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