2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3
2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3

Thanks mainly to the Toyota Prius, we’ve come to view hybrid cars as fuel-efficient yet uninspiring green machines that aren’t very exciting to drive. Just the word ‘hybrid’ implies a compromise between fuel efficiency and performance.  But there’s another kind of hybrid – the luxury performance hybrid – that provides better fuel economy than comparable non-hybrids and outstanding performance as well.  These performance hybrids use the car’s powerful battery and electric motor to boost overall horsepower and torque while reducing fuel consumption at the same time. Lexus was the pioneer here with the GS 450h and LS 600h, followed by other luxury hybrids from Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Infiniti, Audi and BMW. The new BMW ActiveHybrid 3, for example (which follows the ActiveHybrid 7 and ActiveHybrid 5), is the newest performance hybrid from Munich. Imagine this: a 306-hp BMW 335i sedan with a 40-kW electric motor that boosts peak horsepower to 340; zips from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds; and offers combined city/highway fuel economy of 7.1 L/100 km. That, in a nutshell, is the ActiveHybrid 3.

Unlike most mainstream hybrid cars which have a small displacement four-cylinder engine mounted transversely in the front mated to a continuously variable transmission driving the front wheels, the ActiveHybrid 3 has a longitudinal front-mounted twin-turbocharged 3.0L inline six-cylinder engine, a conventional eight-speed automatic “Steptronic” transmission and 40-kW electric motor delivering power to the rear wheels. A powerful lithium-ion battery under the trunk floor powers the electric motor that is integrated into the rear of the automatic transmission. Even with all the extra electrical hardware, the ActiveHybrid 3 weighs only 105 kg more than a 335i sedan.

2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 32013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3
2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3. Click image to enlarge

Despite its high-powered engine and conventional transmission, the ActiveHybrid 3 can still be classified as a “full hybrid” because it can run solely on electric power, solely on gas engine power, or a combination of both, depending on the battery charge and driving conditions. Using a console button, the driver can adjust the level of power and efficiency by choosing one of four driving modes: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport or Sport +. Each varies the throttle response, transmission shift points, stability control settings, and steering feel.  In Eco-Pro mode, the ActiveHybrid 3 can run on electric power for up to four kilometers at speeds up to 75 km/h, and will coast at speeds up to 160 km/h with the engine turned off and decoupled from the drivetrain; in Comfort mode, this only happens between 60 and 80 km/h while braking gently; and in Sport and Sport+ modes, coasting mode is deactivated.

2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 32013 BMW ActiveHybrid 32013 BMW ActiveHybrid 32013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3
2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3. Click image to enlarge

Like other hybrids, the ActiveHybrid 3’s battery is recharged while coasting and braking, and while stopped in Drive (at a traffic light, for example) the gas engine turns off automatically, restarting when the driver lifts their foot off the brake pedal.

The improvement in fuel economy is reasonable, but not outstanding: the ActiveHybrid 3 has a preliminary fuel economy rating of 8.0 L/100 City and 5.9 L/100 km Highway. That compares to the 335i sedan with 9.1 city/6.0 hwy. As you can see, the ActiveHybrid 3’s major fuel economy benefit is during city driving where the ability to run on electric power at slower speeds and the engine stop function really improves the efficiency.

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