Driving Impressions: BMW ActiveHybrid 3 & 5

When BMW handed us the keys to an ActiveHybrid 3 last week and sent us on a drive, we already knew what to expect of the exterior and interior, having driven the superb BMW F30 328i last year. What we didn’t know about was just how electric would meet combustion in the “bottom of the range” hybrid sedan. We say bottom of the range, but what we really mean is 335i with electric motor power-boost, which roughly translated into layman’s terms is something along the lines of “3.0 TwinPower Turbo inline-6 pushing out an incredible 250kW and 450Nm.” Impressive talk, and with a 5.3 second 0-100km/h sprint time, it’s definitely no slouch!

But what does all this translate to on the road? Well for starters, Over Boost, a system whereby under intense acceleration, the electric motor boosts the torque output to get you up to your desired speed even quicker than a regular 335i! This nifty piece of engineering is enough to give you the performance edge over any fellow BMW man on the road in any other 3 Series model, and with torque on demand, you’re sure to be the envy of the town too.

But surely, with the added electric systems, there must be some sort of downside to the handling aspect, right? Well, no. The ActiveHybrid 3 handles just as fluidly and perfectly as the standard 335i, and on the winding mountainous route we drove, we could find no fault whatsoever. When you turn the wheel, it pivots round to face the direction you want it in, and even when you give it just a bit too much, the ESP reigns the throttle in just slightly to keep you on the road. This precaution is only needed when you seriously overdo it though, and even when oversteering slightly, the ActiveHybrid 3 is precision personified, easily contained with a flick of the steering wheel and some throttle adjustment.

While driving, bar the Over Boost, you’d be hard pressed to tell you were driving a hybrid. Until of course you reach a downhill section and ease off the throttle, then the AH 3 goes into “Coast” mode, it disengages the engine entirely and quietly glides down the road until you apply throttle again. It uses regenerative braking to recharge the battery, and at lower speeds it used engine resistance as well instead of entering Coast mode. Below 75km/h the AH 3 can drive in full electric mode without hassle for up to 4 kilometres, using the charge gained from braking and coasting along, a precise number calculated by BMW as the average distance of a trip within a suburban area, such as on your way home from work.

The ActiveHybrid system also advances fuel saving by making use of stop-start technology, and flawless transitions between ICE and electric systems. Furthermore, the Eco-Pro mode advances your range with hints about easing off the throttle and turning the air-con down a notch. These are all clever little systems the give you just that little bit of extra range from your tank, all while helping the environment too.

The ActiveHybrid 5 is very similar in feel to the 3, although bigger and heavier (which can be felt through the sharper curves), it is for the most part un-noticeable and the drive is simply brilliant at all times. With the 5’s bigger body, it requires more power, and the hybridized engine ups power to 260kW and 500Nm available at the tap of a pedal.

Overall, the hybrid E-Drive systems don’t interfere and are hardly noticeable until you see your fuel economy, but driving like hooligans as we did, the ActiveHybrid models yield very little except a bit of extra power when you need it. So which would we choose? We’d be hard pressed to choose either really, when you can get a diesel equivalent with even more torque, the same level of refinement, and a lower price tag. So why get an ActiveHybrid then? For the environment of course, and get the 3, it’s more than spacious enough for you and the whole family, doesn’t look the size of the Ark, and when driven properly as a hybrid should be, the economy figures will be nothing short of highly impressive, brag-worthy even; plus you know you’re doing your part in the Electric Mobility drive to make the world a better place.

See the full ActiveHybrid 3 gallery below: (Click image to enlarge)

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Author: Roger Biermann

Images Courtesy of BMW South Africa

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