The potential audience for a plug-in hybrid 3 Series is huge, so understandably BMW is taking giant strides to make it reality. Matt Joy took the prototype for a spin.
From the outside, there’s almost nothing to distinguish the plug-in hybrid from any other 3 Series – and that’s exactly the intention. Designed to fit neatly into the rest of the range rather than being a standalone model, the 3 Series Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) has all its changes under the skin. Under the bonnet, there’s a new generation 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine delivering 180hp while, at the rear, there’s a substantial battery pack powering an electric motor. LOOKS AND IMAGE If you want to know what the 3 Series looks like, then just peer out of your window; it’s the archetypal compact sporting saloon with its short front overhang, square-jawed nose and generally slightly aggressive demeanour. That’s exactly what the thousands of people who buy one every year want however, and despite the changes underneath, you won’t be able to tell the PHEV version from any other. SPACE AND PRACTICALITY Adding a load of bulky technology to an existing car comes at the cost of space, but BMW has done a good job of minimising the impact. The only noticeable change is in the boot, under which sits the battery pack and associated components. BEHIND THE WHEEL A lot of thought has been put into making the PHEV drive as well as a regular 3 Series and be able to suit all kinds of driving conditions, so there are a number of modes that change the whole operation of the system. Start it up and it operates silently, going straight into pure EV mode unless the temperature is below 10 degrees Celcius. You can switch between Comfort, Sport and EcoPro modes. The upshot is that the 3 Series PHEV drives with the same responsiveness and vigour as the standard car; acceleration is pleasingly brisk in pure electric mode and usefully rapid when motor and engine combine. It remains great fun to drive at pace too, with no apparent compromise.
2.0-litre petrol unit and electric motor, combined 242bhp and 295lb/ft of torque Transmission: Eight-speed automatic driving the rear wheels Performance: Top speed 155mph (est), 0-62mph in 6.0 seconds (est) Economy: 130mpg combined Emissions: 50g/km of CO2 This car summed up in just a single word: