BMW 330e xDrive Touring
It may be difficult to get excited about, but the BMW 330e xDrive Touring ticks a whole lot of boxes for a whole lot of people. However, it isn't quite to everyones taste, and some of the details are divisive.
Tootling about the city, going about my day-to-day with nobody else in the car, I was well aware of how much room I had at my disposal. Each glimpse of the back seats when looking in the rearview mirror was like peering down a deep ravine, a giant void of emptiness. The size of the car seems to triple when driving alone, but it all makes sense when the gang gets involved.
With two adults in the front, a couple of kids in the back and a dog in the boot, the 330e provides ample comfort and space for all. This is the biggest tick – it is a family cruiser perfectly suited to take the family on holiday to the seaside. And, as working from home has become the norm, the days of long, lonely motorway commutes are mostly behind us. Therefore, these family jaunts are perhaps the primary or only reason for owning a car – opt for cute and cosy at your peril.
Instead of the insanely crowded seaside (which, following an easing of lockdown rules, we cleverly avoided), my partner and I headed to the Cotswolds for a weekend away with some family, during which the car was subject to a thorough consumer critique. I listened simply listened and drove.
"See, the main thing for me is the paint job," remarked one of the cousins. "You want a BMW in black, not blue. But there's also the grille. I can't tell if I like it or not..."
I couldn't agree more, not about the Portimao Blue paint finish that I quite like, but the strange grille. When it comes to BMW's exterior design, much of the conversation of late has been centred upon the iX and it's rather sizeable kidney grille. Some hate it, others.... actually pretty much everyone hates it. Although it's far smaller and less dominating, the glossy-black grille on our 330e is also divisive.
From certain angles under certain light conditions, the pattern and surfaces glint and sparkle, with the little sensor embedded at its centre like a cyclops eye. It can look pretty sharp. But take another look from a different spot and the design looks dated. Perhaps the car has some shapeshifting abilities. Very odd...
Then there's the large twin headlamps. They are shaped like Santoku knifes with a single serration. At first, they appear to work well with the rest of the details on the front, but a close-up look reveals that they don't really take on any discernible shape. They are far more busy than the lamps at the back of the car, which in their simplicity, work far better.
As expected from BMW, much of the interior is made up of quality materials that provide the swanky feel. The seats are new to the 3 Series range, and offer plenty of support and cushioning, and there is also a newly designed leather steering wheel that feels good to grip as well as a new screen layout. Chrome strips provide colour and character amongst the black fabrics and leather, as do the strips of atmospheric lights. It is all very plush, up until this point.
Reaching out to touch the top sections of the dash and doors, or the lower section of the centre console, is disappointing. The hard plastics detract from the quality feel. "Why didn't they put some nice soft fabric up here?" asks the cousin. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say the interior design team at BMW were attempting to ensure a level of functionality that they felt perhaps wouldn't be achievable using any other material. Is fabric not functional?
Herein lies another problem. In a bid to take functionality to the next level and give the front passengers more options for using the touchscreen, BMW has included gesture control in the 330e. But the system is far from ready. With my left hand resting on my leg, the slightest movement of a finger causes the sound to be muted, suggesting that it is far too sensitive. But wave your hand in front of the screen to try and actively use it and the system appears dead as a dodo. Frustrating is putting it lightly. An enormous and pointless pain in the arse is more realistic. I've yet to have a decent experience with gesture control.
Back to basics
The shortfalls of the 330e xDrive Touring are soon forgotten when the engine is on and the accelerator is pressed. It is a whole lot of fun to drive, despite its size. It is a plug-in hybrid with an electric motor and petrol engine. The former produces 113bhp in 'sport mode', while the 2.0-litre four cylinder twin turbo engine has a max output of 184bhp. 0-62mph can be done in 6.2 seconds, which is just 0.1 slower than the sedan. Of course, it won't corner as well as the sedan, but the Touring does not feel big and bulky on windy country roads, and thanks to BMW's masterful powertrain tech, it handles the road brilliantly.
In pure electric mode, the 330e xDrive Touring will do 55km (34 miles), which should be enough for a little run to the local shop and back. It really comes into its own when using the electric motor to make the petrol engine more efficient and eco-friendly. According to BMW, the car can average about 166mpg and will emit 39g of CO2 per kilometre. These figures are almost exactly the same as those of the Volvo V60 T8 Twin Engine hybrid, and while the Volvo has more power, it is also a few grand more expensive, though this price difference can be quickly equalled and surpassed with optional extras on the BMW.
The Portimao Blue paint job, for example, costs an extra £670, while the "Technology Pack" that comes with heads-up display and gesture control is a whopping £1,900. The standard model without all the trimmings comes in at £43,595, and although it might be basic, it could be the best option. More doesn't always mean better.
As I walked around the 330e with my partner's uncle – an older gentleman that is considering buying a new car to replace his Mercedes C-Class estate – he carefully worked through a mental checklist of requirements that a new vehicle would need to meet, voiing his thought process aloud. "I'm sure that this ticks almost all the right boxes," he told me. "But I'd probably get it in black."
Spec: BMW 330e xDrive Touring
Price as tested: £54,090
Chutzpah rating: 3/5