Maybe the word “Active” should be replaced by “Evil” as the smallest example of BMW’s hybrid range certainly has a naughty streak when it comes to performance. The twin exhaust pipes at the rear do hint at what is lurking under the bonnet, but few road users would guess it’s the 3,0-litre turbopetrol engine straight from the 335i. By adding a 40 kW electric motor this hybrid has enough firepower to strike fear into the hearts of many hot hatch owners. Performance therefore is rapid but what about fuel consumption? Can you save the planet while having fun? The summer holiday season was a perfect time to answer these burning questions.
Styling wise, the latest incarnation of the 3 series is both classy and arresting. In hybrid form it gets ActiveHybrid3 logos on the C-pillars and special 18-inch aero wheels to lower drag as well as augmenting the appearance. It is this last addition that drew many inquisitive looks, and many passers-by gave complimentary remarks regarding its aesthetics.
On the inside it is generic BMW but none the worst for it, with carefully chosen materials and tight build quality. A few extra hybrid-inspired logos are scattered around the cabin to remind the occupants that this is no ordinary 3 series.
As mentioned earlier the 3,0-litre turbopetrol motor delivering 225 kW and 400 N.m is paired with a 40 kW electric motor to give a maximum total output of 250 kW. This is enough for a claimed zero to 100 km/h time of 5,3 seconds. An eight-speed automatic transmission is employed to smoothly transmit the power to the rear wheels. Electric power is stored in a high-tech lithium-ion battery pack that is cleverly packaged in the boot with little loss of boot space as a result.
The drive mode selection available to the driver includes Sport +, Sport, Comfort and an EcoPro. As the name suggests, the last mode will try to improve efficiency and reduce fuel consumption by using as much electric power as possible, optimising the climate control system and selecting the highest gear ratio feasible. The ActiveHybrid3 is capable of driving for 4 km on electric power alone with speeds of up to 75 km/h. Coasting mode is also available where the engine will be shut off and disconnected from the drive train at speed when no acceleration demand is detected, for instance coasting on a slight downhill section.
The technology is impressive but how does it translates as a driving experience? The good news is that this is still a BMW and driving pleasure still of utmost importance. The driver is hardly aware of all the fuel saving decisions that is being made in the background. Get into the vehicle and hit the start button. The rev counter will indicate “ready” and the driver can move off in absolute silence (EV mode) as long as a large acceleration demand is not given. Drive it gently and the vehicle will waft you around in supreme comfort. When one of the “evil” drive modes are selected or the go-fast pedal is floored, the whole character of the vehicle changes. The glorious sound of the straight six engine fills the cabin and the fast forward button is hit on the scenery passing outside.
Ride and handling
The ride under normal road conditions is comfortable and well damped but scarred road surfaces are felt owing to the sporty set-up of the suspension. The benefit is soon realised when the driver decides to push on through a twisty section of tarmac. A safe margin of under steer is built in but can easily be neutralised in a bend with the right amount of throttle input. Be overzealous with the power and the electronic stability control will quickly catch the imminent disaster.
There’s no point in hiding from the fuel consumption questions any further: BMW claims a very optimistic 5,9 litres/100 km. Even a relaxed (read 90-100km/h economy run) Cape Town to Stellenbosch round trip with family on board only returned 7,3 litres/100 km. Using the performance available will result in a smile on your face but average fuel economy figures exceeding the 12 litres/ 100 km mark are a reality.
The ActiveHybrid3 is an impressive technology showcase from BMW and it goes a long way in promoting hybrid technology to the performance hungry individual. It is strange however that this technology is not employed on a smaller capacity petrol engined 3 series in order to challenge the frugal diesel options available. Still, in a city like London that exempts hybrids from the expensive daily congestion charge, it would make many young investment bankers happy as it would allow them to rather fuel their ActiveHybrid3s and enjoy the performance rather than lining the council’s wallets…
Model: BMW ActiveHybrid3
Engine: 3,0-litre turbopetrol/synchronous electric motor
Power: 225 kW (engine), 40 kW (electric motor), 250 kW combined
Torque: 400 N.m (engine), 210 N.m (electric motor), 450 N.m combined
0 to 100 km/h: 5,3 secs
Top speed: 250 km/h
Fuel consumption: 5,9 litres/100 km (European cycle)
CO2: 139 g/km
Price: R625 000 (base model)