Electrifying Three

Forget about saving the planet, the ActiveHybrid 3 is about fabulous power-to-price ratio

WHAT'S NEW?

The 3-series four-door saloon becomes the third BMW to get the ActiveHybrid treatment following its 5- and 7-series big brothers.

The good news is that the ActiveHybrid 3 gets the same semi-electric 3.0-litre turbocharged six as used in the other two, meaning that it delivers the best performance and economy due to its smallest body.

BMW Thailand is offering three versions of the AH3, starting with the regular one priced 4.199 million baht. Another 200,000 baht nets you M Sport accessories and a further 100k tops the car with 19-inch wheels and adaptive suspension.

Sure, the AH3 is an import subject to 80% duty, but the 10% excise tax for hybrid-powered cars whose engine don't exceed 3,000cc means it's quite a bargain in terms of power-to-price ratio.

Peruse the Thai car market carefully and you'll note that there is no car with over 300hp priced below 5 million baht.

That said, the AH3 is good value in performance aspects.

But due to the increased weight caused by the electric components, has the driving bit been compromised in the AH3 _ just as what has happened in the AH5 and AH7?

We took the AH3 for a drive both on the track and in the real world.

WHAT'S COOL?

Although the 335i _ the particular 3-series donating the basic petrol engine to the AH3 _ is not officially sold in Thailand, we are glad to report that it is an impressively quick car.

So what does that make the AH3? An even better blast, to put it bluntly.

Thanks to the electric assistance, the AH3 accelerates vicously, overtakes others on the road with true conviction and hits its electronically capped top speed with no sweat.

And even when you take it out on a race track, you won't necessarily feel the 150kg weight disadvantage the AH3 has to bear.

The AH3 takes corners with ease. Switch off the chassis' electronics and you can drive the car on its edge just like any other performance Bimmer.

That could probably be the result of the AH3's excessive power reserves helping to overwhelm the weight issue.

The battery pack in the AH3 is neatly stowed below the boot floor where the spare tyre would usually be sited (run-flats are now the norm for BMWs), thus creating a better centre of gravity.

This also means that boot space is unaffected in the AH3, unlike in the AH5 and AH7 where the batteries are stacked vertically behind the rear seats, making the handling less tidy.

While economy shouldn't be a serious issue for potential buyers, there's a good range of EV ability at low speeds (the engine starts in electric mode like Toyota's full hybrid set-up).

WHAT'S NOT?

Driving aficionados with delicate hands may find the electric steering numb in feel, despite it offering reasonable weight and directness in real-world driving. You can make the rack heavier by going into Sport, one of the three dynamic driving modes.

In general, the suspension makes for good ride comfort, but it can be a little soft when you want to fully exploit the 340 horses.

This means that you need to settle for the 4.499 million baht version to enjoy the benefits of the adaptive suspension, which you should in the first place because the entire M Sport package really adds a sporty flavour to the performance credentials the AH3 yields.

BUY OR BYE?

As said at the start, if you're in the market for a performance saloon with a not-too-high price, the AH3 is a formidable option.

And to answer the question we posed earlier, the AH3's driving manners have remained largely unaffected by the increased weight. Buyers who stick purely to real-world driving and who have never been acquainted with the 335i should feel comfortably at home with the AH3.

Because the 335i _ or even the brilliant diesel-powered 330d _ will never reach Thai shores because it has no tax perks whatsoever (thus resulting in prices nudging 6 million baht), the AH3 easily takes up its task of appealing to Thai fans needing a performance-orientated 3-series.

All said and done, the AH3 is quite a good buy.

Distinctive steering wheel is great on the eyes and hands.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor