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BMW to power-up Aussie iPerformance line-up

Charged up: We might not be getting the plug-in 225xe (below) but GoAuto understands that the electrified 740e (left) is heading Down Under soon.

Plug-in 2 Series Active Tourer not coming but electrified 7 Series locked in

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BMW logo27 Jun 2016

By TIM NICHOLSON in MUNICH

BMW’S rollout of electrified models will gain pace in Australia over the next 12 months as sales slowly grow for the company’s range of iPerformance vehicles.

Following the launch of the plug-in hybrid X5 xDrive40e SUV and 330e sedan earlier this year, GoAuto understands that BMW will introduce an electrified 7 Series sedan – dubbed 740e – as the third model in the iPerformance stable before the end of this year.

The 740e is powered by a TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine paired with an eDrive electric motor for a total system output of 240kW, ensuring a combined fuel consumption figure of 2.0-2.2 litres per 100km, CO2 emissions of 45-51g/km and an electric-only driving range of up to 48km.

These figures beat rival Mercedes’ S500 Plug-In Hybrid that uses a 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor for a combined output of 325kW/650Nm, sips 2.8L/100km on the official European combined cycle and emits 65g/km of CO2.

The big plug-in Benz will, however, beat the BMW to market with a showroom debut set for July.

As part of its ‘Strategy Number One > Next plan announced in March this year, BMW confirmed it would launch a “revolutionary” i-car to be rolled out by 2020, forming part of a seven-model iPerformance line-up that is also likely to include a plug-in Mini.

The German prestige car-maker signalled its intentions for electrification with the bold i3 city car and i8 plug-in hybrid sportscar back in 2014.

Un updated version of the i3 that upgrades capacity from 60Ah to 94Ah and increases the pure-electric range to as much as 300km is also expected to silently roll into Australian showrooms from the last quarter of this year.

There is also another plug-in iPerformance model available to right-hand-drive markets – the 2 Series Active Tourer-based 225xe – but, according to BMW Australia, at this stage it is “not part of our local plans”.

The all-wheel-drive 225xe tallboy hatch is, however, heading to New Zealand, where it will be the flagship of the Active Tourer range. During a drive event in Munich, GoAuto had a chance to sample the plug-in 225xe, which is something of a surprise package.

BMW has sold 18 examples of the 330e sedan between its mid-April launch and the end of May, while 23 X5 xDrive40e SUVs have found homes since its arrival in March.

Meanwhile, BMW has sold 228 i3 plug-in and full-electric hatches and 81 examples of the plug-in i8 in Australia since their late-2014 arrival, bringing the total sales for BMW plug-ins and full EVs to 352 units.

As previously reported, BMW Group Australia management has called on the federal government to look at tax incentives for low or zero-emissions cars, as well as assisting with the rollout of charging infrastructure across the country.

While there has been speculation for some time that BMW would expand its electrification program to its go-fast M cars, M division CEO Frank van Meel told automotive website CarThrottle.com earlier this month that any EV tech would be a long way off.

“We’re always looking into what project ‘i’ is doing regarding electrification and if there is any progress in the mid or near future regarding weight and power output. It’s going to happen, but it’s going to take a while,” he said.

Speaking with GoAuto at an M2 drive event in Hungary, BMW M area manager of sales Joerg Bartels said for the moment the two sub-brands are separate and that he could not discuss future projects.

“At the moment they are exclusive,” he said. “You can get an M Sport package for an iPerformance automobile, so a certain kind of mix is possible but this is also a part of a potential future I cannot foresee.”

While it is not on the cards for Australia at this stage, GoAuto took the 225xe Active Tourer for a test drive from BMW’s Munich headquarters through the nearby countryside to see what we are missing out on.

The 225xe uses a plug-in hybrid powertrain made up of BMW’s 100kW/385Nm 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol unit found in other Active Tourer variants as well as the 318i and Mini Cooper models, paired with a 65kW electric motor and a six-speed automatic transmission.

Our test car was dressed up in an M Sport package in that gorgeous BMW blue and actually looked pretty smart.

The 7.7kWh lithium-ion battery sits under the rear seat, which sits 30mm higher than other Active Tourer models, but cargo capacity remains at 400 litres with the seats up and 1350 with the seats down. It has an appealing, flexible and surprisingly large cabin.

Heading out from the outskirts of Munich, the 225xe is silent and according to BMW can hit speeds up to 125km/h when in electric-only max eDrive mode.

Granted, Germany’s freeway, city and even B-roads are far smoother than anywhere in Australia, but hushed driving combined with the MacPherson front/multilink rear suspension set-up makes for silky-smooth ride quality. We barely noticed a bump or corrugation at any point on the drive.

Also smooth is the slick six-speed auto. So much so that the changes were difficult to register while accelerating.

The instant torque of the electrified drivetrain makes for wonderful and linear off the line acceleration, and while the 225xe is hardly a sportscar, a 6.7-second 0-100km/h dash time is nothing to be sniffed at, particularly for a frugal tallboy hatch.

When we drove the diesel-powered Active Tourer following its launch in 2014, we experienced the dreaded axle tramp when we accelerated hard from a standing start, so it was nice to see that this was not evident in the plug-in that uses an on-demand electrified xDrive all-wheel-drive system.

The change from full-electric to petrol propulsion when driving is subtle in the 225xe, which is in stark contrast to the clunky and droney nature of some other petrol-electric powertrains we have driven.

In the windy mountain roads outside Munich, the 225xe exhibited only the slightest hint of bodyroll, but was generally a joy to punt through corners and push up steep inclines.

We switched between the three clever electric modes – auto eDrive, max eDrive and battery-save mode – to ensure we got the most of the battery, which regenerated regularly throughout the drive. The claimed electric-only drive range is up to 41km.

Interestingly, using Sport mode – part of the three other drive modes on offer alongside Comfort and Eco Pro – can assist with saving energy, too, and it makes for a more engaging drive experience.

BMW’s official fuel economy figure for the 225xe is 2.1 litres per 100km, while emitting just 49 grams of CO2 per kilometre, but our extremely varied drive route and enthusiastic driving meant we recorded 7.2L/100km at the end of the drive.

This figure is not bad if it was a diesel, which suggests that perhaps a car like the 225xe is better suited to daily city drives, particularly if emissions and fuel use are a priority.

We understand why BMW Group Australia is not keen on introducing it, as it will provide only limited sales and an already small segment.

But from a technology and driving enjoyment point of view, the 225xe is a fun, surprising package that should appeal to a few of our friends across the Tasman.

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