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
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.