Electrification is pretty much inevitable at this point. That’s why every automaker has committed to the technology as we transition towards an era of purely electric vehicles (EVs). Electrified cars, which we mean hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and full EVs, are starting to become the norm these days. However, not all electrified vehicles are created equal. Especially when it comes to the two types of hybrids, making the two powertrain sources work seamlessly can be challenging. That’s not exactly the case with BMW, which demonstrated to us at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand, how electrified cars can be fun.
BMW 330e: A PHEV With An Attitude
We first start off with the BMW 330e, a PHEV variant of the 3 Series. This model isn’t sold in the Philippines, but considering that the German luxury automaker is focusing outright on EVs in our market, the decision to not yet sell (at least as of the moment) PHEVs seems logical. When you do have the chance to drive the BMW 330e, you’ll realize how extremely well BMW has managed to combine the two powertrain sources–something that not all automakers have the capability of bragging.
For starters, let’s begin with the car’s powertrain. The BMW 330e uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine that’s teamed up with an electric motor, and they produced a combined 288 horsepower and 420 Nm of torque. This is good for a 0-100 kph time of just 5.9 seconds, and power is all sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic.
Now, here’s where things become impressive. The event we’re participating in is called the BMW Driving Challenge, and it puts various BMW M Sport, M Performance, and full-fledged M cars into various courses. The 330e M Sport, which in traditional BMW fashion is more of a handling and aesthetics package, is the vehicle of choice for learning what oversteering and drifting feels like.
If you want to initiate a drift in a rear-wheel drive (RWD) car like this 3 Series, then you must know how to upset the car’s balance and control that slide through the end of the corner. In a purely internal combustion engine (ICE) car, that’s easy to do. In an electrified car with two power sources, the throttle modulation should work no differently from an ICE car, but there are brands whose calibration with these two powertrain sources can be clunky. Not so with the BMW 330e.
The current CLAR platform of the BMW 3 Series is one heck of an excellent platform. The near-perfect 50-50 front-rear weight distribution makes the car inherently balanced. Thus, managing that slide through the entire corner was easy. The 3 Series makes for an excellent car to learn drifting, and due to that chassis balance, the car sort of automatically corrects itself as you exit out of the corner. The two drivetrain sources work beautifully as well, making it easy to modulate the throttle and hold that slide. Here, you can tell that the ICE and electrification departments worked in tandem when developing the two powertrain sources.
As we moved on to the track itself, further proof of how well-tuned the BMW 330e’s drivetrain is continues to shine. Once again, driving an electrified car on track can expose certain chinks on its armor, but here, there’s simply none. Even when hammering the 330e through straights and corners, the gasoline engine, electric motor, and eight-speed automatic all work seamlessly without any hiccups or jerking. It’s basically BMW still maintaining its character even in the electrified era.
Likewise, the chassis and handling balance of the car is excellent on track. Body roll is kept in check and the sheer stability of German cars continues to impress me even on track. I do wish for more steering feel, but in today’s era of electric power steering, BMW’s steering is right up there as one of the nicest in its class.
BMW iX: The Electric SUV That Could
Now, the BMW iX is a car that you’re probably familiar with already here at Go Flat Out PH. We love this luxury electric SUV so much for its top-notch driving dynamics, but of course, in the real world, there’s only so much we can do to explore its handling limits. On track, however, the iX is able to do things you probably didn’t expect it could do.
The model we were driving is the iX xDrive40, which is the same model I drove when I reviewed the car. While there are differences in appearance and features, it is largely representative of the Philippine-spec iX. This means it comes with the same dual-motor all-wheel drive (AWD) setup that has a combined output of 326 horsepower and 600 Nm of instantaneous torque.
Based on my experience, I know that the iX is going to be a fun electric SUV to drive–for its size and weight, mind you. Weighing at nearly 2.5 tonnes, this is not a light car, yet when pushed around the corners of Chang International Circuit, the grip limits of this car are very high. Body roll is well mitigated as well, and with each wheel having instant torque, it can feel disconcerting for such a big SUV to rocket out of corners at blistering speeds. Once again, the electric power steering provides pin-point sharpness and accuracy, and though I also wish for more feedback with this steering, it’s still right up there as far as electric power steering goes.
And you know what’s even more disconcerting or surprising, depending on your perspective? Using the iX xDrive40 in a dirt autocross course. It’s a test that no one who owns an iX will probably do, but it’s a test that flexes how capable the iX is when it comes to its athleticism. Truth be told, putting an SUV this heavy and this big is the last thing that’s on my mind, but you know what, the iX handled the course extremely well, putting all of that instant torque down to the ground and shuffling all of that power to which wheel needs it the most.
Electrification Can Be Fun
And this is where I think BMW stands out in this race towards electrification and electrified cars. Automakers are reinventing the way we use cars by adding fast charging speeds or vehicle-to-load (V2L) features, which are all well and good, mind you, but there’s one secret sauce that BMW has maintained even through the electrified era–fun. BMW is a legacy automaker that has a reputation to maintain, and in that case, fun is a word you can attach to how BMWs perform on the road. In the electrified era, without the character and the attitude provided by an ICE, how does an electrified car stand out? In the case of BMW, one push of a button is all it takes to find out that not all electrified cars are created equal, and only BMW can make an electrified vehicle that’s distinct in its driving feel, level of polish, and performance.