BMW hybrid delivers power with efficiency

The 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3, a hybrid sport sedan that adds electric assist to an already potent 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-turbocharged powertrain, starting at $58,300, tested here in Liquid Blue Metallic in Modern trim.

Story and photos by Rob Beintema
Metroland Media/ –

You wouldn’t expect BMW to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to hybrids.

But, once they’ve committed, you certainly expect them to do it their way, in their own inimitable style, with a design and engineering effort that balances benefits to both power and proficiency.

The ActiveHybrid 3 is BMW’s third hybrid commitment, following up on the ActiveHybrid 5 & 7 Series.

The ActiveHybrid 3 was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit early this year and subsequent 2013 production models have been on sale since the fall.

BMW’s 3 Series was itself recently revised with a new look, new tech content and new power sources for its sixth generation lineup.

The new 2013 3 Series sedans already offer a wide range of choice, starting with 320i entries powered by a 181 hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-scroll turbocharged engine, 328i models powered by a 241 hp version of the same size 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-scroll turbo engine, and culminating with the 335i version harnessing a 300 hp 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-scroll turbo.

And that’s not counting manual and automatic choices, rear-wheel-drive or xDrive all-wheel-drive options, and four trim levels – Sport, Luxury, Modern or M Sport Package.

But rather than futzing into the middle of that 3 Series model selection with some party-pooping, emasculated version of their legendary sports sedan, BMW parachuted the ActiveHybrid 3 into the top of the lineup, taking the potent power of the 335i’s twin-scroll turbo-powered six-banger and adding some electric oomph for even more motive muscle.

A 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-scroll turbocharged engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that houses a 55 hp supplemental electric motor for a combined power rating of 335 hp @ 5800 rpm and 330 lb/ft of torque from 1300-5000 rpm, an increase of 13 percent and 11 percent respectively.

The ActiveHybrid 3 adds a synchronous electric motor that develops a maximum output of 55 hp.

Like all electric motors, full torque – in this case 155 lb/ft – comes on in a virtually instantaneous rush from a standing start.

The combined power rating of the gasoline engine/electric motor combo works out to 335 hp at 5800 rpm and 330 lb/ft of torque from 1300-5000 rpm, an increase of 13 per cent and 11 per cent respectively. 0-100 km/h times average 5.5 seconds.

What that all translates into is a car that goes like stink.

There’s an inevitable tendency to baby a hybrid about town, to get caught up in the fuel efficiency readouts and to try to milk the mileage.

It’s only natural.

But every once in a while, the right situation comes up.

The right highway entry ramp.

The right gap in traffic.

The right time to stomp the go pedal flat to the floor, hear the engine roar under full throttle, feel the electric assist helping to push you deep into the seat back. And then you are gone, baby, gone.

Yes, the added electric motor and battery mass bumps the curb weight up by more than 100 kg, compared to the 335i. But do the math and the increase in oomph still gives the ActiveHybrid 3 a win in the power-to-weight ratio war.

The electric motor gets its juice from a 96-cell lithium-ion high-voltage battery pack positioned between the wheel arches under the trunk floor. Despite the added bulk, the ActiveHybrid 3 maintains BMW’s trademark 50/50 fore/aft weight distribution.

To accommodate the batteries, trunk space is down to 390 litres (13.7 cu ft) from 480 litres (17 cu ft) without sacrificing the 40/20/40 folding rear seat with pass-through. And the fuel reservoir is only marginally smaller at 57 litres instead of the 60-litre tank available in the rest of the lineup.

The battery is cooled by the car’s air conditioning cooling circuit and, correspondingly, the 317-volt electrical system wired into the electric motor assist also powers the air conditioning compressor, ensuring constant climate control even when the engine is not running.

Because, like most hybrids, the ActiveHybrid 3’s gasoline engine does turn off frequently, using a start/stop system to prevent idling and a Coasting mode that also switches off the six-cylinder engine and disconnects it from the driveshaft when the driver eases off the gas.

Upholstered in Oyster Dakota leather, the ActiveHybrid 3 in Modern trim comes with a full suite of equipment adding, among other options, a Premium Package with BMW On-Board Navigation, rear view camera and a Harman Kardon sound system.

Drivers can choose exactly how much emphasis they want to put on fuel efficiency with a Driving Experience Control switch that can select from four different modes – the thriftiest ECO PRO mode, the default COMFORT mode setting, and the more performance-oriented SPORT and SPORT + modes, designed solely for track competition or for scaring your mother on the way to the mall.

In ECO PRO mode, the ActiveHybrid 3 can switch into Coast mode at any speed below 160 km/h and, when fully charged, the car can even run in a zero-emission, electric-only mode at speeds up to 75 km/h, with a potential electrically-powered range of up to four kilometers at a more moderate 35 km/h.

There’s a long list of other dynamic technologies that contribute to the ActiveHybrid 3’s fuel efficiency and performance but I should at least mention the eight-speed Steptronic automatic.

This tranny shifts early and eagerly, lugging into top gear at only 70 km/h and loping along at an unheard-of 1500 rpm at highway speed. You have to venture up to 130 km/h just to crack 2000 rpm.

All of these factors are designed to contribute to the lowest fuel economy numbers in the 3 Series lineup – 8.0/5.9L/100 km (city/hwy). As usual that rating looks too optimistic compared to my real world combined results – 9.2L/100km.

Then again, maybe I was having too much fun in this 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 tester, dipped in a dynamic shade of Liquid Blue Metallic, sumptuously upholstered in Oyster Dakota leather and enhanced in Modern trim level equipment and accoutrements.

But then, this was never about saving money, a ridiculous proposition in a premium car, running on premium fuel, and priced at a $7,000-plus premium over and above a top-of-the-line 335i.

No, as mentioned earlier, this is about balancing power and proficiency. It’s about a driver’s car with the latest in fuel efficiencies and reduced emissions.

And it’s about adding a socially conscious feel-good factor to a sport sedan benchmark that will always been known first for its poise and performance.

BMW ActiveHybrid 3 2013 at a glance
BODY STYLE: Four-door, five-passenger sport sedan
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive.
ENGINE: 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-scroll turbocharged engine/40 kw, 55 hp electric motor (335 hp, 330 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: Premium, 8.0/5.9L/100 km (city/hwy)
CARGO: 390 litres (13.7cu ft)
PRICE: $58,300. As tested $65,550 includes Premium Package ($4,500) with alarm, universal remote, Comfort Access, Rear View Camera, Auto Dimming Exterior Mirrors, Lumbar, Park Distance Control (rear), Navigation, Harman Kardon Audio; Driver Assistance Package ($800) with Lane Departure Warning, Active Blind Spot Detection; BMW Apps Package ($300) with Smartphone Integration, BMW Apps; BMW Assist with Bluetooth ($850); Metallic Paint ($800)

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