2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 first drive
BMW knows how to do fuel-efficiency, but this hybrid is no Prius
Munich, Germany — When you can't be first, be better ... or at least, be different. That has often been BMW's strategy when belatedly clambering aboard a bandwagon that's already long been in motion.
BMW's first diesel car, for example, arrived in 1983 — decades after some rivals. But right from the get-go it was the fastest diesel in the world. BMW's first "SUV" appeared a good 10 years after the Ford Explorer first propelled SUVs into the mainstream, except the X5 wasn't just another me-too Sport Utility Vehicle — it was the world's first Sport Activity Vehicle.
BMW's new ActiveHybrid 3 certainly isn't a pioneer either. So, is it a better kind of hybrid? Is it at least different? We'll come back to that, but first, some context. European automakers generally have been late arrivals at the hybrid party. It made little sense for them to invest in all that complex technology when diesel engines were already giving Europeans fuel economy up the yin-yang.
Some markets, however, are hostile to diesels. The Europeans have come to realise that if they want to sell fuel economy in Asia and North America, they need hybrids after all.
BMW's first hybrid, the 2010-11 X6 ActiveHybrid, was as much about increased thrust as decreased thirst: its arcane dual-mode full-hybrid technology (jointly developed with GM and DaimlerChrysler) was teamed with a 4.4-litre twin-turbo gasoline V8. Some fuel-sipper.
From one extreme to the other
For its next hybrid, BMW went simple, equipping a 7 Series sedan with a relatively small electric motor sandwiched between the gas engine and a conventional automatic transmission. Being a mild hybrid, the ActiveHybrid 7 could not move by electricity alone. It did, however, have a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 as its primary source of propulsion. Sound familiar?
Now BMW has unleashed its all-new 3 Series on the market, but with no replacement for the previous-generation 335d. But what we do have is this new hybrid version of its smallest sedan. Coincidence? Is BMW finally getting serious about hybridism as a means to maximum miserliness? Given how remarkably frugal the new 3ers already are in conventional form, one can only imagine the possibilities when BMW's EfficientDynamics expertise is applied to a semi-electric powertrain.
Well, dream on. If you really want a BMW that can run on the scent of an oily rag, move to Europe and buy yourself a four-cylinder 320d EfficientDynamics Edition (4.1 L/100 km on the EEC combined test cycle).
The ActiveHybrid 3 isn't that kind of fuel miser
The good news: it is a full hybrid. It has enough battery stamina (675 Wh) and sufficient motor muscle (40 kW) that in the right conditions it can drive electric for up to four kilometres at a time. And the ba ... well, let's not call it bad news; the other news is that the combustion half of the gasoline-electric partnership is a high-performance engine. Remember the award-winning 300-horsepower three-litre turbocharged in-line six that makes the 335i such a rocket? Same engine in the hybrid.
As in the 7 Series, the electric motor is integrated into the housing of the eight-speed automatic transmission. A lithium-ion battery pack resides beneath the trunk floor. And as in all hybrids, the electric motor also acts as a generator to recharges the battery pack during deceleration, and as a starter motor to enable the Auto Start Stop system.
Combined with the electric motor, net outputs are 335 hp and 330 lb.-ft. of torque, respectively 35 and 30 more than the gasoline engine alone. Total vehicle mass, however, is up by 105 kg.