It's not often that a test-drive of a plug-in hybrid takes place on a handling course on an disused runway. But when that hybrid has a BMW badge on the nose, like the X3 xDrive30e, you know the engineers have put as much effort into sportiness and fun as thriftiness and efficiency. It's for that reason that the first plug-in hybrid makes such a good first impression on a brief test drive near Munich, Germany.
Ample all-electric range
The X3 shares its hybrid powertrain with the, which means the core components consist of a 2.0-liter turbo-four engine, an electric motor integrated into the eight-speed automatic transmission and a 12.0-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seat. Total system output is 252 horsepower, with the 0-62-miles-per-hour run pegged at 6.5 seconds and top speed set at a healthy 130 mph. The electric motor is rated for 80 kilowatts, equivalent to 107 hp, which is just a bit behind the 330e's motor rating of 83kw.
BMW says that the X3's all-electric driving range will be 50 kilometers on Europe's somewhat optimistic NEDC test cycle and 45 km on the more realistic WLTP scheme. That translates to 28 to 31 miles, but be aware that US-market numbers, under the EPA's test cycle, will probably be very different. It'll be some time until we have exact specs for the X3 xDrive30e in the US.
A hybrid that hustles
While far from the ideal location for testing a plug-in hybrid, the X3 xDrive30e shines on a runway handling course at the BMW Experience Center in Maisach, Germany. With the Sport drive-mode button depressed, power is effortless and easy, hauling the crossover out of corners and down straights. Like any X3, it's a handler, too, with crisp turn-in and well-controlled body motions as I slip through a coned-off slalom.
At full throttle the car's electric motor can add a 41-horsepower boost to the powertrain, though without the "XtraBoost" branding used for that function in the 330e. Either way, it provides so much immediacy to the X3's torque delivery that I'd almost believe there were six cylinders under the hood, not four.
Of course, the powertrain also provides easy and quiet all-electric motoring. Perhaps the biggest plaudit of all to this car is it retains the firm and reassuringly direct brake pedal of other X3s; older hybrids, regardless of manufacturer, tended to discourage enthusiast driving due to soft and unpredictable left-pedal feel.
Making efficient driving easy
Hybrid-specific tech features include a unique digital instrument cluster with blue brackets on the speedometer indicating how fast you can drive while staying in all-electric mode -- up to 140 kilometers per hour, or 87 mph. (BMW representatives in Germany note that is surely enough for American drivers with American speed limits.) The infotainment system's "Intelligent Personal Assistant" voice-recognition software can respond to questions like, "Where can I charge?," and it will be possible to reserve an electric charging station ahead of time through the nav system.
With a route set in the navigation system, the X3 will also use information about the upcoming journey to decide how to best use the motor and gas engine for optimum efficiency. The car might automatically switch to all-electric motoring for a low-speed school zone, for instance, or expend the battery when driving uphill if there's a long downhill stretch afterward to recharge. BMW calls the function "Anticipatory Hybrid Drive," and it should help return better real-world fuel mileage when using the navigation.
The BMW X3 xDrive30e launches in Europe this December, but American customers will have to wait a fair bit longer to drive one. As with the X5 and 3 Series plug-in hybrids, BMW cautions that tailoring the cars to meet specific US-market emissions rules will delay the X3's immigration proceedings. But with ample all-electric mobility for many Americans' commutes, standard all-wheel drive and all the driving satisfaction of a regular X3, buyers who wait will no doubt be pleased with their purchase. That said, if you're shopping in this segment, don't forget that an even more eco-friendly model is on the way: BMW has said it will introduce an .
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