BMW’s plug-in hybrid X3 is as good a BMW as any, but how does it fare as an electrified vehicle?
Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) are seen as a sort of interim stop-gap between internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and full electric vehicles (EVs), for people to get used to the idea of electrification without inflicting too much change on their daily driving habits. And the latest such model to debut here is the BMW X3 xDrive30e.
The X3 xDrive30e is by no means the first plug-in hybrid BMW sport utility vehicle (SUV) to be offered on sale (that would be the X5 xDrive40e from 2015), but given the X3’s status as one of BMW’s biggest selling models, introducing a plug-in version of its mid-size SUV is bound to broaden the appeal of plug-in technology to an even greater audience.
The only visible identifiers to mark out the xDrive30e from regular X3s are the charging port on the front left fender of the car, and the raised boot floor at the back, to accommodate the car’s battery pack. As a result, cargo capacity is reduced to 450 litres, down from 550 litres from the regular X3s.
Under the bonnet, the xDrive30e uses the engine is the same 2.0-litre turbo four-pot as seen in the X3 sDrive20i model, which produces 184hp and 300Nm of torque. When matched to the electric drivetrain however, the X3 xDrive30e puts out a total of 292hp and 420Nm of torque, which makes it the most powerful non-M X3 that you can have.
Power delivery is smooth and linear, and the car is fairly refined and quiet. The weight of the batteries do actually add an extra sense of stability that you’ll notice, whether you’re just cruising at high speed, or driving around a corner. It has a well-sorted ride and pretty planted handling, and the overall sensation is one of solidity.
So, in general, the xDrive30e is mostly like a regular X3: comfortable, decently powerful and nice to drive. But how does it fare as an electrified vehicle?
For one, BMW claims that the X3 xDrive30e has a range of between 51 to 55km when driving on electric power alone. Our own experience yielded around 40km before the electric range ran out, but as with things like these, your mileage may vary, as it is quite dependent on driving style. If you have a light foot, you’re probably more likely to hit the target figures, or even go slightly beyond.
There are three selectable settings for operating the electric drivetrain. The default is Auto eDrive, in which the car functions like a regular hybrid as it switches between electric drive and petrol engine as appropriate for the situation.
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Max eDrive lets you drive purely on electric power only, until the range runs out and the mode becomes deactivated. Battery Control keeps the battery charge at the selected percentage as the car is driven by the engine.
As with most electrified cars, energy can be recouped to some extent through regeneration, either via braking/deceleration, or through the combustion engine. But in the xDrive30e, this doesn’t happen as obviously or often as you like, as by default the car is always set to run on electric power, even if the battery is down to 1 percent. The only way to ensure that the engine recharges the battery is to put the car into Sport mode, but that naturally comes as a detriment to your fuel economy.
There are some other minor inconveniences too. Many PHEVs don’t support fast charging capabilities, and so you’ll have to contend with slow charging times should you want to plug it in. BMW cites a recharge time of 3.5 hours through a wallbox, which can seem painfully slow considering that full EVs can get a pretty decent amount of charge in under an hour using fast charging DC technology.
BMW is not alone in this though, as the recently-launched Volvo XC60 Recharge also faces the same issue. On the other hand, it’s not the same seven hours plus of a full EV, and considering that buyers of PHEVs will almost certainly have their own charger, one just has to keep in mind the user experience.
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The location of the charging port also poses a slight annoyance, as the X3’s bonnet is relatively long. As such, you’ll have to position the car quite precisely in order to get the charging cable to attach properly, otherwise the car will refuse to start charging. It’s a minor issue, but it can get somewhat irritating after a while.
But in the greater scheme of things, these are just small gripes, considering that at least BMW made a concerted effort to offer an electrified version of one of their most popular SUVs. Come next year, a fully-electric iX3 is expected to go on sale, and hopefully it’ll take the lessons learnt from the xDrive30e and be a more complete, well-rounded product.
BMW X3 xDrive30e
Engine 1,998cc, inline four, turbocharged
Power 184hp at 5000-6500rpm
Torque 300Nm at 1350-4000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Electric Motor 109hp
Battery Lithium ion, 12kWh
Charge Time / Type 3.5 hours / Wallbox
Electric Range 51-55km
System Power 292hp
System Torque 420Nm
0-100km/h 6.1 seconds
Top Speed 210km/h
Fuel Efficiency 2.8L/100km
VES Band / CO2 B / 49g/km
Agent Performance Motors Limited
Price S$251,888 with COE
Verdict: Electrified X3 is as good to drive as any BMW, but falls slightly short as an electrified vehicle