It’s true: Perhaps the ultimate Ultimate Driving Machine—the BMW 3 Series—is going hybrid for the new model year. In fact, the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 is already up on the brand’s retail website, priced from $49,300 (before $895 worth of destination charges). The BMW 3 Series hybrid is the latest in a growing green(-ish) lineup from the Bavarians, who have been taking an increasingly aggressive approach to improving fuel efficiency in recent years. This has included adding a number of hybrid and diesel products to their U.S. lineup, preparing for the launch of EVs like the BMW i3 city car and the 1-Series-based BMW ActiveE, and relying on more efficient turbocharged I4 engines (instead of naturally aspirated I6 powerplants) as motivation for cars like the 3 Series, BMW 1 Series and BMW Z4.
Now, not all of these vehicles have been fuel sippers. The EPA rated the 2011 BMW X6 hybrid at 17 mpg city/19 mpg highway/18 mpg combined, numbers weak enough to cancel the vehicle entirely, while the current BMW ActiveHybrid 7—the hybrid version of the BMW 7 Series—only achieves 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway/20 mpg combined. But BMW does appear to have switched gears lately and taken a more serious approach to fuel economy, as evidenced by the current BMW 328i. By swapping its six-cylinder engine with a BMW TwinPower Turbo I4, the car went from supplying 230 hp, 200 lb.-ft. of torque and EPA marks of 18/28/22 to delivering 240 hp (+4.3 percent), 255 lb.-ft. of torque (+27.5 percent) and fuel-economy grades of 23/34/27 (+22.7 percent in combined driving).
Offering a hybrid setup on the 3 Series, the automaker’s highest-volume model, does seem like a logical next step, so let’s see exactly what’s on tap with the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3.
2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3: Going Green
The short story here is a simple one: The automaker essentially has taken the BMW 335i and added a hybrid drive unit to its pre-existing, automatically transmissioned powertrain. The result combines a 3.0-liter TwinPower Turbo I6 engine, an eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, a synchronous electric motor, and a cutting-edge lithium-ion battery pack that adds a bit more than 300 lbs. to the car’s overall curb weight (3,860 lbs.). Backed by that system, the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 provides 335 hp and 330 lb.-ft. of torque, representing 35 extra horses and 30 more lb.-ft. of twist than the traditional BMW 335i, as well as the ability to run from 0-60 in 5.2 seconds and reach a governed top speed of 155 mph.
But the ActiveHybrid 3 also includes a number of other tech advances aimed at maximizing the hybrid ownership experience, including an auto stop-start system that shuts off the car’s internal combustion engine when the vehicle is not in motion, as well as a coasting feature that does the same even when the vehicle is moving: In situations where, for example, the driver is approaching a red light, a quick tap of the brakes can turn off the engine—and even disconnect it from the drive shaft to reduce drag—and allow the car to coast in fuel-efficient near silence.
And on the topic of silent running, the ActiveHybrid 3 can travel up to 2.5 miles, at speeds reaching 45 mph, relying solely on zero-emissions, all-electric power.
2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3: The High-tech Hybrid
Also noteworthy is the car’s electrical architecture. Onboard are both a traditional setup and, linked to it via a transformer, a high-performance 317-volt system; they work together to ensure optimum electrical power is available to all vehicle systems during all driving scenarios. Further, the climate-control system in the ActiveHybrid 3 gets its power only from the car’s lithium-ion battery pack, so cabin temperatures remain pleasant even when the engine is off to save fuel.
Finally, the 3 Series hybrid can go a step beyond merely optimizing fuel-economy, performance and cabin comfort to match current driving conditions—it also can prepare the vehicle for what’s coming next. When drivers select a destination using the available nav system and enable route guidance, the ActiveHybrid 3 can analyze factors like posted speed limits and changes in elevation in advance, then implement fuel-saving measures to match projected conditions across the entire trip.
2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3: How Green Is It?
If you’re wondering how you’ve gotten this far without reading about the actual fuel-economy ratings for the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3, that’s because BMW has yet to mention them. Of the more than 3,000 words in the car’s press release, none of them were “mpg” or “miles per gallon.” However, if we look to how much the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 improves fuel efficiency over the BMW 750i—which holsters the same 4.4-liter V8, but without hybrid system—an optimistic calculation would take the ActiveHybrid 3 up to about 26 mpg city/36 mpg highway/31 mpg combined. To put that into context, the 2012 Toyota Corolla with an automatic transmission goes 26/34/29.
2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3: Unrivalled Performance
As for more likely rivals to the 3 Series hybrid, they’re surprisingly few and far between. The only other premium compact sedan with a hybrid system is the Acura ILX, and that car is a completely different kind of animal. Remembering that the BMW will pack a 3.0-liter, 300-hp turbocharged I6 engine, the ILX brings a naturally aspirated 1.5-liter I4 engine that produces a meager 111 hp; on a total system basis, the ActiveHybrid 3 showcases 335 hp to the ILX’s 134, and there’s a similar disparity between the vehicles’ torque figures, with the BMW making 330 lb.-ft. of twisting power to the Acura’s 205. On the other hand, the ILX does provide noticeably better overall fuel-economy ratings of 39 mpg city/38 mpg highway/38 mpg combined.
The Infiniti M Hybrid and Buick Regal eAssist are both in the next segment up from the BMW, with the former being more than a foot longer and the latter stretching a bit more than seven inches past the BMW’s 182.3 inches. If you’re curious about the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, it fits in between the Buick and Infiniti, size-wise.
That being said, the M35h probably will see some cross-shopping from potential ActiveHybrid 3 customers, so it’s worth noting that it comes with an MSRP of $47,700 (more than $1,000 below the BMW), makes a total of 360 hp, and posts an EPA line of 27/32/29. It’s also the current record holder as the world’s fastest production hybrid, although the BMW’s ability to run from 0-60 in 5.2 seconds could change that.