At low speed (below 20 mph), the X3 is powered by electricity discharged from what BMW calls “supercaps” which they insist are not batteries, but what else do you call something that stores electrical power? The supercaps are stored in the doors of the vehicle while the electric motor is placed directly between the gas engine and the transmission.
Restricting low speed automotive power to electricity only greatly reduces the carbon footprint of the vehicle and reduces the gas consumption by up to 20% as it is the stop and go traffic situations that account for the greatest inefficiencies in fuel consumption. Moving to higher speeds over 20 mph, the transition from electric only to dual electric and gas is barely perceptible and you really do need to listen for it.
The X3 hybrid comes with Active Transmission to combine the electric motor with a conventional 6 speed automatic transmission. The hybrid produces 440 lb/ft torque and of this, 295 lb/ft is produced from the 80 horsepower electric motor.
The technology has been engineered to be readily adaptable so you can expect to see this engine profile appearing across the BMW range, while GM have launched the Yukon and Tahoe at the SUV markets using the collaborative hybrid engine.
Safety features that have been incorporated include a redesigned restraint system, seat belts are after all your first defense against injury in an accident. The braking system has been improved with automated brake drying, brake standby and fade compensation.
There is also a brake warning system which alerts other road users to the degree of urgency with which the driver has hit the brakes. Side impact airbags are optional extras for the rear passengers which seems to be a marketing error given that safety conscious families are the prime target market for these vehicles.
Externally the BMW X3 hybrid does not look particularly different from its' non-hybrid variant which is a departure from GM and DCx both of whom have redesigned their front grilles and fascias to deliver the improved airflow required by the electric motor.
BMW seem to be taking the approach that the vehicle should not necessarily stand out as a hybrid and the design is for it's own visual appeal and performance necessity instead of making a statement that it is in fact a hybrid.
It will be interesting to see how the hybrids from GM and BMW perform in the SUV market not only against each other but with the non-hybrid competition in a crowded marketplace.