BMW is plugged in for success
Hybrid versions of the 2 Series, 3 Series and X5 hit showrooms - but treat mpg with caution, writes Philip Hedderman
BMW has launched a major offensive to be the queen of green, with a range of new plug-in hybrids. As expected, the German car giant is targeting the compact executive segment with the 330e, families with the 225xe Active Tourer and the more lucrative large SUV market with the X5.
First up the 3-Series, which is powered by a 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol engine with 184bhp twinned to an electric motor generating 88bhp.
With a total of 252bhp and 420Nm of torque, this lively little number will whisk you from 0-100kph in 6.1 seconds and has a top speed of 225.
On full electric power, the 330e - which is identical to its 3-Series siblings bar the charging port in the front passenger wing and subtle badging - can cover 40kms (25 miles) at speeds of 120kph.
But the best news of all is its eco-friendly figures of up to 148mpg (you'll get nowhere near that in practice) and emissions of just 49g/km.
The battery can be charged from empty in three hours from a conventional domestic plug or on fast charge (two hours and 12 minutes) with BMW 360° Electric (including i Wallbox), or with traditional on-street public charging stations.
Like all hybrids, your journey begins in silence as the car wafts away from the kerb in total serenity. The extra weight seems to have no real bearing on the drive dynamic and because it retains its rear wheel drive set up, the 330e is really good fun.
Acceleration is brisk while the handling is surprisingly agile, especially in Sport+ mode, and one could easily mistake it for the full-fat 330i.
The only real drawback is the reduced space in the boot, which now has room for just 370 litres - down 110 litres to accommodate the battery pack.
Available in four trims - SE, Sport, Luxury and M-Sport - prices start at €41,030 (including grant and VRT relief of €7,500).
Families who need that extra space and do a lot of urban driving may be taken by the charms of the 2-Series Active Tourer - the only premium-badged five-seat MPV plug-in hybrid with all-wheel drive on sale now.
Sitting on the same chassis as the ordinary Active Tourer, the 225xe is powered by a de-tuned version of the three-cylinder, 1.5 litre petrol powerplant from the mighty i8 supercar.
Although only generating 136bhp, power is boosted by the same punchy electric motor as the 3-Series with 88bhp - giving a more than decent 224bhp.
Surprisingly, it almost matches the 3-Series, with 0-100kph in 6.7 seconds and can cover the same 40kms on batteries alone. Charging times are similar too. Depending on road conditions, one can choose petrol-powered front-wheel drive, battery powered rear-wheel drive or a combination of both for all-wheel drive.
Again, the official fuel economy figures are astounding - boasting 141mpg (2 litres/100kms) and CO2 emissions of 49g/km.
One major boost here is luggage space. Unlike the 330e, the battery pack sits under the back seats so the boot (400 litres) is pretty much unaffected and the seats still fold flat for awkward loads.
The only down side is the price and even with the grant and VRT relief, it starts at a hefty €42,790.
But if it's something more substantial you're after then the X5 xDrive40e may just be the e-ticket. Not only is it a real alternative to a diesel - returning an eye-watering 85.6mph - the mid-sized SUV is also an all-singing, all-dancing 4X4.
Featuring the most powerful 2.0 litre four-cylinder petrol unit in the BMW group and twinned to a similar electric motor as the 330e, this hulking off-roader is packing 313bhp and has a 0-100kph sprint of 6.8 seconds.
It also boasts emissions of 77g/km and takes just two hours and 45 minutes to fully charge (same set up as the 330e).
We took it for a quick spin around the twisty roads of Kildare and it was sublime.
In EV mode all is well with the world as you drift effortlessly across muddy boreens, with the only interruptions a squeak from the luxurious white leather seats or the chattering of the birds.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox is seamless as this 2.3-tonne beast silently gobbles up the miles -19 of them (or 30kms) in total on batteries. As expected, it's loaded with goodies and standard kit includes: 18 inch alloys, climate control, adaptive comfort suspension, front and rear parking sensors, LED ambient lighting, electric and heated front seats, Xenon headlights, LED fog lights, automatic tailgate, leather upholstery and 40:20:40 split folding rear seats.
M Sport models get 19-inch wheels, adaptive M suspension, door still finishers with M designation, exhaust tailpipes, aluminium interior trim, M body kit, M leather steering wheel with gearshift paddles, sport automatic transmission, front sport seats and high-gloss roof rails.
Prices from €72,400 (including VRT relief but no SEAI grant because the emissions are 77g/km - over by just 2 grammes).
A general word of warning though to those considering any hybrid - take the official figures with a large pinch of salt. Last week we tested the all-new Audi A3 e-tron.
It has very similar technology as the BMWs and in real-life testing we found that the electric range stated and the fuel consumption figures varied wildly from those given by the manufacturer - one real bugbear being the range reading and the actual range were not to be trusted.
On one occasion the EV trip informed me that we had 31kms left in the battery and within 21kms the petrol engine kicked in.
Granted, this happened on a motorway, but I was within the acquired speed limit (under 120kph). Alright . . . yes, I did have the radio and heater on.
That said, these latest hybrid cars are light years ahead from where they began and are without doubt a very big part of our motoring future.
It is still a lifestyle choice for now - and choosing to live with one does need careful consideration.