- Published: Saturday, 29 November 2014 04:14
This plug-in hybrid version of the BMW 3 Series could be the perfect car for Singapore. Here's why.
MIRAMAS, FRANCE — This is a plug-in hybrid version of the BMW 3 Series, a car that is mechanically ideal for Singapore. Though BMW is committed to building it, it doesn't go on sale until 2016. That’s why it looks like it’s smashed through an ink factory. It actually wears the new front and rear end styling that the 3 Series will receive when it’s facelifted.
BMW would rather shoot us than show us the facelifted bodywork, but they’re keen for us to try out what the “eDrive” system has to offer.
On paper, here’s a car that puts 245bhp and 400Nm under the driver’s right foot, and yet it should comfortably return an astonishing 50km per litre (or 2L/100km, in officialese). That translates to 50g of carbon per kilometre, a figure that will give you a handy $20,000 discount off your taxes, courtesy of a CEVS rebate, and one that BMW is serious about.
By 2020 the BMW Group has to get its average carbon emissions per model down to 95g/km, from 133g/km today.
BMW already builds an EV (or Electric Vehicle) in the form of the i3, and then there’s the eco coupe that makes electromobility sexy (the i8).
And yes, there are conventional hybrid BMWs in the form of the 3 Series and 5 Series ActiveHybrid, though those cars have just been deleted from Singapore’s price lists. They're all about using electricity to boost performance more than anything else, anyway. But this 3 Series eDrive (the name isn’t finalised, but we’ll use it here) is one example of another pillar in the company’s mobility map for the future.
You put petrol in it to fuel the 180 horsepower, 2.0-litre turbo engine. But you can also charge it in two to three hours (depending on whether you have a 16-amp wallbox to use, or just a common household outlet), and get roughly 35km of pure electric drive.
And that’s what makes it so perfect for Singapore. “That range satisfies the 80 percent of customers that drive to work every day,” says Ferdinand Wiesbeck, the development engineer sitting beside me in the prototype as I fling it around the narrow lanes of BMW’s private test track in the South of France.
BMW’s own figures show that most drivers rarely ever travel more than 80km a day. In Singapore the average is around 50km a day, according to the Land Transport Authority. But we all buy cars that can travel hundreds of kilometres anyway.
The 3 Series eDrive can certainly do that—on a full tank of gas it can easily cover 600km or so—but for a city dweller with access to charging, it would be blissfully efficient.
Push the eDrive button, and it becomes a silent EV. In this "Max eDrive" mode it’s not quick, but it’s speedy enough for Singapore traffic, and there’s enough leeway between real world speeds and the 120km/h top speed for you to blend smoothly with other traffic.
But it’s much more BMW in the default ‘Comfort’ setting, which blends petrol and electric power. Below 80km/h the car tends to cruise on battery power, but floor the accelerator, or even push it sharply, and the engine bursts into life to add a turbo-boosted kick.
Of course, on days when you just feel like it, there’s a Sport mode that keeps the engine running at all times, giving you the full 245 horsepower to play with.
The engineers are gunning for a BMW 328i’s performance. At the moment, it’s slightly slower to 100km/h than that car’s time of 6.1 seconds, but it’s still quick enough to make you grin.
The prototype does handle a bit less tidily than a normal 3 Series, though. The electric hardware adds 165kg, and much of it is under the boot where the large battery pack lives. The added weight seems to make the body squirm a little during fast cornering.
Still, Mr Wiesbeck says the ride and handling guys haven’t finished tinkering with the car, and in other ways the 3 Series PHEV won’t feel compromised. The battery pack eats up a little boot space, but you can still fold the rear seats fully and otherwise use the car like you would a regular 3 Series.
The best part is the price. It’s by no means final, but the target zone is 328i money. Wiesbeck says BMW wants the pricing to be close enough so that customers can choose freely between petrol, diesel and PHEV models. The customer should be able to decide because of his needs, and not because of price, he says.
Where we live, a 328i cost $238,800 with COE. The PHEV hardware is bound to add a bit to the price, but with the extra CEVS rebate, who knows? You might get an ultra fuel-efficient 3 Series eDrive for the same money, or maybe even less.
It would work in Singapore, too. “If you buy a plug-in hybrid, you should actually drive a lot, like every day. You should do a lot of city driving,” says Mr Wiesbeck. “The customer that drives to work a distance of up to 20 to 30km in a city or slow country roads, that’s actually the customer that will get the most value out of this car.”
Yet, to make it truly work, the nation’s charging infrastructure has to come up to snuff. There are just 16 Greenlots charging locations compatible with BMWs in Singapore today, with eight more planned by year’s end. By the end of 2015 there should be at least 35 locations.
That’s crucial because the ideal candidate for the 3 Series eDrive is someone who charges it daily, like with a smartphone, says Mr Wiesbeck. “That’s one thing the customer really needs to know. The consumption, in comparison to gasoline cars, depends heavily on how your charging behaviour is. If you never charge, it’s gonna be lower than a 328i because we can’t use the battery,” he says. “If you charge, you can get the consumption way down.”
A BMW tailored to our low speeds, short driving distances and a carbon emissions rebate? It sounds like the perfect car for Singapore. But until the country’s charging network widens, Singapore will never be the perfect city for it. And that would be a shame.
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