Monday 26 September 2016

Why 60mpg is new reality for these BMWs in the land of plug-in fantasy

First drive in Munich: BMW 330E, 225XE

Published 03/02/2016 | 02:30

BMW 330e
BMW 330e

Getting nearly 150mpg from a BMW 3-series sounds like fantasy. In a way it is and in another it isn't. The same holds true for the 2-series Active Tourer people carrier.

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It's fantasy because the figures don't really translate into real life. It's not fantasy because the technology applied to the cars radically moulds the individual limitations of petrol and electric power into a significant new force.

The two ranges now have plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) versions. Both get to Ireland in early March.

Part of their attraction will be the benefits bestowed on price by a €2,500 VRT refund and €5,000 SEAI grant - as well as reduced VRT rates from lower emissions.

The 3-series version (called 330e) starts at €41,030 on-the-road for SE spec. By comparison a 320d SE is €46,377 OTR and a 330i Luxury is €51,976. That's a fair chunk of money in plug-in's favour.

The same goes for the Active Tourer people carrier. The 225xe Sport costs from €42,790 OTR (after grants). It gets the added benefit of now being all-wheel-drive (AWD) because the electric motor drives the rear axle.

But a front-wheel-drive diesel 220d xDrive Sport auto costs €46,390 OTR, with the 225i xDrive at €50,120 OTR. Again, food for thought on price. Interesting to see how people will react.

I've driven both in and around Munich and I think the 225xe benefits most. It gets all-wheel-drive and is greatly improved on handling and ride - thanks to the extra traction and lower centre of gravity with the battery bank stowed low down.

BMW is planning many more plug-in models - they already have the X5PHEV and i8; the 7-series version will be out by summer.

Home charge take 3hrs 15 mins or 2hrs 15 mins with a special BMW i Wallbox. When the engine is on it charges them too as does regenerative braking.

In our drive through and around Munich we covered around 25km on pure electric drive in both the 330e and 225xe. Our fuel consumption was a mere 0.1l/100km at one stage but autobahn and country-road driving pushed it to 4.5litres for both.

Which shows you could probably commute on a home and/or office charge and only require the engine on longer journeys. It takes commitment, that's all.

BMW claim - it is a claim I stress - you could get as much as 148mpg. We got 4.5l/100km (60mpg approx). But it is still impressive, I think. And remember the 148mpg figures are official so our government charges reduced VRT and road tax (€170) on them.

Driving the 3-series (2-litre petrol) was as I expected: taut, smooth and lively, but I noticed the shallower boot (because of the battery bank). It was also less smooth on the road (tyres may have played a role in that).

The 225xe has a 1.5-litre 3cyl petrol engine (from the MINI) and generates 136bhp; the electric motor adds 88hp for a 224hp total (torque is a big 385 Nm). Fuel consumption of 2.1/2/0l/100km (134.5mpg/141.2mpg) is claimed (!) with emissions from 46/49g/km depending on tyres.

It does 0-to-100kmh in 6.7 seconds, has a 202kmh top speed (125kmh on pure electric) and a 41km electric range (reckon on 25km). The lithium-ion battery is under the rear bench (which is raised 30mm); the electric drive system under the luggage floor. They claim little loss of space (400 litres).

It had a 6spd Steptronic transmission which gave us a smooth drive. The AWD gave us tangible traction. There are the usual SPORT, COMFORT and ECO PRO settings as well as the eDrive button with self-explanatory AUTO eDRIVE (ensures engine/battery work together), MAX eDRIVE (pure electric) and SAVE BATTERY (to whatever percentage you wish).

Most of what I've just outlined applies to the 3-series too (but not, obviously, the AWD element). It has a 2-litre 4cyl engine teams up with the electric motor to produce 252hp (184 + 88). Fuel consumption is a claimed (!)2.1/1.9litres/100km (134.5/148.7mpg); CO2 emissions run from 44-49g/km depending on tyres.

Some more facts: 0-100 kmh takes 6.1 seconds, top speed is 225 kmh (pure electric 120kmh) and a claimed electric range of 40km. The batteries take 3hrs to charge at home; 2hrs 12 mins with the BMW I Wallbox.

The electric motor, interestingly, is in front of the 8spd Steptronic transmission so its ratios can be used when the car is driven in all-electric mode. The lithium-ion battery is underneath (370 litres of usable boot space).

I see several factors at play with these cars. First, there is price - that's one-up to the plug-ins.

Then there is the greater combined power of both. They really zipped when I put the foot down.

Most importantly, however, is the commitment of regularly plugging in to benefit from the electric technology. Are you going to charge up every night/every day at work? That's the tough question.

Plug-ins, like hybrids, are changing perspectives and ebbing reliance on fossil fuels. But the plug-in technology can only do so much. As an owner they require a bit of commitment from you too.

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