8

One way to consider BMW’s ActiveHybrid 3 is as a faster, more economical version of the six cylinder 335i M Sport

A hybrid performance car may seem odd when your usual thought is of a Prius, but that’s how BMW pitches this undeniably rapid machine, which knocks off the 0-62mph dash in 5.3 seconds. And impressively, scores 139g/km and 47.9mpg. 

The £37,540 335i, by contrast, needs 5.9sec for the same feat, emits 186g/km of CO2 and returns 39.2mpg combined. So far, so good.

Trouble is there’s another way to consider this car, which is as an alternative to the 330d SE. Also a six, it costs £6945 less at £33,280, puts out 129g/km of CO2, returns 57.6mpg and accelerates to 62mph in 5.6sec. 

So why does BMW bother with the complexity of a hybrid to achieve numbers inferior to its excellent diesel? Partly because of the diesel-unfriendly US market, and partly because it feels it must be present with this technology, which it now offers in four models, three of them here.

But the hybrid 3’s technical intrigue may make it possible to ignore this troubling comparison. Apart from the pleasure of enjoying a smooth-revving petrol six, and one that’s hooked to a particularly effective eight-speed transmission, there’s the excitement of harnessing the 54bhp electric motor to provide an extra surge of acceleration. It’s like having an F1 KERS system kick in as you power past a dawdler on the A1, and certainly has you recalibrating your view on hybrids.  

Or you can go for the economy kick, engage the Eco Pro setting to give you fuel-eking hints and tips, call up the bar graphs indicating fuel economy and petrol engine usage on the infotainment system, see how little you can use the six during the next minute, and what that does to your consumption. And on a daily commute that could be fun. There’s also entertainment to be had from the Three itself, which serves the same excellent steering, the same (mostly) cushioned ride and similar, well balanced handling. For complete in-bend composure you must order the optional adaptive dampers, which better control the hybrid’s roll. 

Other entertainments include seeing how far and fast you can go on electric power alone (2.5 miles and 37mph are the maximums), besides trying to feather the brakes without jerking your occupants’ heads, this challenged heightened by the not always seamless transition from regenerative braking to the hydraulic sort. 

It doesn’t really make sense against the 330d, but its technical sophistication and engaging multiple modes may outweigh that objection, even if the forecast life of its expensive A123 battery pack is only 10 years. 

BMW ActiveHybrid 3 SE

Price £40,225; Engine 6cyls in-line, 2979cc, electric motor; Power 335bhp at 5800-6000rpm; Torque 332lb ft at 1200-5000rpm; 0-62mph 5.3sec; Top speed 155mph; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1595kg; Economy 47.9mpg; CO2 139g/km

Top 5 Compact saloons

  • The Jaguar XE - the big cat's new compact exec
    Jaguar's new four cylinder 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel engine comes with either 161bhp or 178bhp outputs

    Jaguar XE

    1
  • BMW 3 Series saloon
    BMW 3 Series is priced from £24,975

    BMW 3 Series

    2
  • Ford Mondeo Titanium 180PS

    Ford Mondeo

    3
  • The 2015 Audi A4

    Audi A4

    4
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class
    The C-Class shares a lot of its looks with the new S-Class, furthering its desirability

    Mercedes-Benz C-Class

    5

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    2 May 2016
    There's lots of work yet to be done, but the Aston Martin DB11's hardware has been signed-off. To experience it, we've driven a prototype
  • First Drive
    1 May 2016
    If you like Minis, going quickly and basking in the sun, then you're in luck; we've driven Mini's new John Cooper Works Convertible on foreign roads
  • Lotus Elise Cup 250
    First Drive
    29 April 2016
    The fastest, most track-focused and most expensive Elise ever made. It's simple, raw and immersive
  • Porsche 911 Targa 4S
    First Drive
    27 April 2016
    Slick looks, open-top fun and 911 handling sound brilliant, but the Targa has historically trailed the Coupé. How does the new model fare on UK roads?
  • Jaguar F-Pace 2.0d
    First Drive
    26 April 2016
    Jaguar's debut SUV wowed us abroad, but does it still impress as much here on the UK's roads?