EVIOM took one of BMW's PHEVs for a spin recently (that's Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle to you). This is one of the first of many Plug-in versions of BMWs range that you will see. This 2-series shares the same drivetrain concept as the i8 supercar except with a 1.5 litre three cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet and the electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack at the rear. The 134bhp ICE combines with the 87bhp (65KW, the same as a Renault Zoe) combine for a total of 221bhp and 285lb ft.
The 5.7KWh battery was low when I collect the car so on my first proper drive the battery was almost totally depleted, although it had enough to pull away and crawl through traffic without the engine running. When driving in pure EV mode and the engine does kick in for more acceleration or to help with a steep incline it's hardly noticeable. It's very smooth indeed. If you put your foot down the engine does kick in smoothly and build to a roar unfamiliar to someone who has been driving an EV for some time. One thing I did notice, as with any automatic petrol engined car, when you pull away there is a little bit of a delay or lag as you wait for the revs to build, which you don't have in an EV or with the Active Tourer in pure EV mode. One odd sensation is when you pull up the a junction and stop you feel the engine cut out (earlier than a ICE with stop/start) but you can still pull away on motor only.
Given that the motor in this car was only 65KW, the same as my Zoe, I thought in EV mode it would be somewhat sluggish due to the extra weight over the French hatchback. I was pleasantly surprised, however, how "nippy" the BMW felt away from the lights and around town. Something I put down to torque of the electric motor. In EV mode the car can be driven to over 70MPH with a real world range of 21 miles.
After driving around Douglas to get used to the car I headed over the mountain road to Ramsey. By this point the battery was very low again so the car needed the petrol engine to pull me up Brae Hill at 27MPH. I wanted to see how much charge I would get from the engine running up hill and the re-gen down to Royal Ramsey. I found that there were some spots where I was using a very light or neutral throttle but if I was driving an EV the car would be regenerating power. I didn't feel I was getting as much back into the battery as I would expect, the car needed the longer and steeper downhills to make best use of the kinetic energy. This meant I didn't get as much power back as I would had hoped and felt I was burning fuel just to keep the car at a constant speed on the level.
There are three drive modes of Sport, comfort, Eco Pro. In sport mode you get the full combined mode of the electric motor and petrol engine, Eco mode it limits the power and prefers battery power. Comfort mode gives the best balance between the two. I found Eco mode a bit sluggish and I'm never convinced how much more economical these modes are. I believe you can get just as good economy or even better by having a disciplined right foot.
I tried the next day to do my normal commute of around 13 miles in "Max eDrive" mode, EV mode. I was almost successful but the petrol engine did kick in to pull me up a hill above 50mph. Once the car has fired up it's engine it switches out of Max eDrive but once your are done with the engine it it shuts of. The car doesn't, however, turn back into an EV which would have been nice. Instead I had to manually select the mode again from the button juts obscured by the gear lever. I managed to gain 3% of the battery capacity on the longish downhill stretch but I would expect to get 3% of a much larger EV battery back. I would be nice to be able to turn the re-gen up a notch like you can in many EVs for steep hills. This commute registered 5.3m/KWh and 99.99mpg (above what it registers) 8 miles and 40% left in the battery after starting with 21 miles EV range.
Not that this isn't a good looking car but is design leans more towards the practical than the beautiful. For many people this would be a very practical car, the large boot hatch opens to reveal a gigantic aperture to load your shopping, dogs, etc into. With no boot sill it's easy for the little mutts to jump in or for you to sit down and change those muddy boots under the cover of the boot lid. At the touch of a button the boot lowers and closes firmly. Its height also helps to load passengers. The look of the car is of a large SUV but it's by no means over sized externally while being roomy inside. There's no squeezing either an adult or a baby into a car seat.
As lover of pure EVs I wasn't totally ready to like this car. I have to admit, though, that it won me over. It does the EV thing very well (if only for a short distance) and the hybrid drive is almost seamless. I can see this car suiting those people who aren't ready to commit to a pure EV or the compromise that currently means. Until there are more EVs of this size, performance and range on the market the BMW 225xe Active Tourer is a good stepping stone while you wait to the car industry to catch up (with the likes of the Tesla Model X) and you get used to plugging your car in.
Thanks to Buchanan BMW for the loan of the BMW 225xe Active Tourer. For more information contact 01624 616161 or visit http://www.buchananbmw.co.uk/.