Motoring: Few compromises with BMW’s ActiveHybrid 3

In practice, most hybrids are a compromise between performance and fuel economy, with performance getting the short shrift.

Although longer and wider than before

Although longer and wider than before

I support green motoring, but like many auto journalists, often struggle with hybrids.

Setting aside the usual gripe about how many years of fuel savings it would take to pay for the hefty price bump, I’ll illustrate my point with a typical hybrid recipe.

Take a somewhat peppy V6-powered vehicle, swap the six for a four and cleave on an electric motor. Direct the marketing team to use glowing terms like ‘spirited,’ ‘lively’ or ‘robust,’ to describe an otherwise tepid driving experience.

Add thousands of dollars.

In practice, most hybrids are a compromise between performance and fuel economy, with performance getting the short shrift. And at a buck-thirty-plus per litre, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

But I’m one who likes to have his cake and eat it too, and was pleased that BMW could appease both sides of my conscience: the guy with the wings and halo, and the little dude with the pitchfork.

Both were happy with the ActiveHybrid 3, arguably one of the best 3 Series sedans in the lineup, not counting the M3.

A big part of what makes this so is the powerplant: the same twin-turbo inline six as found in the 335i, working with an electric motor to deliver a combined 335 hp and 332 lb/ft of torque to the rear wheels. All that brawn is on tap from a low 1,200 rpm.

Sure, I would have liked the 335i’s six-speed manual, but the hybrid’s Steptronic eight-speed automatic is no slouch. BMW rates the manual 335i sedan at 5.7 seconds for the zero to 100 km/h sprint. The Hybrid will hit the same speed 0.2 seconds sooner.

All this talk about acceleration may have you questioning BMW’s fuel-saving intentions in building such a hybrid. After all, if you drive like the turkey who wrote this story, any eco benefits from this costly upgrade ($58,300 for the ActiveHybrid 3 versus $51,200 for the 335i rear-drive sedan) would quickly exit the standard-equipped dual tailpipes.

Bottom line: It’s a split-personality car.

Set the vehicle’s drive mode switch to Eco Pro, drive like you’re not in a BMW, and you could very likely achieve its 8.0/5.9/7.1 L/100 km (city/hwy/comb) fuel consumption rating.

Eco Pro, like similar systems, slows the throttle response, shifts early and often, and essentially makes the ActiveHybrid 3 drive more like a Prius.

Well, maybe a little quicker.

This setting also fine tunes the climate controls and turns down your seat heater for less draw on the system.

Pinching a few more pennies is an auto start-stop function that shuts down the engine while you’re idling with the brake on. It’s a bit unsettling at first—if you’re not used to hybrids—as the car goes silent, with only the sounds of the audio system and heater fan, which are powered by the battery.

Step gently on the ‘gas’ and the car moves under electrical power—and can do so as far as four kilometres, and up to 75 km/h. Push a little harder, and the gas engine seamlessly joins in.

“Comfort” is the default mode, but Sport and Sport+, as you’d expect, are loads more fun.

A quicker throttle, sharper steering and much later shifts, not to mention a nice throaty exhaust note, take the ActiveHybrid 3 from family sedan to road burner.

In particular in Sport+, which dials down the traction control to allow for more wheelspin. It’s great fun when punching the throttle on exiting a turn.

Ahem—on the track, of course.

But there’s more to driving a BMW than agile performance and handling. The ActiveHybrid 3 benefits from last year’s changes to the entire 3 Series sedan lineup, which is now in its sixth generation.

The look has been slightly tweaked, but still instantly recognizable as a 3 Series Sedan. More importantly, the car has been made wider and longer, adding 50 mm to the wheelbase for a much-needed boost in rear leg room. Full-size adults can really stretch out in back.

Throughout the cabin, the ActiveHybrid 3 is spacious and bright—in particular with the Oyster (beige) Dakota leather and standard sunroof overhead. The anthracite trim is a nice, modern touch.

Leather, multifunction steering is manual tilt/telescopic, and also heated. And with the lane departure warning (part of the $800 Driver Assistance Package), it also rumbles if you dare drift towards another lane without signalling.

Seating, as you’d expect at this price point, is heated and eight-way power adjustable with driver memory. It is also well bolstered, keeping you snug if you go a little hard into a corner.

Other standard stuff includes dual-zone climate control and the iDrive multi-info system that manages navigation, audio, phone and much more—even an integrated user’s manual.

iDrive is more intuitive than before, operates easily with one hand and is an ideal way to organize so many functions without cluttering the dash with a million knobs and buttons.

My tester also came with the $4,500 Premium Package, which includes rearview camera, parking sensors, navigation and a killer, 600-watt Harmon Kardon audio system. The Steve Miller Band never sounded so good.

As with any hybrid, there are a few downsides, such as a small increase in weight due to batteries, and a decrease in trunk space for the same reason. Cargo capacity drops from 480 litres to 390, but the 40/20/40 rear seat still drops for carrying longer objects. This is thanks to the lithium-ion battery being housed beneath the luggage floor.

There’s still much more to this complex vehicle in terms of features and technology, and worth a trip to the BMW web site. Or the showroom if, like me, you’re more of an enthusiast than an eco warrior—and not ready to give up on fun.

BMW ActiveHybrid 3 2013

Body Style: Four-door, five-passenger premium sport sedan

Drive Method: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive.

Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-scroll turbocharged engine with 55 hp electric motor (335 hp, 332 lb/ft)

Fuel Economy: Premium, 8.0/5.9L/7.1 L/100 km (city/hwy/comb)

Cargo: 390 litres

Price: $58,300. As tested $65,550 includes Premium Package ($4,500); Driver Assistance Package ($800); BMW Apps  Package ($300) with Smartphone Integration; BMW Assist with Bluetooth ($850); Metallic Paint ($800)



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