2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 3

Somewhat lost in the fanfare of BMW introducing a hybrid version of its best-selling 3 Series at the Detroit Auto Show was a brief mention of its new navigation technology. The 2012 ActiveHybrid 3 will be the first hybrid to use its nav system to help predict the best time to use and recharge its battery. This will go well beyond currently available navigation technology that plots economical travel routes based on traffic and speed limits, also incorporating altitude, final destination and other real-time data to wring the most out of those electrons.

For example, suppose there's a big hill on your route. Since the 3 Series hybrid "knows" you will be descending, and thus afforded a good opportunity for recharging, it can drain more of the battery on the way up. BMW says it is still working on the system, but it will be included as a standard feature on the ActiveHybrid 3, and will eventually spread to the ActiveHybrid 5 and other hybrid models. While we don't have much in the way of details, the opportunity here seems pretty vast, effectively allowing the car to hypermile for you.

While that's impressive enough, BMW also tells us that it's toying with the idea of allowing the car to perform similarly even when the navigation system is not in use. This would work by identifying driving patterns from day-to-day. For instance, if you are traveling the same route to work every morning, once you head out on your commute the car would recognize this and make the same sorts of predictions as if you had punched the destination into the navigation system.

Of course, operating in this manner would require the car to track your driving, which opens a whole can of worms regarding privacy. BMW says the 3 Series does not currently have a "black box" to record such data, although its seems that such information could certainly be sent off to reside on a cloud-based server. Regardless, BMW says the concept is still under development.

The ActiveHybrid 3 doesn't go on sale until fall, so BMW has some time left to finish its work. The company didn't say exactly how much benefit you might expect from such a system, and we'd imagine it would vary greatly depending on driving conditions. It did tell us the hybrid 3 Series is expected to return 37 miles per gallon on the highway, and that's before any improvement from the navigation-hybrid integration, as this sort of benefit wouldn't be shown in the fuel economy displayed on the window sticker.

BMW has promised us more information, so hopefully we'll have some follow-up soon.