Many use the term “having your cake and eating it too’’ without full knowledge of the term’s origins. Its earliest known use was in a 1546 collection of proverbs written by Englishman John Heywood. In its original form, it reads “wolde you both eate your cake, and have your cake?’’ Even today, the proverb represents the dilemma of trying to attain two mutually exclusive results. John Heywood hath not driven thy BMW ActiveHybrid3.
For many driving enthusiasts, the notion of a hybrid 3 Series will rock tired old sensibilities about performance cars. The ActiveHybrid3 stands as a shining example that you can have your fuelefficient cake, and eat up miles of spirited driving too, all in the seat of a spectacular BMW sedan.
BMW has redesigned the entire 3 Series sedan lineup for 2013, with the coupe inexplicably breaking off as the “4 Series’’ next year. The 3 Series continues a proud tradition as one of the best drivers’ cars in the world, with sorted handling, responsive steering, and energetic powertrains.
While BMW continues this legacy of performance, it is also leading the way for the future of efficient motoring, having recently unveiled a lineup of concepts, called the “i’’ series.These vehicles have conceptual hybrid powertrains and are built with expansive use of carbon fiber, an extremely lightweight and strong material. Carbon fiber is also extremely expensive, and BMW has just partnered with aerospace giant Boeing to look for more cost effective ways to produce the exotic material. As such, the “i’’ lineup, will continue to be a lofty concept, until carbon fiber production costs come down.
In the meantime, BMW will offer the ActiveHybrid lineup, featuring 3, 5, and 7 Series models with hybrid powertrains. Visual differences between the hybrid and its conventionally powered stable mates are subtle, save for the large “ActiveHybrid’’ badging—oh, and the price. While a standard 335i sedan starts at $42,800, the 2013 ActiveHybrid3 comes with a base MSRP of $49,300. Nearly $50K for ANY 3 Series is steep, and that is before the nearly $12,000 in options, which result in a final sticker price of $61,420. Though steep, that price comes with a lot of kit, starting with the potent, yet fuel-efficient powertrain.
The ActiveHybrid3 comes equipped with the larger 3.0-liter turbocharged, inline-six-cylinder engine. The engine makes 300 horsepower, sent to the rear wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. The system is combined with a 55-horsepower electric motor, receiving power from a lithium-ion battery pack and captured from regenerative braking. Combined system output is a robust 335-horsepower and 330 pound feet of torque. Factor in cylinder deactivation and limited electriconly driving modes, and the ActiveHybrid3 achieves fuel economy of 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.
On the non-hybrid 3 Series, a smaller turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is available and one may think that engine would have been the more logical choice for a vehicle whose purpose is improved fuel economy. That is actually not the objective of ActiveHybrid3. Both the 4-cylinder 328i and 6-cylinder 335i achieve a combined 26 mpg, and in order to meet tightening fuel economy regulations, BMW knows it must make its cars more efficient, regardless of performance. To that end, the ActiveHybrid3 is a portent of the next generation 3 Series, where a hybrid powertrain will be standard equipment in order to meet said fuel economy regulations.
So what does that all mean for the 3 Series driver? It means that the ActiveHybrid3 gets better fuel economy than any conventionally powered version of the 3 Series, and yet is as fun to drive. The ActiveHybrid3 overcomes the added weight of the battery pack with a 0 to 60 time of just 5.2 seconds, 0.2 seconds faster than the nonhybrid 335i. That added acceleration bolsters one of the best driving experiences in the automotive landscape.
Seat time in a 3 Series of any propulsion method is a welcome experience. BMW engineers have managed to bottle that amazing feeling of entering and exiting a corner in the 335i and spread it to the hybrid lineup. BMW gives you the option of selecting Sport mode, which raises shift points; you would never know you are piloting a hybrid.
One of the hang-ups on the ActiveHybrid3 is the price, but said $61K sticker comes with an expansive list of standard equipment. Our test model was equipped with rain-sensing windshield wipers, adaptive, speed-matching cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and a USB adapter for all your smartphone connectivity needs. Also part of the package is BMW’s iDrive, but you’ll have to delve into the options list to get goodies like rear view camera, blind-spot detection, smartphone integration, and GPS navigation. All are welcome features, but they come with the aforementioned cost.
So what to make of the ActiveHybrid3? Clearly, this is the direction in which the common automobile is headed—hybrid setups applied to existing powertrains to achieve improved fuel economy while retaining commonly accepted driving characteristics. In the meantime, the ActiveHybrid3 is a statement, representing your endorsement of an environmentally responsible future.The exhilarating driving experience?That is just the icing on the cake.