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BMW 330e review: Run this BMW for S$36 a month
IMAGINE if phonemakers got the kooky idea to add a tiny petrol engine to the next smartphone. Fill up the tank and you could go online to your heart's content for an entire week.
You could still charge the battery every day for normal use, and you probably would. Why look for fuel once a week when you could just plug a cable in and wake up to a fully-charged phone?
That's pretty much the idea behind a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) like the BMW 330e, only in reverse: Instead of adding a fossil fuel engine (which most cars already have), you add an electric motor with a battery.
In the BMW's case, the fossil fuel device is a 2.0-litre turbo engine and the electric bit is a 65kW motor. They drive the rear wheels through an eight-speed gearbox.
The electric motor can propel the car by itself, but both systems work in tandem if you want to unleash their combined power output of 252 horsepower.
Think of it this way: The next time your wife asks you to move the couch, just say you're busy and tell your son to do it. Use the resultant whining to imagine he's an electric motor.
If the missus wants things done in a hurry, you, the powerful petrol engine of the family, could always set your beer down and help out.
Working together, you and the son could move that couch in half a jiffy, only the two of you would consume more energy in total than if the little tyke had done it by himself, so you end up squabbling over the last packet of crisps in the house.
Similarly, the PHEV system gives the 330e a surprising turn of speed. The BMW zips to 100km/h in just 6.1 seconds, which puts paid to the idea that eco-friendly cars are boring.
Drive it purely on battery power, however, and the BMW exudes a Zen-like calm. It wafts up to speed both silkily and silently, like a sort of baby Rolls-Royce.
Battery power is so appealing that, according to BMW, 96 per cent of people who own an electric vehicle would choose another one as their next car.
Of course, the 330e isn't without drawbacks. The batteries take up 110 litres of boot space, leaving just 370 litres. Another catch, if you can call it that, is that it gives only around 30km of electric range.
Land Transport Authority figures show that the average car covers 48km a day, so most drivers would still see their 330e sip at least some petrol.
On our first day with the 330e, we started with a full battery and covered 50.7km. The trip computer said we consumed petrol at an overall rate of 4.1 litres per 100km.
Another day saw us start out with the battery pack at 89 per cent and cover 41.8km, using petrol at 2.6L/100km, or less than two-thirds the rate.
That implies that whether a PHEV suits you depends on how you use a car.
A salesman who's on the road all day would be better off with a diesel model. If you merely drive to work and back every day, you could go weeks before needing to refuel a 330e.
Instead, you would charge it routinely, which would cost you S$1.18 a day at current electricity tariffs, and take 132 minutes.
This is also assuming you have a private property on which you can install a wall-mounted charger for the car in the first place.
The main takeaway is that the 330e isn't for everyone. But whatever you think of PHEV technology, it clearly isn't a kooky idea.
Engine 1998cc, four-cylinder turbo with 65kW electric motor
Power 252hp at 5,000rpm
Torque 420Nm at 1,450-3,700rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 6.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.2L/100km
Price S$219,800 with COE
Agent Performance Motors Limited