First Drive: BMW ActiveHybrid 3
This is a car which very definitely has a market, specifically Japan and North America where air quality standards make diesels a hard sell, but it’s a bit of a square peg in the round hole of CO2-taxed Europe.
Under the bonnet is the same 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged straight-six engine from the 335i, in this case assisted by an electric motor located in the gearbox housing where a torque converter would normally be found. At 139g/km CO2, this isn’t a powertrain that will change the face of 3 Series sales in Europe.
The problem is BMW sells a range of brilliant, low carbon, high performance diesel engines and they’ve made the carmaker a force to be reckoned with. This is more expensive, less efficient and higher in CO2 output than even the most powerful diesel engine, so sales expectations are modest. Only 100 are predicted to find homes in the UK in the car’s first full year on sale.
Expect most of those to be technology lovers, and they will adore the way this car is put together. Everything works seamlessly, switching between petrol and electric power imperceptibly around town and with the useful function of coasting on electric power at up to 100mph, which should add up to motorway efficiency.
Using a little restraint and the Eco Pro driving mode, this powerful saloon car returns around 40mpg, a figure most people would’ve been happy to get from a 3 Series diesel not so long ago.
The electric motor also offers a power boost under heavy acceleration, and incredible performance. Its combined 335bhp is delivered smoothly and effortlessly through the eight-speed gearbox, reaching 62mph in 5.3 seconds and with a limited 155mph top speed. Far from being the stereotypical low-CO2 hybrid, this is the second fastest 3 Series on sale behind the M3.
But what’s really evident is that there are no sacrifices here. No blunting of handling due to the extra weight, no noisy CVT gearbox, no loss of boot space and no shortage of choices when ordering. There won’t be a Touring model, but ActiveHybrid 3 is available in the same distinct trim levels as the conventional saloon – SE, Modern, Luxury and M Sport – and costs between £4,000 and £5,000 more than the equivalent 335i. That’s a figure which could easily be absorbed by a BiK reduction of around a third for corporate buyers.
Ultimately, though, this is a car that will satisfy more on an emotional than a rational basis. Technology fans will enjoy it for its engineering, and the drivetrain makes a powerful six-cylinder petrol 3 Series much more affordable for company car drivers. Without the legislation and taxation to encourage it, this is a very good but very niche part of the 3 Series range.
There’s no questioning the quality of engineering found in the ActiveHybrid 3, but the figures don’t add up against BMW’s cheaper, more tax-efficient diesel models. With Mercedes-Benz about to launch a diesel hybrid E-Class, it’ll be interesting to see if BMW follows suit.
Segment: Compact executive
Type: Petrol-electric hybrid
Electric range: 2.4 miles
CO2 emissions (tailpipe): 139g/km
Charging port: N/A