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      07-15-2012, 11:03 AM   #1
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Arrow BIMMERPOST First Drive: 2013 Active Hybrid 3

BIMMERPOST First Drive: 2013 Active Hybrid 3

Sometimes, we are victims of stereotypes. I, for instance, have always hated the idea of hybrid cars. Surely, a true car fan can’t possibly find anything good about a car which is obviously made for one reason only: Economy. Things are a bit different about the Active Hybrid 3, however. Here’s the story about my first experience with BMW’s latest hybrid.

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At first sight, the Active Hybrid 3 [full official info thread] doesn’t look too different from any other F30 3 Series. BMW likes to introduce their hybrid models in a light blue color, but our test car’s Liquid Blue color is also available for other F30 models. Both the exhaust tips and the window trim are finished in a matte aluminum. The Active Hybrid 3 badges at the C-pillars and the boot lid are a bit over the top, but there's a debadge option for those. BMW offers a dedicated set of 18" wheels to optimize airflow and reduce wind resistance but, as a no-cost option, the aerodynamic wheels can be replaced with traditional standard BMW wheels. Gladly, BMW also allows the Active Hybrid 3 to be combined with any of the design lines. So you can choose Modern, Luxury and Sport line for your Active Hybrid 3. My personal favorite is the idea of having the Active Hybrid 3 with the amazing M Sport package – yes, that’s possible too.

How does it work?

The Active Hybrid 3 combines the award-winning 300hp N55 3.0-litre Twinpower petrol engine and a synchronous electric motor. The electric motor is good for 55hp and 210Nm alone, while combined with the petrol engine the system’s maximum output is rated at 340hp and 450Nm of torque. In case you’re curious about the numbers not adding up: BMW doesn’t limit the total output for some reason but rather is conservative with their total rating. The electric motor can’t retain its maximum output of 55hp for too long. For this reason, it’s possible that the electric motor has passed its maximum output by the time the petrol engine reaches its maximum. So BMW chose a rating that’s replicable on any dynamometer. Under good conditions, the actual output can be even higher than the quoted 340hp and 450Nm for a short period. According to BMW, the Active Hybrid 3 sprints to 62mph in 5.3 seconds, 0.2 seconds less than the 335i.

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The electric motor sits inside the 8-speed automatic transmission and replaces the torque converter. A high performance lithium-ion battery supplies the energy; it’s located in the boot between the wheel arches. About half of the hybrid system’s additional weight of 135kg is for the battery while the electric motor, electronics and the cooling system account for the other half. The air conditioning is connected to the hybrid battery as well, which is necessary for it to work in eDrive mode.

The optional Navigation System Professional (yes, the new Navigation) is integrated with the car's electronics as well. The system anticipates upcoming road inclines and declines and charges/discharges the batteries accordingly. *Also, when the end of the navigation route is in an urban area, the Active Hybrid 3 charges the batteries early so it can go into eDrive mode upon arriving.

What does it drive like?

This is the fun part: You don’t notice any of the technical stuff covered above. It drives like any other car – and I mean it in the best possible way. You hit the start button and it’s ready – without the petrol engine starting. When the lithium-ion battery is fully charged it can go up to 4km and reach a speed of up to 75kph on electric power only. During my test drive, I managed to do about 3km and a speed of about 70kph at a time. Equally impressive is the Active Hybrid 3’s ability to go into coasting mode. When you lift the throttle fully, the car disengages the clutch and shuts off the engine. As soon as you apply the throttle again (and are beyond the electric motor’s speed range) the engine starts again. All of this works in Eco Pro mode only, and it works flawlessly. As Dr. Negele, Head of BMW Active Hybrid 3 development, mentioned to me, they have spent a lot of money to make the transition from electric to petrol mode and vice-versa seamless, and it was worth it. You wouldn’t notice any of these transitions if it wasn’t displayed in the instrument cluster. It’s amazing. The result of my test drive was an average consumption of 6.5 liters per 100km which is impressive for a 340hp midsized sedan.

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If you’re like me, there are days where you don’t care about any hypermilling and all you care about is having a bit of fun in your 340hp 3-Series. I was afraid that the additional weight would detract from the Active Hybrid 3 being a fun car, but I was mostly wrong (again?). Yes, it feels a bit heavier than the 328i and even the 335i. But, as weird as it sounds – the lithium-ion battery proved to be helpful here too. Compared to the ever so slightly front-heavy 335i, the additional weight in the rear of the Active Hybrid 3 makes for that perfect 50/50 weight balance BMW is famous far. Switch into Sport or Sport+ mode and welcome Mr. Hyde. The car negotiated corners really well, the compelling 8-speed auto switched gears within the blink of an eye as usual, and the electric motor was willing to offer additional boost when necessary. Average consumption for a couple of kilometers of fun: 9 liters per 100km.

Who is this car for?

One thing is for sure: The Active Hybrid 3 isn’t meant to offer the lowest fuel consumption possible in the hybrid car segment. Nor will it be easy to recoup the premium spent over a 335i in fuel savings. In other words, it’s a niche product targeting people who like the fun of a 335i combined with improved fuel consumption. It's for people who don’t like or don’t have access to powerful Diesel cars. Or it's for people who want to leave their neighborhood in electric mode but also want to have fun at times.

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The Active Hybrid 3 will be available in the U.S. this fall at an MSRP of $50,195. What you get is a car with personality. To end this review in the same way as it began (and speaking of stereotypes), I still don’t like hybrid cars. But, what's changed is that the the Active Hybrid 3 left me deeply impressed. When I returned my test car, I found myself hoping that I would one day have more time with the Active Hybrid 3.

For full official specs and info on the Active Hybrid 3, see our BMW ActiveHybrid 3 (F30) Thread.

Alpine White Active Hybrid 3

Active Hybrid 3 Media Presentation