2015 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 Review

ActiveHybrid 3

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2015 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 Overview

With the 2015 BMW ActiveHybrid 3, BMW turns the hybrid model upside down. The excellent 335i serves as a platform onto which BMW adds a light hybrid system to create a car that is better in all measurable ways. Unlike many hybrids, this vehicle is a rocket. The hybrid drive simply adds to the already very impressive performance of the 3 Series sedan.

BMW’s ActiveHybrid 3 uses the same TwinPower turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder (I6) engine found in the 335i and adds electric assist to it. With its 300 hp (which many say is a very conservative claim by BMW) the 335i does not want for power. Add 35 more horsepower and a bit more starting torque and the BMW ActiveHybrid 3 is well suited to handle any on-road spirited driving one might want to do before getting arrested. This vehicle is 0.2 seconds faster to 60 mph than the base 335i, and BMW’s conservative estimate is that it will make that sprint in 5.2 seconds. Don’t be shocked if you can do it in well under 5 chimpanzees.

Introduced in 2013, the ActiveHybrid 3 has not changed much for 2015. One thing that has changed is that the conventional 335i’s fuel-economy rating dropped by about 4% since then. That means the ActiveHybrid 3 has gotten comparatively more fuel efficient over the past few years. Earlier reviews focused on how close the fuel economy of the ActiveHybrid 3 was to its sibling's. Now the real comparison is between the BMW 335d diesel and this gasoline hybrid.

The BMW ActiveHybrid 3 increases fuel economy a respectable 9% over that of the already decent 335i. We must keep in mind that these are performance sedans thinly disguised as sports sedans. Comparing a BMW 3 Series to a front-drive economy car built to sip fuel is not meaningful. The EPA-estimated fuel economy of the ActiveHybrid 3 is 25 mpg city, 33 highway and 28 combined. The conventional automatic BMW 335i rates 21/32/25. Carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 9% in the ActiveHybrid 3 as well. The smog rating of this 3 Series hybrid improves from a 6 to a 7 on the EPA’s 10-point scale. Across the board, the ActiveHybrid 3 is a greener car than the BMW 335i.

In case you're wondering how the BMW 328i, with its turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, compares, you might be relieved to know the ActiveHybrid beats it in combined fuel economy and CO2 generation. However, there is one conundrum. The BMW 328d diesel is far and away greener than the ActiveHybrid 3. It may not match the thrust of the ActiveHybrid 3, but it is the same car otherwise. The plot thickens.

Considering that BMW buyers rarely shop other brands once deciding they're ready to buy a BMW, it is obvious that BMW has made a wise decision in creating the ActiveHybrid 3. BMW has cornered the market in the liquid-fueled greenish performance sedan world with its much-loved diesel and base 4-cylinder vehicles. It is easy to make the case that adding this hybrid drive helps to reduce one’s carbon footprint if only BMW gasoline-fueled performance cars are among the choices for personal transportation. That is a very narrow field.

The ActiveHybrid 3 uses its own 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. Yes, many BMW owners love the old-school stick shift that BMW still offers, and we understand why. However, on EPA testing the tide has turned for transmissions. BMW buyers considering this vehicle may take some consolation in the fact that BMW did not use a dreaded CVT. If you are wondering if the diesel can be outfitted with a stick, the answer is no.

Discussing the price of a BMW is not at all the same as considering this factor for other brands. BMW owners and enthusiasts see the intrinsic value in the chassis, engineering, styling, history and panache that only a BMW can offer. That said, with a starting price of $52,000, this car is targeted only at those that set price aside when choosing a compact sedan. Add in some features like heated seats, keyless entry and the better navigation package and this car is going to set its owner back a cool $60K. If it is any solace, it is not much more than the base 335i. Perhaps if a similarly equipped 335i were compared, the price difference would be $4,500. Exclusivity is one perquisite of owning the ActiveHybird 3, and that is not without some value.

Tested in 2014, the BMW 3 Series was an IIHS Top Safety Pick. It scored a Good rating on all but the small frontal overlap test, on which it was rated Marginal. That low score disqualified the 3 Series form earning the highest score called Top Safety Pick+. The 3 Series can come equipped with advanced forward-collision prevention and other driver aids depending upon trim.

There are many greener cars on the road that share the ActiveHybrid 3's size and shape, and BMW’s amazing i3 is perhaps the greenest of all automobiles in production. However, look closely and try to find a greenish car at this price point that can match the performance of the ActiveHybrid 3. You will see that BMW has carved itself a nice little niche in the greenish-car world.


John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. In the early 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric race car from scratch. In addition to his work at CarGurus, John covers automotive news at Torque News and GM-trucks.com and is a contributor to CarTalk and BestRide. Aside from all things automotive, John loves fishing and hockey, preferably in the company of his two boys.

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