything harsh, like a sunken manhole cover with a lip or a typical New Jersey winter pothole, it felt as if my kidneys were rupturing. Not a comfortable setup for everyday driving, especially in New Jersey, where they fix potholes seemingly once a decade.
But periodically harsh ride aside, the M Performance suspension really made the 330e feel like a genuine sports car. Which sort of swayed my thinking toward such a car. When I first saw it, I thought the juxtaposition of a plug-in hybrid wearing track-ready gear was funny but useless. After driving it for a week, though, it began to dawn on me that it made perfect sense. Who says hybrids have to be boring? Who says hybrids mustn’t be fun to drive? If someone wants a sport sedan but also wants to go green and help the environment, even slightly, a car like our BMW 330e tester makes so much sense.
Not only was our car efficient, averaging almost 30 mpg during a week of almost constant Sport Mode driving, but it was fun and exciting. People were always looking at it, too, as it was crazy looking. Some loved it, some hated it but either way no one could stop looking at it. Every time I walked up to it or walked away from it, I would constantly smile at the absurdity of it and that makes it fun to own and live with. The BMW 330e isn’t a perfect car, as the steering is still kind of gooey, some interior bits seem dated already and it’s not as quiet or refined as many of its rivals. However, there aren’t many other hybrid sport sedans that can be this fun to drive, live with and own.
So if you’re buying a BMW 330e iPerformance, or any BMW iPerformance product for that matter, I’d seriously recommend M Performance Parts. They can take what most people would think is a boring hippie-mobile and turn it into an exciting sports car that’s not only fun to drive but fun to own. I get it now, BMW. Just get your damn nomenclature straight.