German automaker BMW might be waiting to see how well its plug-in i3 city hatch and i8 plug-in sports coupe sell before launching any more of its i-branded plug-in cars, but that isn’t apparently stopping it from developing plug-in hybrid variants to its existing gasoline cars.
As Autobloggreen reports, a BMW 3-Series plug-in hybrid — which we’re calling the 3-Series eDrive plug-in hybrid — was spotted undergoing cold-weather testing in the frigid northern reaches of Scandinavia. Interestingly, the all-white prototype car wears almost no camouflage, save for a tiny black swathe on the front fender, hiding the unmistakable shape of a charge bay door. That, and the words ‘Hybrid Test Vehicle” written on each of the front doors make it obvious this car is a plug-in prototype.
Aside from this extra tell-tale, this four-door plug-in 3-Series sedan looks like any other production 3-Series we’ve seen, from its traditional kidney-shaped grille and front lights to its exhaust pipes at the rear.
Under the hood, we’re guessing this prototype has the same TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder engine and 70 kilowatt electric motor found in the X5 eDrive Concept plug-in hybrid we saw debut last year at the Frankfurt Motors Show. In the case of the X5 eDrive — which has also been spotted testing in the wild — that equates to a 0-62 mph time of under 7 seconds, an electric only top speed of 75 mph, and a range of around 20 miles in all-electric mode. Like the X5 eDrive, this car is probably also a through-the-road plug-in hybrid, with all-wheel drive capabilities thanks to a gasoline/electric powered front axle and an all-electric rear-wheel drive.
Given how much smaller the 3-Series is compared to the X5, we’re excited about the potential for this car to have some seriously impressive performance, potentially even cutting a second off the X5 eDrive’s 0-62 time, as well as improve on the all-electric range and claimed 90 mpg fuel economy.
The inclusion of this car in a future BMW lineup would also however mark a distinct differentiation for BMW between its all-electric and rang-extended i-brand electric cars — where electricity is treated as the principal form of motive power — and the plug-in hybrid options of its main BMW brand. The presence of plug-in cars in both instances — along with a promised plug-in hybrid MINI model — will certainly give BMW a diverse range of plug-in vehicles, but we have to admit to being a little perturbed by BMW’s apparent decision to market plug-in hybrids as conventional, normal-looking cars while its electric cars are branded as futuristic and unconventional.
Having spoken with many BMW representatives over the years, the unconventional design language of the i-brand has been explained as being a step away from conventionality in order to emphasise the unusual, modern, forward-thinking aspects of electric vehicles.
Having spoken with many AcitveE drivers and plug-in drivers however, we can say that many more car buyers want their next plug-in car to be conventional in its look, unassuming, practical. While many say they’d buy an all-electric 1-Series or 3-Series car, they say the i3’s design is too compromised for their daily use. For them, a more conventional-looking BMW plug-in hybrid may be the more likely choice in preference to a longer-range yet less practical i-brand car.
But what do you think? Is it sensible to market plug-in hybrids under the BMW badge and leave range-extended and all-electric EVs under the i-brand? Would you prefer a plug-in 3-Series to an i3 REx?
Leave your thoughts and comments below, and if you want to see the full spy shots, head on over to Autobloggreen where you can see them in all their glory.
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