BMW Charges Into Plug-in Hybrid Segment, Promises Plug-in Hybrid of Every BMW Model

You’d be forgiven for thinking that with its specialist ‘i-brand’ of plug-in cars, German automaker BMW is keen to distance its traditional vehicle lineup from its all-electric and plug-in hybrid offerings.

BMW's 3-Series plug-in hybrid prototype chassis promises many more plug-in cars from the German automaker

BMW’s 3-Series plug-in hybrid prototype chassis promises many more plug-in cars from the German automaker

But on Monday the luxury marque reiterated its plans to offer each and every one of its core-brand models as a plug-in hybrid with the unveiling of a brand-new 3-Series plug-in hybrid prototype and a new generation of hybrid vehicle concepts that make use of the plug-in technology already found in its highly-successful BMW i3 electric car, BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car and BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car.

Like the 2016 X5 crossover SUV plug-in hybrid BMW is expected to bring to market within the year, the 3-Series plug-in hybrid relies on a turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine mated with an electric motor and eight-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the X5 PHEV, the 3-Series plug-in hybrid isn’t capable of all-wheel drive, but in true BMW tradition, it does assume BMW’s tried-and-tested front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout.

While BMW isn’t giving specific details of the 3-Series Plug-in Hybrid’s individual drivetrains, the combined system is comparable in power to BMW’s iconic straight-6, and can put out around 245 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque when engine and motor operate together. Like most plug-in hybrids, the BMW 3-Series plug-in hybrid is capable of operating in a number of modes to ensure its driver can pick between economical and sporty operation, with a headline economy of around 117.6 miles per gallon and a claimed all-electric range in electric-only mode of 22 miles at a maximum speed of 75 mph on the european test-cycle.

The 3-Series plug-in hybrid will likely follow the X5 Plug-in Hybrid to market.

The 3-Series plug-in hybrid will likely follow the 2016 X5 Plug-in Hybrid (above) to market.

In the U.S., that’s likely to be nearer to 15 miles per charge given the more realistic EPA economy tests. Incidentally, those figures match the kind of figures that we’re expecting from the 3-Series Plug-in Hybrid’s bigger sibling, the 2016 X5 Plug-in Hybrid.

Like the 2016 X5 Plug-in Hybrid, the 3-Series will be sold primarily as a gasoline car that has the capabilities of operating in all-electric mode for short around-town trips. Essentially, it will be the operational opposite of BMW’s i-brand vehicles, which are primarily electric vehicles with gasoline assistance.

With that in mind, the 3-Series PHEV will come with a battery hold mode that enables the driver to ensure the battery pack’s charge is maintained until needed, as well as an all-electric (MAX eDrive) button which forces electric-only mode.

While the BMW 3-Series Plug-in Hybrid, previously-announced 2016 X5 Plug-in hybrid and Chinese-market 5-Series Plug-in Hybrid 530Le — which BMW debuted in China this week — are all intended to offer plug-in facility in low-speed urban environments, BMW also has plans to offer a far more sporty plug-in under the main BMW badge. A system which BMW says will use a 200 kilowatt rear-wheel driving electric motor.

Called the Power eDrive, BMW is currently testing the system out in a 5-Series GT mule, and claims the vehicle — with a combined power output of more than 500 kilowatts (670 horsepower) will stay true to its ideal of creating the ultimate driving machine.

BMW's plan is simple: use technology refined from the i3 and i8 to electrify its entire range.

BMW’s plan is simple: use technology refined from the i3 and i8 to electrify its entire range.

Unlike the other 3-Series and 5-Series plug-ins we’ve seen from BMW, the Power eDrive is a non-compromise system offering not one but two electric motors, one driving each axle. At the rear, power comes exclusively from the 200 kilowatt electric motor, but the front-wheels can be driven by either a 150 kilowatt motor or a conventional gasoline engine.

Combined with a 20 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, this should translate to some impressive acceleration figures in all-electric mode, plus a more usable range when driven sensibly. Consequentially, BMW says any vehicle fitted with the Power eDrive system would operate a 2/3 electric, 1/3 gasoline usage cycle, although it notes that it is still developing the technology at the current time.

As for the i-brand? That’s here to stay, BMW says, with the i-brand technology it develops being used first in i-brand vehicles and then its mainstream models. Like Volkswagen’s BlueMotion badge then, The i-brand looks likely to become BMW’s halo plug-in development house, with a trickle-down philosophy occurring for the rest of its vehicles, presumably starting with its high-end, high-ticket cars first and working downwards through the BMW family.

Whichever way you cut it however, the message from BMW is super-clear: Plug-in cars are here to stay.


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