The 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 is a lot more exciting than the name suggests. Aside from the M3, it’s the most powerful and the quickest accelerating 3 Series ever made. It’s also the only hybrid on sale with a proper sports automatic gearbox, as opposed to the usual boring CVT setups, and it sounds as thrilling as all great BMW sixes.
2013 BMW ACTIVEHYBRID 3 M SPORT – PROS AND CONS
- Engine screams and pulls very hard
- Brakes take repeated abuse
- Great sports seats
- Technology and versatility
- M Sport pack looks sharp
- Front suspension feels a bit soft and floaty, even in ‘Sport Plus’ mode
- Interior bings and chimes get very annoying
- Traction control ‘off’ button is fake; traction control will intervene in certain conditions/demands
2013 BMW ACTIVEHYBRID 3 M SPORT – OVERVIEW
It’s not everyday that a really well-packaged car comes along. The new ActiveHybrid 3 blends the efficiency benefits of a hybrid powertrain, together with all of the inspiration and enthusiasm of a flagship 3 Series.
The performance and aural pleasure comes thanks to the petrol-powered element of the powertrain, consisting of a 3.0-litre TwinPower turbocharged inline six taken from the otherwise flagship 335i. Paired simultaneously and seamlessly to a 40kW/210Nm lithium-ion electric motor, overall output is rated at 250kW and 450Nm.
The electric motor assist works in a way that’s slightly different to all other hybrids currently on sale. For one, it blends in with the petrol engine and its operation seamlessly, even allowing the petrol engine to run through the normal eight-speed sports automatic transmission – the only other hybrid vehicle currently on sale that doesn’t come with one of those lifeless CVT (continuously variable) transmissions is the manual Honda CR-Z. For the BMW, the auto is a highly welcome advantage. It comes with paddle shifters too.
The other unique element to this hybrid is the fact that it’s capable of running in electric-only mode at highway speeds. Let us explain. Under very low-load conditions, and in a driving mode other than the sporty settings, the petrol engine shuts down automatically while on the go. The transition is so smooth and quiet that you don’t even feel it.
The moment you put your foot down a little bit the petrol engine fires back into life, without any hesitation. Part of this smoothness is down to the way the petrol engine is fired back up. At highway speeds, the engine is simply spun into life using vehicle speed and the electric motor; in other words, you don’t have to wait for the starter motor mechanism to engage.
It’s the same for the stop-start system. Under gentle demands, the car will take off from rest pretty much silently using the 210Nm of torque from the electric motor. When the load threshold is passed, or if you give it some, the 3.0-litre six softly and smoothly starts up and takes over. It’s one of the nicest hybrid systems we’ve encountered.
To make this particular test car more appealing is the full M Sport package, which is a $5500 option. It includes sporty front and rear bumper bars, with the rear incorporating some aggressive vertical side slits, as well as a set of staggered 19-inch M alloy wheels wearing 225/40s on the front and 255/35s on the rear.
The interior is dressed in a bit of an M theme too, with an M-badged three-spoke sports steering wheel taking centre stage. There’s also sports seats and lots of silver carbon-fibre-look trimmings on the dash and door trims.
With a starting price of $97,700, it’s easily the most expensive 3 Series this side of the iconic M3. In saying that, you do get a lot for your money.
2013 BMW ACTIVEHYBRID 3 M SPORT – ENGINE SOUND AND 0-100KM/H VIDEO
2013 BMW ACTIVEHYBRID 3 M SPORT – ACCOMMODATION AND EQUIPMENT
Almost as soon as you open the door, you are met with a chiming sound from the dash. There are way too many chimes, blings and bongs from the cabin. The moment you do almost anything – open the door, close the door, turn the ignition on, turn the engine off – you are reminded of what you just did with an audible chime. It can get quite frustrating, to the point where the sounds lose their meaning.
While the iDrive control for the media interface used to be a complicated tool, it now seems refreshingly simple to use compared with the increasingly overcomplicated rival systems. The menu functionality is clean with most operations adopting either an up-down or side-to-side flick of the rotary button.
Sitting in the dash, the ActiveHybrid 3, being the flagship, gets the full navigation ‘Professional’ multimedia interface which includes an 8.8-inch LCD screen. It offers 3D maps, bird’s eye view, DVD playback, internet connectivity, a 20GB storage drive, and USB and Bluetooth support.
Sounds are sent through a crisp, high quality Harman/Kardon surround sound system with no less than 16 speakers, all powered by a 600W amplifier. It’s a great stereo unit, producing awesome bass and clarity no matter what position you prefer the volume knob.
Strangely, the hybrid 3 doesn’t come with a reverse parking camera as standard. It does come with parking sensors and a graphic display, however, a rear camera is a $1000 option. Head-up display is also a steep option, priced at $2000. These technologies, we feel, should really be standard on a flagship premium car.
Cabin space is more than respectable for this segment, with plenty of legroom front and rear, and adequate headroom front and rear. In fact, the 3 Series (892mm) provides more legroom than most of its rivals, such as the current Lexus IS (777mm) and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan (848mm). The Audi A4 offers the most rear legroom out of the three Germans, with 894mm.
The driver’s seat comes with adjustable side bolsters which can be blown out electronically to really hug your hips. The driving position, as always with BMW, is spot on. The soft three-spoke M steering wheel falls faithfully into your hands, while the traditional twin-dial instrument cluster is in the ideal view.
It’s amazing how BMW gets this relationship between man and controls so right, every time. It makes you feel at ease with the car before you even set off… if something isn’t binging at you that is.
2013 BMW ACTIVEHYBRID 3 M SPORT – DESIGN AND SAFETY
Showing off the new M Sport bodykit, the ActiveHybrid 3 gained the respect of endless onlookers during our time with the car. For some reason, many of these onlookers thought traffic lights were the start lights at a drag strip, and were eager to try and put the hybrid to shame. Unfortunately for them, failure was their destiny.
The bodykit includes a sharper front bumper bar with little fins on the corners, extended side sills, and a noticeably more aggressive rear bumper bar incorporating a bit of a diffuser at the bottom. Twin exhausts poke out from either side, like they do on the 335i.
From the front you can see the M Division DNA coming through with that trademark centre lip which droops down. Could this be an indication of what to expect on the next-gen M3?
In this Mineral Grey colour with the M Sport pack, the 3 Series looks quite ravishing in our opinion. It looks smart, slightly understated, yet assertive and sporty.
Australia’s ANCAP hasn’t specifically tested the hybrid 3. The organisation has tested the F30 3 Series and awarded the full five stars. It received a very high score of 36.76 out of 37 in recent tests.
Standard features include eight airbags, emergency brake lights, corner braking control capable of braking individual wheels for better maneuverability, and stability and traction control, which can’t really be turned off – more on that below.
2013 BMW ACTIVEHYBRID 3 M SPORT – ON THE ROAD
Nail the throttle and you’re instantly presented with a screaming six-cylinder soundtrack which sings beyond 7000rpm. It is one of the best-sounding engines in this segment, easily capable of sending shivers up your spine and a grin across your face.
The power that accompanies the trademark six-cylinder euphony is nothing short of heart-stopping. The sheer relentless pull of the 335i engine with the additional 40kW is mighty impressive and very exciting. It pushes you back into your seat with the immediacy and aggression of a much more serious sports car.
We timed 0-100km/h in 5.4 seconds, or just shy of the factory quoted 5.3 seconds. We couldn’t get a decent start during our tests as the traction control intervened despite being switched off (holding the button down for five seconds). This caused the car to go into second gear prematurely, despite being in manual mode.
Although not being able to turn the traction control completely off is one thing, the argument here is why is there a button for it in the first place? It’s the same with the ‘manual’ mode of the transmission; it will upchange automatically just short of the redline cutoff regardless of your intentions.
Anyway, 0-100km/h times are not what this car is all about. The technology, the in-gear acceleration, and the steering and handling are what impress most.
The ActiveHybrid 3 is the heaviest 3 Series sedan on sale, tipping the scales at 1655kg. Even so, it’s around the same weight as most of its nearest rivals, including the Lexus IS 350 F Sport (1645kg), the Mercedes-Benz C 350 Coupe (1615kg), and the Audi A4 2.0 TFSI quattro (1665kg).
It presses down on the ground with 135kg more force than the regular 335i sedan. On the road, the hybrid feels relatively light on its toes. It’s very eager to jump into and out of corners, and it offers the precision and directness that makes it one of the most rewarding drives in this segment.
The steering can be either light, medium, or satisfyingly weighted, depending on what setting you have the Driving Experience control in. It offers Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus modes, and some of these can be customised further.
About the only drawback to the handling is the front suspension which can feel a bit washy and bouncy on fast-paced country roads. This could be due to the additional weight of the hybrid components, or simply a minor issue isolated to this test car which has 6500km on the clock.
Unfortunately, the ActiveHybrid 3 cannot be equipped with the desirable M Sport suspension that usually comes with the M Sport pack. Instead, Adaptive M suspension is optional ($1400 when optioned with M Sport pack), but it’s still not the proper M Sport setup with stiffer springs and a lowered ride height (10mm).
We would love to see a firmer front damper setting on this. The nose is always direct and it points in when you want it to with almost zero understeer, however, turning while enjoying a dipper or two won’t feel as planted as say the Lexus IS 350 F Sport or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sport. Even the 320i Sport Line feels more secure and stable in this respect, perhaps down to the lighter weight of the 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine.
Fitted with Bridgestone run-flat tyres, grip levels are incredible. You can input a lot of throttle at the apex of a corner and it won’t step out on you, even with 250kW on tap. It rockets away completely composed and without nervousness. In other words, you can tell this car has been developed with plenty of track honing and heritage.
Coincidentally, we actually suffered a puncture during our test while on the run-flats. We were travelling at around 80km/h at the time when a warning on the dash signaled a drop in tyre pressure. At first, the tyre didn’t feel flat at all but once we opened the window we could hear a bit of a fluttering sound. As you can see in the image below, the flat tyre is only just noticeable.
The car held its stability wonderfully and at no point did it feel like it was going to slide – quite a fascinating technology really. The only problem that comes with this is there is no spare tyre in the boot. Instead, Bridgestone recommends a maximum travelling distance of 80km before the flat tyre’s used-by date expires. This would obviously be a major issue if it happened in a remote area.
So, what about this hybrid setup then? This is one of the first hybrid BMWs launched in Australia, and for some reason, BMW hasn’t really made a big deal about it in terms of marketing and promotions. This is a shame we think, as the technology on offer is truly phenomenal and certainly sets the benchmark in this segment.
It’s unobtrusive, very smooth, and very efficient. If you’re a gentle driver, over 900km to a tank is quite doable – taking into account the fuel tank is only 57 litres. In the real world, with traffic and the collapsing temptations to give the accelerator a decent prodding, expect the hybrid 3 to return around 8-9L/100km.
Although the fuel economy is not overly impressive compared with some of the turbo-diesel rivals on offer, this is not a turbo-diesel, it’s a screaming BMW six-cylinder with 250kW. And for that, it has to be respected.
2013 BMW ACTIVEHYBRID 3 M SPORT – VERDICT
The ActiveHybrid 3 offers the best of both worlds; you get the efficiency and economy of the hybrid electric motor system, while the sweet-sounding BMW six-cylinder sings away just as usual, providing thrilling acceleration and performance.
It’s understated yet full of technology and innovation. It’s properly fast and powerful, and, more importantly, it retains most of the driving engagement and enjoyment of the already-awesome BMW 335i.
Sitting in the market all by itself, the ActiveHybrid 3 is a premium mid-size pioneer. And yes, although the price is high in this country, mostly due to the way the Australian government likes to slap big tariffs on luxury cars, it is cheaper than some of its nearest rivals by quite a margin.
A genuine slice of automotive brilliance. We want one.
2013 BMW ACTIVEHYBRID 3 M SPORT – THE COMPETITORS
There are no other hybrid vehicles currently on the market in this segment. The rivals mentioned below are as close to in terms of performance and official average fuel economy.
Audi A6 TDI Biturbo
3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel V6, 230kW/650Nm – 6.4L/100km – 1865kg – $118,800
Lexus GS 450h F Sport
3.5-litre petrol V6 with hybrid electric motor assist, 254kW – 6.3L/100km – 1910kg – $111,900
Mercedes-Benz C 350 CDI
3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6, 195kW/620Nm – 6.1L/100km – 1705kg – $95,900
2013 BMW ACTIVEHYBRID 3 M SPORT – SPECIFICATIONS
2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 with M Sport pack
3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder petrol engine with lithium-ion electric motor assistance
ENGINE SIZE / COMPRESSION RATIO
2979cc / 10.2:1
BORE X STROKE
84mm x 89.6mm
POWER TO WEIGHT RATIO
6.6: 1 (kg:kW)
HEIGHT / WIDTH / LENGTH
1429mm / 1811mm / 4624mm
Eight-speed auto transmission, rear-wheel drive
F: Ventilated discs
R: Ventilated discs
WHEELS / TYRES
Front: 19- x 8.0-inch alloy, 225/40 R19 (M Sport)
Rear: 19- x 8.5-inch alloy, 255/35 R19 (M Sport)
FUEL TANK CAPACITY
Tested average: 8.4L/100km
Official average: 5.9L/100km
0-100km/h: 5.4 seconds (as tested)
$97,700 plus $5500 for the M Sport package