The BMW ActiveHybrid 3 sport sedan is a little more powerful, a little faster, and a little more fuel-efficient than its nonhybrid cousin, the 335i. It also weighs 231 pounds more and costs about $6,500 more.

The BMW ActiveHybrid 3 sport sedan is a little more powerful, a little faster, and a little more fuel-efficient than its nonhybrid cousin, the 335i. It also weighs 231 pounds more and costs about $6,500 more.

Is it worth it? It’s a close call.

The ActiveHybrid 3 is the first of the world’s great sport sedans to use electricity to improve fuel efficiency and performance.

The ActiveHybrid 3 adds an electric motor and lithium-ion battery to the 3.0-liter straight-six engine that’s a mainstay of BMW’s lineup. In a nifty bit of packaging, the electric motor fits in the transmission, replacing the torque converter used by the nonhybrid version of the gearbox. The battery goes in the trunk.

Prices for the ActiveHybrid 3 — ActiveHybrid is BMW’s name for its hybrids — start at $49,700. I tested a car loaded with navigation, Harman Kardon audio, metallic paint, heated seats, blind-spot detection and more. It stickered at $60,525. All prices exclude delivery charges.

Hybrid systems can be designed with several different objectives. Some — the Lincoln MKZ and Lexus ES 300h, for instance — aim for the highest possible Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy rating. Others, like the Buick Regal with eAssist, boost fuel efficiency more moderately at a lower cost. Still others try to improve fuel economy and performance.

The ActiveHybrid 3 falls into the third camp, along with luxury hybrids like the Infiniti Q 50, Lexus GS 450h and Mercedes-Benz E400. All three offer nice mpg boosts, but not headline grabbers like the Lincoln’s 45 mpg.

The ActiveHybrid 3’s price falls within the range of hybrid luxury and sport sedans.

I suspect we’ll see more cars like the ActiveHybrid 3 and Regal eAssist as fuel economy standards rise and automakers look to improve without pulling out all the stops necessary to score points with hypermiling Prius owners.

The 3’s hybrid system works well. It shuts the engine off and restarts reasonably smoothly in stop-and-go traffic, at stoplights and when coasting. It can propel the car on electricity alone for 2.5 miles at 25 mph and up to 45 mph for short distances.

The hybrid accelerates to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, compared to the 335i’s 5.4, according to BMW’s figures. The EPA rates the hybrid’s combined city/highway fuel economy at 28 mpg versus 26 for the 335i.

I drove an ActiveHybrid 3 from Detroit to Toronto and back in hot weather and traffic that varied from clear sailing to rush-hour congestion. The system performed well. It ran the air conditioning capably when the engine was stopped and delivered considerably better fuel economy than I would’ve gotten from a similar BMW 335i sedan. I averaged 33.8 mpg on the way to Toronto and 34.1 coming home, despite spending some time in stop-and-go traffic. My route combined highway, city and country driving.

My real-world mpg beat the ActiveHybrid’s EPA-rated 33 mpg highway rating, and was considerably better than the 28-mpg estimate for combined city and highway driving.

The 3 mates that fuel economy with plenty of power and confident acceleration. The car shares most of the 3-series’ virtues and sleek design. A few badges are the only visible signs it’s a hybrid.

The big battery reduces luggage space from 13 cubic feet to 10. The hybrid system also adds more than 200 pounds to the curb weight, compared to a base 335i. The extra weight makes the car feel a bit less nimble.

The ActiveHybrid 3 I tested had an intermittent electronic fault. The blind-spot detector stopped working several times. It eventually resumed.

Otherwise, the ActiveHybrid 3 performs as advertised. Shoppers will have to decide for themselves if its improved acceleration and fuel economy justify the higher price. I suspect few will, but I expect BMW will increase the benefits from future hybrids.



—Rating: Three out of four stars

—Rear-wheel-drive five-passenger hybrid sport sedan

—Power: 335 horsepower from 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six engine and electric motor

—Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

—Reasons to buy: Fuel economy, performance, looks

—Shortcomings: Intermittent electronic fault, price, trunk size

—Base price: $49,700

—Price as tested: $60,525

All prices exclude destination charges.



Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at


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