Following our review of the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 we come up with three words: dynamic, intelligent and efficient

PROS:

  • More power without the pain at the pump
  • Driving a “green” automobile will make you cool in some circles
  • The hybrid technology is packaged in the stunning new 3-Series
  • Delivers the dynamic driving experience expected of a BMW

CONS:

  • Expensive even before you add popular options
  • The light interior is a bad choice for soggy Vancouver

What is the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3?

The BMW 3 Series lineup of automobiles is one of the most popular in the country and as such, the stylish compact sedans, coupes and convertibles have developed a very loyal following. In an effort to both retain and grow the 3’s customer base BMW product planners offer the vehicles fitted with wide range of engines, trim levels and options to maintain consumer interest. As a result, the 3 Series arsenal includes everything from economical four-cylinder models, luxurious showpieces, and even track-ready weapons (M3). However, the latest entry – the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 – has been designed to appeal to those consumers looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 Review2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 Review

2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 ReviewHybrids are boring?

The modern hybrid automobile has now been with us for almost 15 years. During this period Toyota, Honda and Ford have largely dominated the market due to the fact that the three companies were all early adopters of the technology, but in recent years hybrid models have become more commonplace as tougher emissions regulations have been put in place. Well BMW has now jumped into the fray, but in a very different manner. The goal for the offerings on the company’s ActiveHybrid menu is to offer  maximum efficiency and maximum dynamics.

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While most hybrid designs seek to maximize the fuel efficiency of the vehicle this often comes at a price. Unfortunately the gains garnered by the assistance of the electric motor usually result in a substantial loss of eight cars overall performance. Virtually every hybrid car offers impressive initial acceleration due to the instantaneous delivery of torque gleaned from the stored electrical charge in the battery packs, but for the most part, the rest of the driving experience tends to be rather bland. The fine folks at BMW have always touted that their cars have been designed to deliver “the ultimate driving experience” so a traditional hybrid design would definitely fall short in this regard. As a result, BMW’s ActiveHybrid lineup of 3-, 5- and 7 Series cars are being marketed as luxury performance hybrid vehicles, with the emphasis being on performance rather than the quest for optimal fuel efficiency.

The performance hybrid concept is not new, as Honda tried a similar concept with its Accord Hybrid several years back. This premium priced Accord offered consumers slightly higher performance than the conventional V6-engined Accord, but unfortunately, the marketplace did not embrace the hybrid unit, and the vehicle was discontinued after the 2007 model year. At the time, it was evident that Toyota’s similarly sized Camry Hybrid better represented the wants and needs of the environmentally conscious Canadian automotive consumer with its four-cylinder engine and subdued performance.

The luxury performance hybrid on the other hand, has proven quite successful, as it appears that many of the consumers who are already prepared to pay a premium for a quality product don;t seem to mind paying a little extra to go green. BMW rival Lexus has had some success with its performance hybrid offerings – GS 450h and LS 600h- as have both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. BMW hopes that the small segment of its clientele that might be looking for a more green alternative will stay in the family and embrace the ActiveHybrid 3 and its larger siblings as these vehicles offer  levels of comfort and performance that they have become accustomed to from the brand’s products, but without the social stigma that often comes along for the ride.

Under the Hood of the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3

Under the hood of the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 you will find a longitudinal, front-mounted, twin-turbocharged, 3.0-litre, inline six-cylinder engine partnered with a hybrid-specific, ultra-smooth, eight-speed automatic (Steptronic) transmission. The intelligent hybrid system is comprised of a 40-kW electric motor which is mated to a high-performance, lithium-ion battery which resides under the trunk floor. Unfortunately XDrive is not available in ActiveHybrid models, but enthusiast drivers will rejoice that the car retains a rear-wheel-drive layout.

2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 Review

The potent combination of the BMW TwinPower Turbo straight six engine and the electric motor produce a maximum output of  335-hp and 332 lb-ft of torque (@1,300 rpm) which is good enough to launch the car from 0 to 100 km/h in a mere 5.5 seconds. This is only a hair slower than the launch times of the lighter 335i (5.4s), but the big win is at the pump, where the combined average of city and highway fuel economy drops from 7.7L per 100 km in the 335i to an impressive 7.1L in the ActiveHybrid 3.

The hybrid system adds an additional 105 kilograms of weight to the car when compared to a BMW 335i, but you won’t notice a substantial change in handling if you are familiar with that of the current 3-Series as the batteries have been carefully positioned ahead of the rear axle and situated very low in the car and effort to preserve the vehicle’s near ideal weight distribution. This means that the car is very well balanced and handling is both predictable and exhilarating. If you weren’t informed of the car was a hybrid, you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Intelligent Hybrid Technology

2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 Review

Don’t expect to boast about your impressive fuel economy numbers if you drive this car aggressively as it likes to gulp its share of premium fuel, but if you drive like a model citizen and tend to travel in a congested city environment you will see some benefit gains as a result of the hybrid system. This is due to the fact that intelligent hybrid system will operate the car as a purely electric vehicle whenever it makes sense in energy terms – such as being stuck in stop-and-go urban traffic. The electric motor then draws only the energy that is needed from the lithium-ion battery in which the power obtained from energy recovery is stored.

If you are like me and enjoy taking long Sunday drives in the country then I suspect that you would quickly learn to appreciate the ActiveHybrid’s electric boost function. The intelligent hybrid system monitors your driving style and the load being placed on the engine so when it comes time to execute a passing manoeuvres or climb a steep grade the electric motor’s boost function will step  in to provide the combustion engine with its extra 35 ponies.

BMW hopes that the small segment of its clientele that might be looking for a more green alternative will stay in the family and embrace the ActiveHybrid 3…

The ActiveHybrid 3’s performance parameters can be adjusted to meet the individual needs of the driver using the console-mounted Driving Experience Control. There are four distinct driving modes- ECO PRO, COMFORT, SPORT or SPORT+ – available, and each one will alter the response of the throttle, transmission, stability control, and steering feel as well as determine the participation status of the electric motor. The ECO PRO mode is geared towards maximum efficiency and even the climate control and other convenience functions are adapted intelligently to reduce power consumption. The dash-mounted display screen can be used to watch a series of onboard videos that explain how the car’s systems work to maximize efficiency, and a series of screens and a gauge cluster Charge/Power indicator help to provide tips and real-time data on how to drive more efficiency.. In addition, with ECO PRO Mode activated it is possible run solely on electric power for up to four kilometers (at speeds up to 75 km/h) and to coast at up to 160 km/h! Impressive.

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While driving in SPORT mode, the combustion engine is only switched off at very low speeds, which enables an especially sporty style of driving with high revs and additional power from the electric boost function. COMFORT mode allows electric driving without any restriction on convenience functions such as the heating for the exterior mirrors.

The ActiveHybrid 3 comes equipped with all of  the basic luxuries and convenience features one expects in a premium product including unique beige coloured instruments, power operated and heated sport seats, leather seating surfaces, sunroof, and a top-notch climate control system. BMW’s intuitive iDrive interface control is standard as are active bi-xenon headlights, but many of the safety and infotainment features on my test unit had to be ordered as optional equipment.

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Conclusions

I enjoyed my time behind the wheel of this 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 because it delivered the driving experience that I have come to expect from a BMW product. I know this was the plan, but I think BMW would move a lot more cars if they had followed the Toyota route and made the ActiveHybrid 3 the most fuel-efficient of the 3-Series models rather than the most powerful, especially if they were equipped with all the comfort, safety and convenience features one comes to expect in the typical BMW product. Even so, I suspect this car will sell quite well in environmentally conscious markets like Vancouver, but some consumers might balk at the near $7,100 premium they will have to pay for the privilege of owning what is in fact, the top-of-the-line 3-Series automobile.

2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 Technical specifications

  • Base price (MSRP): $58,300 CAD
  • Price as tested: $67,270 [Includes options:  Premium Package ($4,500); Driver Assistance Package ($800);  Liquid Blue metallic paint ($800); Freight & PDI: $2,095; Various fees and levies ($775)]
  • Type: 4-door, 5-passenger luxury sedan.
  • Layout: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive
  • Engine: Twin-turbocharged, 3.0-litre, inline six-cylinder engine
  • Horsepower: 300 @ 5,800 rpm; + 35-hp from 40-kW electric motor
  • Torque (lb-ft): 332 @ 1,300 rpm
  • Transmission: 8-Speed Steptronic automatic
  • Brakes: Disc/disc
  • Fuel economy [L/100 km]: City 8.0 (35.3 mpg); Hwy  5.9 (47.8); Combined 7.1 (39.8)

2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 Gallery:

Russell Purcell is an award-winning automotive journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. His passion for automobiles was sparked at the tender age of six, when a family friend gave the wide-eyed first grader a ride to school in a track prepared Porsche 911 RSR. He continues to fan the flames by building an impressive library of automotive related books as well as a vast collection of interesting automobilia and motoring artefacts. Russell is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and is active on Twitter as RoadTestRuss.