Mean & Green | BMW ActiveHybrid 3

BY Joel Tam

How do we save the world without any super powers? BMW has the answer. Packing 335 bhp and 450 Nm, the ActiveHybrid 3 is both mean and green!

Photos: Joel Tam

Essentially based on a 335i (which we like a lot), the ActiveHybrid 3 (let's call it the AH3) is what I'd term a true performance hybrid.
When BMW decided to share it's motor across the ActiveHybrid range, namely the 3, 5 and 7, it didn't take a genius to figure that the AH3 would have the best power-to-weight ratio. So yes, the same engine we tested in the ActiveHybrid 7 [here], is found in the 3 as well. BMW's 6-cylinder single twin-scroll turbo unit from the 335i, the N55B30, produces 300 bhp and 400 Nm. Add an electric motor and the power figure jumps to 335 bhp. With the full electric torque of 210 Nm available from standstill, and the full onslaught of 450 Nm soon after. Sweet stuff.
So if you ever dreamed of owning a fast car that is also frugal, the AH3 might just be the car of your dreams. 

Aside from the ActiveHybrid badges, it's pretty much the same on the outside, what you get on a regular 3 Series sedan is what you'll find on the AH3. Our test car did come with some silver aluminum inserts and trimmings, the signature kidney grille for example, has its slats finished in silver instead of chrome. Another quick way to differentiate the AH3 from the regular 3 Series is to look at the wheels (provided they aren't spinning). The rotor-styled wheels are unique to the AH3, and along with its bigger brethren, the AH5 and AH7, complete the range of propeller-design wheels on the ActiveHybrid series.

Inside, well, it would have been the same if not for some clever speccing by the local distributor. Our test car came with the 'Modern' package, which swathed the interior of the AH3 in light beige leather and a rather unique choice of wood grain. While it is admittedly different and refreshing in an avant-garde sort of way, it won't make it onto my spec list if I was shopping for an AH3. The relief of the wood grain is just too pronounced for my taste.

What was rather cool though, was the white-on-brown instrument dials. Set against the black cluster board, the dials had a contemporary look to them and matched the overall interior extremely well. While not exactly sporty, this interior looks fresh compared to the often black and grey interiors from BMW that we're used to.

So what's it like to drive? Not much different from a regular 335i - which is a good thing. There's nothing hybrid about the way it starts for one, the six-cylinder engine’s snarl and exhaust bark will remind you that this car means business. Floor the pedal and the car will pounce on the road ahead like a famished predator on its prey.

Keep it in Sport mode, which sharpens the throttle response, transmission and other systems for er… sporty driving, and without question, the AH3 will satisfy any petrol-head. 0-100 km/h is dispatched in 5.3 seconds, and the car will hit 250 km/h if given the space. Hurl it around your favorite corners and you'll find that the AH3 handles superbly, much like a regular 3 Series, despite being 138 kg heavier. The steering is direct enough for most situations and the suspension is well damped for both spirited and comfort driving, thanks also to the drive modes available at the touch of a button.

At this point, you'll probably be exclaiming with a wide smile "This doesn't feel like a hybrid at all!". You couldn't be more right. But there's a catch; it doesn't drink like one as well. Like the ActiveHybrid 7 we drove, we found that the fuel consumption was hardly 'hybrid-worthy'. That said, the AH3 does give you the option of saving the world and your pocket at the same time. It can run on petrol or electric power alone, or a combination of both. So it's really up to you.

If you've had your fun for the day, simply slip the driving mode into Eco Pro, and as its name suggests, will make the most use of the electric motor and pair down the performance of the car's components to give you the best economy. You truly get the best of both worlds.

So maybe most buyers won't care about the environment as much and will just opt for the 335i. But as a journalist, I am exposed to the changing climate in the motoring industry and the effects it has on our world. So as I swing between loving performance and being responsible, I'd be happy dreaming of a white BMW finished in white and specced with an M-Sport kit, proudly wearing the ActiveHybrid 3 badge.