BMW ActiveHybrid 3 Driven

These days it seems every carmaker is keen to get on the ecological bandwagon. Whilst some offer hydrogen powered models and others fuel-efficient diesels, many are opting to fit their vehicles with hybrid powertrains, mating a small displacement petrol engine with an electric motor.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing

Even the Bavarian automaker that prides itself on creating driver’s cars is not immune to this syndrome. BMW’s Efficient Dynamics mantra has seen fuel saving technologies applied to every model in its range. And now, with the ActiveHybrid 3, the German automaker is showcasing the fourth addition to its hybrid range in the sixth generation 3 Series package. But it also has a few tricks up its sleeve.

Born from the concept of creating a more efficiency-oriented model based on the popular 3 saloon, the ActiveHybrid 3 is slightly larger than the previous generation 3 Series, yet it retains BMW’s characteristic aesthetic: with short overhangs, a good bodyside to glass ratio, long bonnet and set back cabin –courtesy of its rear-wheel-drive layout.

The most noticeable difference over the outgoing model is in the new front face, which appears lower and wider thanks to designers cleverly disguising the visual weight with new treatment that blends the grille and headlamp units into one. The more sinister headlamp units seemingly grow out of the forward canted twin kidney grille, a visual identifier that has become progressively larger with each generation.

In profile, the ActiveHybrid is well proportioned, retaining the previous 3 Series’ wheels-at-each-corner stance and DLO shape – the only elements to tell it apart from its conventionally powered siblings are its specially designed, aerodynamically optimized wheels shod with low rolling resistance tyres and its dual exhaust outlets finished in black chrome.

The new tail lamp design brings the car in line with the larger 5 and 7 Series, and works to visually widen the rear end, while the backlight has a steeper rake, augmenting its sporting appeal.

Available in Sport, Modern, Luxury and M Sport character lines – each with specific elements to individualise the exterior and interior – the ActiveHybrid is demarcated only by additional emblems on the C pillar, decklid and door sill, and by a badge on the centre console – it largely flies under the radar.

Inside, the layered theme of the IP and high-grade material use exudes an aura of elegance and refinement, with high levels of perceived quality. A new door hinge mechanism replaces traditional bolts with screws, simplifying the assembly process and reducing vehicle weight.

The biggest difference between the ActiveHybrid 3 hybrid system and those of other automakers is in BMW's engine choice. Instead of a small displacement unit, the German automaker has paired its TwinPower 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine (the same engine found in the 335i) to a 40kW electric motor packaged into the transmission housing. The lithium-ion battery situated just aft of the rear axle counterbalances the motor’s weight, sacrificing only 90 litres of boot space.

The ActiveHybrid 3 can run on pure electric power up to 37mph for up to 2.4 miles, but when necessary the petrol engine fires up seamlessly, providing the main source of power and recharging the 135kg battery pack.  Whilst that may sound like a traditional set-up for a parallel hybrid, where the BMW differs is in its tuning characteristics: it will always err on the side of power over economy.  When requested, the petrol engine and electric motor will work in unison (something BMW calls Boost mode) to provide a peak 340hp and 450Nm of torque, which is available very low in the rev range. This translates into a sports car-like 0-62 time of 5.3 seconds, two-tenths faster than a 335i.

Even when driven in fuel conscious EcoPro mode (one of four available through the Driver Performance Control switch), the engine will rev to redline to provide the most power when summoned to do so through the right pedal. In Sport and Sport+ mode, the brilliant eight speed automatic transmission simply holds onto gears until the driver decides it’s time to change up. It ensured the most driver control we’ve ever experienced in a hybrid powered car.

And that’s just it. The BMW ActiveHybrid 3 is far from a conventional hybrid. It’s got BMW and the quintessential carmaker’s driving dynamics written all over it. In the effort to improve efficiency without diluting the behind the wheel experience the German car company’s clients have grown to know and love, BMW’s created a car thats fuel economy is a by-product of engineering expertise. It’s not a car that will win any eco-challenges, but one that will put a smile on your face. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Engine: 2797cc turbocharged flat-6, 40kW electric motor Power: 340bhp combined 0-60mph: 5.3 seconds Top speed: 155mph CO2 emissions: 169g/km Economy: 47.9mpg Price: £40,225 

Photography by Eric Gallina

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