We’re big fans of BMW’s ‘e’ branded plug-in hybrid models and most recently were impressed with the 330XE M Sport Touring. However, the 330e and 530e remain expensive options in an ever-expanding PHEV market, but BMW’s announcement of five distinct entry-level models should redress the balance.
The brand will be adding three new plug-in 3 Series models with a new powertrain – the 320e Saloon, 320e Touring and four-wheel drive 320e xDrive Touring. The 5 Series gets two new variants, which share the same hybrid power – the 520e Saloon and 520e Touring.
It’s in the powertrain department that the cars differ most from their existing PHEV 3 and 5 Series stable mates. The ‘20e’ powertrain consists of a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with 161bhp combining with an electric motor to top the total system power up to 201bhp and 258lb-ft of torque. This puts the 320e and 520e variants 91bhp and 52lb-ft down on the 330e and 530e.
Performance is still respectable, with the 320e Saloon the fastest of the new cars – hitting 62mph in 7.6 seconds – and the 320e xDrive Touring and 520e Touring both the slowest taking 8.2 seconds to hit 62. All cars will top out at 87mph in electric-only mode. Power is sent to the rear wheels (or intelligently split between all four in the xDrive) via an eight-speed Steptronic transmission.
Neither the 320e or 520e compromise in terms of electric-only capability, with both getting the same 12kWh lithium-ion battery of the more powerful cars. On the WLTP test this is good for 32 miles in the 320e Saloon, 31 miles in the 320e Touring, 28.5 miles in the 320e xDrive Touring, or 33 miles in the 520e Saloon and 32 miles in the 520e Touring. Emissions-wise, all cars are BIK-friendly coming in at 41g/km for the 320e Saloon and maxing out at 49g/km for the 320e xDrive Touring.
In all cars the battery can be charged to 80 per cent in two-and-a-half hours from a 3.7kW wall box, or to maximum capacity in three-and-a-half.
Despite the entry-level status of the 320e and 520e variants, all are endowed with a respectable range of tech and equipment. As standard, all get BMW Live Cockpit Plus and the Connected Package Professional which integrates with digital services around EV-specific infrastructure.
For example, when entering low and ultra-low emissions zones, the cars automatically default to running on electric power as much as possible thanks to the eDrive Zone feature introduced across new BMW PHEVs last year. Using GPS ringfencing, it works in more than 80 European cities.
Thanks to the packaging of the lithium-ion battery under the rear bench, both the cars retain almost all the luggage capacity as non-PHEV 3 and 5 Series models. In the 320e, the Saloon gets 375 litres and the Touring 410, or 1420 litres with the seats folded. The 520e Saloon gets 410 litres, whilst the Touring gets 430 litres with the seats in place, and 1560 litres with them folded.
BMW is yet to release details of price and availability, but we’ll update you when we know.