Next year we’ll see the first regular BMW models fitted with the advanced plug-in hybrid technology already found in the automaker’s i8 sports car, starting with an X5 plug-in hybrid which we’ve already seen in concept form. The technology, dubbed eDrive, is also destined for BMW’s 3-, 5- and 7-Series lines, and today we have our first official look at a prototype for the upcoming 3-Series plug-in hybrid (prototypes have been spotted in the wild for almost a year).

BMW’s plug-in hybrid system for its regular models uses an electric motor integrated with the transmission. This motor is powerful enough to drive the car on its own but can also be used to aid an internal combustion engine during high loads. It’s powered by a lithium-ion battery stored in the trunk, which can be charged up at home or on the run using regenerative braking or energy from the engine.

The particular setup in this 3-Series plug-in hybrid is similar to the one in the X5 plug-in hybrid, as it relies on a turbocharged four-cylinder engine for its internal combustion component and an electric motor integrated with the vehicle’s eight-speed automatic transmission. But unlike in the X5, here the drive goes to the rear wheels only.

Peak output of the system is 245 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which is comparable to a six-cylinder engine. Estimated fuel economy is 117.6 mpg equivalent and the electric-only driving range on a full charge of the battery should be 22 miles. In electric-only mode, the top speed is limited to 74.5 mph.

2016 BMW 3-Series eDrive plug-in hybrid prototype

2016 BMW 3-Series eDrive plug-in hybrid prototype

Inside the car, BMW has installed what it calls the Driving Experience Control switch, which is mounted on the center console. This can be used to select different vehicle settings to suit varying requirements and situations. Three different modes are available: COMFORT, SPORT and ECO PRO mode. Each features different suspension settings, different shift characteristics for the eight-speed auto, and different settings for the amount of power delivered from the engine and electric motor. The driver also has a button that allows them to swap between different driving modes, such as all-electric (MAX eDrive) and another mode that keeps the battery at a constant state of charge (SAVE Battery).

Looking forward, BMW sees electric motors becoming the primary driving force for vehicles, with internal combustion engines being used only for high-load situations or long-distance driving. Eventually, as battery technology improves, the internal combustion engines will be phased out altogether, BMW predicts. While that may bring a tear to those of us still with gasoline in our blood, tougher fuel economy and emissions standards are the primary reasons for the trend.

That doesn’t mean performance fans don’t have anything to look forward to. BMW says its future electric drive systems will have significantly higher-powered electric motors and batteries with twice the capacity of present versions. This will allow for multiple-motor setups, much longer driving ranges, and power outputs in excess of 500 kilowatts (670 horsepower).

The 3-Series plug-in hybrid’s launch on the market will coincide with the arrival of a facelifted 3-Series range next fall (hence the camouflage gear). It will replace the more conventional ActiveHybrid 3 in the automaker’s lineup.

Over in China, BMW has also just launched a 5-Series plug-in hybrid dubbed the 530Le. The car is based on the long-wheelbase 5-Series BMW builds with its Chinese partner Brilliance and features a similar setup to the one in the 3-Series plug-in hybrid prototype, albeit with a 272-hp combined output. This model will be sold exclusively in China but hints at what the future 5-Series plug-in hybrid for the rest of the world will be like.


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