Hybrid, you’ve gotten a bad rap. All along we’ve heard how hybrids may be slow, but the fuel savings make it worthwhile. But we didn’t stop to think that when it comes to performance, if one power source is good, two can be even better. And we didn’t stop to think that a hybrid from BMW would be a high-performance hybrid.
Then enter the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3.
ActiveHybrid? Active indeed. Here’s what make it work. The hybrid arrangement for the ActiveHybrid 3 is a combination of BMW’s TwinPower Turbo 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder and an eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with integral electric motor drawing power from a high voltage battery.
But unlike the typical hybrid, the TwinPower Turbo 3.0-liter doesn’t cut power. It’s identical to the 3.0 turbo used in the BMW 335i, rated at 300 horsepower at 5800 rpm and peak—or plateau—torque of 300 lb-ft between 1200 and 5000 rpm. The engine, a multiple award winner, is a technological marvel in its own right, with a twin-scroll (dual nozzle) turbocharger, direct injection and fully variable valve timing.
To that, BMW adds a synchronous electric motor with a maximum output of 55 horsepower but also 155 lb-ft of torque from a standing start. Together the inline 6 and electric motor combine for 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 13 percent and 11 percent respectively. And that, by any estimation, is a boost in power.
The electric motor is integrated into a new eight-speed automatic transmission that’s connected to the engine via a clutch rather than the conventional torque converter. The eight ratios, of course, allow a wider range of power delivery, from lower, for quicker (and more efficient) off-the line performance, and a higher top gear, allowing for more fuel-efficient low rpm operation at highway speeds.
The electronically-controlled transmission also has direct downshift capability, skipping intermediate gears when shifting automatically to lower gears for shorter shift times for sportier driving. Speaking of sport, an optional sport transmission with even quicker shifting ability is available, though was not on our test 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 model.
Overall efficiency of the transmission is aided by warming and cooling by the internal combustion engine’s cooling system.
BMW hides the lithium-ion high-voltage battery for the ActiveHybrid 3 under the trunk’s floor, inside a special high-strength housing positioned between the rear wheel arches for maximum safety in a collision. Placing the weight towards the rear also helps weight balance.
For the tech minded, the 675 Wh battery is comprised of 96 cells, with battery temperature regulated by the car’s air conditioning cooling system. The hybrid power electrical system runs at 317 volts, running not only the electric propulsion system but the air conditioner compressor as well. The A/C unit doesn’t create a drag on gasoline engine performance but also allows the climate control system to operate even with the engine is not running.
Which we found was more frequently than we expected. Unlike certain hybrid systems’ monitor displays, the ActiveHybrid 3 keeps the tachometer from the conventional non-hybrid 335i, and when the engine is not running, the tachometer drops to “ready.”
This is evident in the auto stop-start mode, when the engine stops when the vehicle stops, such as when at a traffic light. When the driver lets up on the brake pedal, the car moves away on either the electric motor or, with the engine restarting, on gasoline engine and electric motor power.
Of course the BMW ActiveHybrid 3 has its own version of the “Eco button,” the ECO PRO mode that can be activated via the car’s “Driving Experience Control” switch. ECO PRO makes more frequent use of the electric motor mode, and the multi-information display can provide economy tips, such as coasting more when coming to a stop, for instance. We suspect most BMW won’t activate the nag feature.
The multi-information display, of course, has the usual energy use/recharging diagram, plus a bar graph illustration showing recent mpg with a corresponding percent of hybrid use. The instant mpg needle at the bottom of the non-hybrid BMWs has been replaced by a charge/eDrive gauge that swings from side to side, depending on how much power is being used.
With the vehicle stopped with the gasoline engine not running, the hybrid battery will eventually discharge. The engine will then restart to recharge the battery, and when it does, it does so with a kick. Hybrids with little engines don’t require much of a starter motor to fire up again, so it isn’t necessarily very noticeable when they do. But the big engine of the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 needs a big starter. It’s not particularly noticeable when starting the engine manually because it’s expected. However, it’s a surprise the first several times it happens. No doubt it eventually becomes second nature, but it still startled us to a degree even after a week of driving the car.
Speaking driving the car, it drives like a BMW 335i, only a bit quicker acceleration. Cornering, braking and that sweet BMW inline six—except when in electric motor mode—all combine to provide the traditional 3-Series BMW driving experience. That’s a good thing.
The ActiveHybrid 3, however, is the priciest model in the 3-Series sedan lineup. The base no-options 2013 BMW 320i sedan, the least expensive way to get into a new BMW 3-Series, has a price tag of $32,550. The 2013 BMW 335i—the ActiveHybrid 3 without the hybrid system, starts at $43,150. The 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3, however, has a base price of $49,300. And base price with BMW is only the beginning. The order sheet at your friendly BMW dealer has a long list of fun stuff, ours including Luxury Line trim at $1,400, the Driver Assistance package (rearview/side/top view cameras, park distance control, blind spot detection) for $1,900, and the $2,200 Premium Package (keyless entry and satellite radio), and Technology Package at $3,100 (nav/traffic, head-up display, BMW Apps and more). The bottom line came to $61,420.
Obviously, one doesn’t buy a BMW ActiveHybrid 3 to save money, even with gasoline at California prices. However, even driving the ActiveHybrid 3 as a BMW is meant to be driven, even in cold weather and in a hilly test area—both which decimate fuel economy numbers, over a week of driving the ActiveHybrid 3, our overall fuel economy (on premium fuel) was 29.4 mpg. That’s very impressive.
And like we said at the beginning, hybrids have gotten a bad rap. We only wish the price weren’t so dear, but the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 is a way to have your cake and color it green.
2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3, price and key specifications as tested
Body style/layout: 4-door sedan, front engine hybrid/rear-wheel drive
Base price: $49,300
Price as tested: $61,420
* Type: 3.0-liter 24-valve DOHC turbocharged inline-6
* Displacement, cc: 2979
* Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum
* Compression ratio: 10.2:1
* Horsepower: 300 @ 5800 rpm
* Torque: 300 @ 1500-5000 rpm
* Recommended fuel: premium unleaded
* Fuel economy, EPA est.: 25/33 mpg city/highway
* Fuel economy, observed: 29.4 mpg
* Synchronous, integrated in transmission
* Horsepower: 55 horsepower max
* Torque: 155 lb-ft at 0 mph
* Lithium-ion battery
* Horsepower: 335
* Torque: 332 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
* Suspension, front/rear: mulitlink with two lower control arms and double ball joints/ five-link
* Wheels: 17 x 8.0-inch alloy
* Tires: 225/45R18 summer performance
* Brakes: 4-wheel disc; 13.4-inch dia. front/13.0-inch dia. rear
* Steering: electric power rack-and-pinion
* Turning circle: 37.0 ft
* Wheelbase: 110.6 in.
* Length: 182.5 in.
* Height: 56.3 in.
* Width: 71.3 in.
* Curb weight: 3,825 lbs
* Trunk volume: 17.0 cu. ft.
* Fuel tank: 15.1 gal.
* Airbags: Front, front knee, front side, side-curtain
* Anti-lock brakes: Yes Traction control: Yes Stability control: Yes Electronic brake-force distribution: Yes Brake assist: Yes
* Other: adaptive brakelights, Brake Fade Compensation, Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying, and Brake Stand-by features
Warranty: 4-year/50,000 mile bumper-to-bumper; 4-year/50,000 mile powertrain;12-year/unlimited-mile corrosion,4-year/50,000-mile scheduled service, 4-year/unlimited-mile roadside assistance, 8-year hybrid/battery