Out of the hall
We're ready to go. As the light goes green, the hybrid test vehicle takes off with vigor but in near-total silence. All you hear is the momentary screeching of the rear tires on the painted concrete floor, the click-clack of some unidentified electro-mechanical elements and the hum of the electric motors, which sound like an accelerating streetcar. It is almost impossible to detect the source of propulsion. Is it only the rear-mounted motor, which delivers 81 hp (plus a brief 30-hp boost)? Is it the front motor that musters a more modest 52 hp? Or are both of them pooling the efforts, producing a combined 321 pound-feet? "The drivetrain is masterminded by the performance electronics," claims my driver, Stefan Haller, who is in charge of the complex hardware and software interplay. That may be the case in the production version, but right now, the engineer is manually dialing in orders via the custom steering wheel.
The vast hall on the Leipzig fairgrounds is as slippery as an ice rink. One stab at the throttle,
and the coupe's rear end squirms in protest; another dose of oomph, and the front wheels duly straighten out the line. As soon as the orange cat's eye headlamps stop zig-zagging, Stefan floors the loud pedal. Very briefly, all four wheels spin, and as the car dives out into the cool starry night, the three-cylinder engine awakens. The 1.5-liter diesel brings the aggregate power output to 328 hp. The three hearts combined whip up a torque tsunami that peaks at 535 pound-feet. With all powerplants under full steam, acceleration from 0 to 62 mph is a claimed 4.8 seconds. On paper, that's only one tenth quicker than an M3, but in real life, on an unlit narrow perimeter road, the tri-motor BMW feels as if it's being pushed by a nitrous-oxide-fed afterburner. At the end of the brief straight, the brakes switch to maximum regeneration. Stefan swings the car round, points the LED headlamps at the main entrance, and once more the psychedelic flounder takes off. There is no doubt about it: those who claim hybrids are boring could not be more wrong.