What happens when you take a humdrum compact saloon and fit it with a motor powerful enough to change the tide? You get the BMW 335i – a twin-turbocharged fire-breathing family sedan which can blow your head off in the same way it can outrun performance-oriented cars with the subtlety of a mouse knocking on your front door.
What happens then, when you take this saloon and turn it into a greenie eco hybrid planet-saver? Well the first thing to occur is that the price shoots through the roof. I’ll get it out of the way now: the simple-looking BMW 3 Series you see before you retails for R642 449. With no extras.
Yes, for the same money as you’d spend on something like a BMW 520d GT M Sport, a Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTEC HYBRID or even a Land Rover Discovery 4 TDV6 XS – three much larger vehicles than the 3 Series, all powered by diesel and in fact rather economical as a result – the BMW ActiveHybrid 3 almost seems unbelievably overpriced. Perhaps it is, and perhaps that’s why you’ll probably never see one on the road.
However, price aside, what’s it like; BMW’s smallest hybrid offering in South Africa thus far? Well, considering it starts life as a 335i, I’d say it’s pretty bloody good. The sweet-sounding straight-six petrol engine sings the traditional BMW tune and with the assistance of the TwinPower turbo system, a 0-100 km/h sprint time of just 5.3 seconds means you can do some serious damage to a yob in a hot hatch, and he’ll not believe his eyes.
The immense performance comes of course thanks to the 225 kW and 400 Nm produced by the engine, but then you have to factor in the extra oomph added by the electric motor and battery pack, which results in a total power output of 250 kW and peak torque of 450 Nm. In the body of a 3 Series!
Mated brilliantly to the same 8-speed conventional automatic gearbox which you can find in most BMWs these days, the full hybrid system is a marvel of engineering and allows the ActiveHybrid 3 to be driven by the petrol engine, or electric motor, or both. And if you concentrate reasonably hard, you can actually turn this überwagen into an eco-warrior.
Allow me to put it into perspective: the standard 335i is claimed to drink 7.2-litres per 100 km on average; the ActiveHybrid 3 supposedly doing 5.9-litres per 100 km in comparison. While I can pretty-much guarantee that these figures are unachievable in the real world, I can report that my week with the hybrid returned average fuel economy of 8.1-litres per 100 km – a figure I’d expect to be around the 12-litres per 100 km mark in a normal 335i. So, clearly, the hybrid does offer large benefits in fuel economy and that, after all, is the point of going the hybrid route: saving fuel. Sure, the carbon emissions are low as well (139 kg/km) but as I have long professed, these figures are meaningless in the real world besides adding to the purchase price of the vehicle.
So, it’s a compact sedan which can be frugal (ish) yet also blisteringly quick when you need it to be. It’s good-looking and understated, the ActiveHybrid 3 only featuring distinctive wheels and subtle badging to differentiate it from lesser 3 Series models. But should you buy one? Well, do you have rocks in your head?
I doubt it. You’d be far better off with the 320d GT M Sport auto and here’s why: it’s still a BMW so all the BMW-ishness that you might want is still there. It’s bigger and far more luxurious. It’s also powered by diesel and that means it’s economical by default. Putting it into perspective, BMW claims average fuel economy to be 4.9-litres per 100 km and in the real world, I’d peg it around the 6-litres per 100 km mark on average because you’ll probably enjoy the 380 Nm of torque a bit more than you should. But the biggest reason why you should go for the GT is this: it costs R504 423, and that means you’ll have an extra R130 000-odd to spend on a holiday, or renovations, or a degree, or even another car for someone else.
My overall verdict on the ActiveHybrid 3 then, is that it’s a fabulous machine filled with mind-blowing technology and a résumé that ticks a whole lot of boxes. But its price is something that would make your mother cry, and for that reason it’s best left on the showroom floor.