12 December 2013
BMW is getting in on the hybrid power scene with its 3 and 5 Series models, and here we have the new Active Hybrid 3. It takes a decidedly sporty approach, which is no surprise given this is a BMW, but it’s also one that brings the ActiveHybrid 3 into perilously close contention with its own, cheaper 330d model. However, as a standalone version, the Active Hybrid 3 is a great car.
Not very long ago, a 0-62mph time of 5.3 seconds and a 155mph top speed would have been the sole preserve of the M3 in BMW’s small saloon range. Now, we have a hybrid-powered 3 Series that offers just this performance allied to 47.9mpg average economy and 139g/km carbon dioxide emissions. While the economy and emissions are maybe not quite what we’re used to reading about where hybrids are concerned, no Toyota Prius ever offered the enjoyment or thrills the ActiveHybrid 3 does. It uses a 54bhp electric motor in conjunction with a 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine to give a combined power of 335bhp, which again is what we’d have expected from an M3 not so many years ago. On electric power alone, the ActiveHybrid 3 can cover up to 2.5 miles or travel at speeds of up to 37mph, though it cannot manage both at once. When the speed creeps above 37mph or the battery starts to run low on fizz, the diesel engine comes into play quickly and seamlessly, helped by the slick eight-speed automatic gearbox that is already familiar from other BMW models. When the diesel engine does join in, the ActiveHybrid 3 is a potent machine that can overtake easily, cruise with relaxed authority and whisper around town. During braking or slowing down, the regenerative braking recharges the battery, which also aids braking effort. It takes a little time to become used to the added stopping power and the driver has to learn to modulate his or her foot on the brake far more than in a conventionally powered petrol or diesel 3 Series. The Eco Pro mode sets the car up for maximum efficiency and prompts the driver to behave in a similar fashion.
At heart, the ActiveHybrid 3 is still much the same as a standard 3 Series saloon, which means it’s the best car in its class for the way it drives. The additional weight of the electric motor and its associated parts does not unduly affect the ride comfort, handling balance or nimbleness of this 3 Series compared to others in the range. It’s still more than able to get round corners with considerable style and verve, offering steering feel its rivals can only marvel at. There’s also that feeling of a lightness of touch where the wheels are in contact with the ground that defines how a BMW 3 Series presents itself to the driver. It makes this a genuinely entertaining and impressively refined, quiet car by the standards of the class and not just compared to other hybrid-powered cars. The ActiveHybrid comes in SE trim as standard, so it has the more supple suspension set-up compared to Sport models, which further aids comfort at all speeds. As with every other version of the latest 3 Series, the ActiveHybrid is simple to park, stable at speed and supremely refined.
The hybrid components in the ActiveHybrid 3 are all new and have only been in use for a short period in the 3 Series and ActiveHybrid 5. However, BMW is confident these parts will be as long lasting as the rest of the car and we have no reason to doubt this. As for the rest of the car, it should prove reliable and tough in use and is covered by BMW’s three-year, 60,000 miles warranty.
BMW has long enjoyed one of the best reputations for security and the ActiveHybrid 3 does nothing to sully this. It comes with deadlocks, alarm and immobiliser, while safety is dealt with by twin front, side and curtain airbags. There are also anti-whiplash front head rests, Isofix child seat mounts, ABS anti-lock brakes and BMW’s comprehensive ESP electronic stability control system.
In adapting the 3 Series to hybrid power, BMW has not sacrificed any interior space or practicality. This is helped by the electric motor of the hybrid power plant being tucked away in the existing transmission space of the car, while the battery is also contained so as not to compromise the car’s versatility. It’s a very clever bit of packaging on BMW’s part and means the ActiveHybrid 3 offers the same superb driving environment as every other 3 Series. The driver benefits from a two-way adjustable steering column, plus a seat that can be moved for height. We still think BMW’s seat height adjustment could be better as the driver pulls a lever and then has to pull their weight up for the seat to rise, though electric adjustment gets round this issue. The clean-cut dash style of the 3 Series is a pleasure and all of the main dials are clear and bold. Space in the rear is good for two adults and acceptable for three kids, though it’s not quite as generous as a Ford Mondeo on this front. A large boot is easily accessed through the wide-opening boot.
It cannot be denied the ActiveHybrid 3 is an expensive car and pricier than a 330d in comparable spec and trim. That’s a big consideration for buyers, especially those business users already used to running a diesel-fuelled 3 Series. BMW only expects to sell around 100 ActiveHybrid 3s in the UK per year, seeing the car as more of a technology ambassador than a full assault on the sales chart. There will be those who want this car for its hybrid credentials and we wouldn’t discourage them one bit, especially as the ActiveHybrid 3 offers such scintillating performance. Its rarity should help residual values, particularly as more BMW models come on stream with hybrid power as an option. In SE trim, the Active Hybrid 3 is well kitted out with leather seats, climate control, electric windows all round, cruise control and BMW’s superb eight-speed automatic gearbox. This ’box helps towards the economy of 47.9mpg and 139g/km carbon dioxide emissions, as well as making the car so much fun to drive.
Submitted: 29/08/2012 09:23:51
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