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New BMW 330e plug-in hybrid ups EV range to 23 miles but lowers MPG

BMW says that its electrification strategy is all about giving consumers the choice of a pure EV or plug-in hybrid. That should put pressure on BMW to push the envelope on all-electric range and overall fuel-efficiency of its plug-in hybrids. But that’s not the case.

The just-released EPA figures on the 2021 BMW 330e, which goes on sale next month, show a modest gain in EV range but a downgrade to MPG. The 2021 330e starts at $45,545.

The new generation of BMW plug-in hybrids gets a bigger battery. It’s a jump from 7.6 kilowatt-hours in the outgoing models to a still modest 12.0 kWh. The gain in all-electric range is commensurate with a bump in the all-electric range from 14 to 23 miles – although the all-wheel-drive 330e xDrive only manages 20 miles on a single charge.

The increase is welcomed. But it’s far below industry-leading PHEVs like the larger Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid sedan granting 48 miles or the even bigger Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid at 32 miles.

Unless 330e drivers can get back to a plug every 23 or so miles, they will be reverting to 2.0-liter turbo-four engine. The gas efficiency, after the battery is depleted, for the 2021 BMW 330e is 28 mpg combined (25/33 mpg city/highway). The 330e xDrive gets 25 mpg combined (22/30 mpg city/highway).

The outgoing 330e got 30 miles per gallon.

Okay, that’s just a 2 mpg (or 6.6%) drop. But in 2020, should fuel efficiency be going in the wrong direction?

Electrek’s Take

BMW made the classic old-school auto industry decision to emphasize performance over efficiency. A pure EV powertrain gives you both at the same time.

The BMW 330e offers a feature called XtraBoost, the release of an extra 40 horsepower when the driver stomps the accelerator into the kick-down position. That slices a fraction of a second off the rush to 60 miles per hour, reducing it to 5.6 seconds.

That slight reduction in reaching speed will also slightly reduce the real-world all-electric range, perhaps into the teens.

Maybe we could buy into BMW’s argument about choosing varying degrees of electrification. We understand the argument for using a single production line to make EVs, plug-in hybrids, and gas cars.

But whatever merit BMW’s electrification strategy had goes out the window if each successive generation of its plug-in hybrids gets only incremental gains in EV range and worse fuel economy when using gas.

It doesn’t help that BMW confirmed last month that it won’t bring the all-electric BMW iX3 to the US. Dealers said it didn’t offer enough range.

Expect more plug-in hybrids to arrive at US dealerships, while we wait for the all-electric i4 to arrive in late 2021.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.