BMW has always received praised for their fantastic six-cylinder engines. Mostly by the people that haven’t realized they built their reputation on staunch, reliable four-cylinders in Germany. And of course, the enlightened enthusiast realizes that BMW just knows how to make a damn satisfying powetrain. Which leads us to hybridization. Like it or not, it’s here to stay. And whether you’re not quite sold on EV life, or just bridging the gap until it’s time – here are some great hybrid BMWs to get you there.
Just to insert a little bit of journalistic bias, I’ve never been a huge fan of the 5 Series. I’ve always felt the E39 was the high point – everything else has just felt a bit too ponderous for me to consider it as a seriously sporting sedan. The G30 530e is no exception – it debuted with 16 miles of electric range and a sad 248 horsepower to lug around 4000 pounds. It’s almost a foot longer and sits two inches higher in the air than a comparable 3 Series. This adds to the already bloated feeling the G30 chassis delivers.
But it makes this list because it’s a damn good bargain these days. Despite weighing in at a significant 4300 pounds, the location of the electric battery and well-tuned suspension make it still convincingly sporting for the segment its in. Its softer suspension lends it to good daily driving duties too – how many cars can you really offer up as both a daily drifter and a church taxi?
The i8 is, rather undeniably, the best-looking hybrid ever made. The sculpted side profile combined with a carefully crafted rear end makes the i8 look futuristic, even 10 years later. I’ll be blunt: the i8’s supermodel looks write checks that the powertrain can’t quite work off. But I’m not quite sure that it’s less fun because of it.
An i8 can be had for well under its original $140,000 price tag these days – and I mean way under. For about $70,000 you can get a pretty dang decent version of it. And if you live close to work, you can swear off gas until its time to cruise – 18 miles of all-electric range. Not bad for a car with doors that go up.
Downsides? It’s hard to get out of. Some people will judge you for driving it – which isn’t normally a problem, but it’s a two-pronged attack. It isn’t the best hybrid, so you’re getting teased by the Tesla boys. And it’s also not exactly quick around most racetracks, so the M guys in the Walgreens parking lot won’t let you play either. Which is a little bit sad, as the i8 weighs less than the G80 and most F8X M cars. Buy an i8 and be the hero you deserve to be.
ActiveHybrid 3 / 330e
It wasn’t long after BMW founded their i sub-brand that the first hybrid 3 Series showed up. Which stands to reason, since the 3 Series has been (for most of their history) BMW’s bread and butter volume seller. What some people don’t realize is that the first ever hybrid 3 Series actually married the N55 six-cylinder to a 55-horsepower battery. Sadly, it’s not as good as you think: combined output is the usual (an admittedly decent) 335 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. That makes the ActiveHybrid 3 – despite its ridiculous name and sizable heft – pretty fast for a hybrid.
The newest hybrid 3 Series is the 330e, and it’s using the now-familiar turbo four-cylinder paired to an electric motor. It’s good for a combined output of almost 300 horsepower, which in reality is plenty for some and too much for most. The G20 version weighs a bit more and has a little less athletic chassis, but certainly makes up for that in terms of technology. All G20 330e’s get iDrive 7, which is super intuitive and adds to the driving experience immeasurably. That is, unless you’re looking for dynamism.
While I would hardly recommend the ActiveHybrid 3 to a friend, if you want a legitimately quick hybrid and crave inline-six goodness, it’s literally one of your only options. It also enjoys lower weight and a much better sound than the tinny four-pot, if you care. I wouldn’t recommend it because the G20 330e – while more expensive – does a much better job of being a hybrid. Modern tech and a lower barrier to entry – i.e., better driver assists – make the G20 a clear choice for the daily. If you need an enthusiasts’ one car solution, however – the ActiveHybrid 3 is an unorthodox and decent choice.
i3 with Range Extender
The i3’s funky styling and innovative interior made it a big hit when it debuted in 2014. Just as notable was BMW’s commitment to their first-ever roundel-wearing fully electric model. Using engineering feats like a carbon-steel construction and almost entirely recyclable construction, the BMW i3 is still a bit of a modern marvel.
The i3 does its best work as the fully electric version. But if range anxiety is real for you, pair it with the optional “range extender”, or REx. Offering up just over half a liter of displacement, it pairs to a 2.5-gallon fuel tank to help…well, extend your range. Early models maxed out at around 150 miles of range, with a steady increase to around 200 miles until the model’s conclusion in 2022.
There are some downsides to the i3, of course. The styling isn’t for everyone, and 200 miles of range is still less than ideal for a lot of US buyers. Plus, newer ones are still expensive (comparatively). That said: an older REx is a fun-to-drive, cost-effective way to get into a BMW hybrid. Just don’t go planning too many road trips.
BMW first hybridized its excellent mid-size SAV with the F15 chassis in 2016, and it wasn’t always met with love. It’s 5200 pounds and gets 15 miles of electric range on a good day – ergo, it hasn’t aged well. Speaking of age, this original incarnation only touted around 310 horsepower and 330 pound-feet – about on par with what the ICE version got.
That changed with the G05’s introduction, eventually bringing with it the X5 xDrive45e. It’s one of the most powerful hybrid vehicles ever made, good for nearly 400 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. BMW turned up the electric range too, with an EPA-rated range of 31 miles, compared to the 14 miles of range in the old 40e. That ends up making the X5 xDrive45e not only a viable hybrid option for home-chargers with a short commute, but also a shortcut to 60 if you’re not into massive, throbbing V8s.
All said, the 45e is a great option if you can get it – price tag aside. It’s tough to find a new 45e, as many have been ordered by customers months in advance. But it truly is a jack of all trades. The 45e represents the best-case scenario of petrol power meeting electrification, and I’m glad its here. Pick one up if you can.