BMW G01 X3 with BMW Sauber F1 Inspired KERS

Photo of a BMW X3 30e
By Dan Jones
Imagine yourself driving an F1 car down a short straight at 175 mph as you approach a 75 mph corner. You stab the brakes and immediately scrub 100 mph from your speed in preparation for the corner. The F1 brakes do a magnificent job of dissipating the massive amount of energy involved, converting kinetic energy into heat via friction. However, rather than just losing all that energy, in 2007 the FIA proposed adding the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) to the F1 Sporting Regulations to allow teams to capture some of that kinetic energy for use later in short spurts by an 80 hp electric motor to improve passing opportunities. The BMW Sauber F1 Team jumped on it. BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen stated at the time: “At BMW we have always used the Formula One project as a technology laboratory for series production. With KERS this approach takes on a whole new dimension.” In 2009 when the new rule took effect, BMW’s Nick Heidfeld was the first driver to take a podium position with a KERS equipped F1 car, at the Malaysian Grand Prix. 

BMW i3S at Midway Trading Post on Historic Route 66Fast forward a decade and BMW knew that recovered kinetic energy was important; 22% of all energy consumed by my BMW i3S BEV comes from this source. So when the third generation G01 X3 came out there was a new model added – the 30e. It has kinetic energy recovery (now commonly referred to as regenerative braking), a 108 hp electric motor, a small battery pack and onboard charging capabilities, making it a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV). Unlike other mainstream PHEVs, there is no Atkinson-cycle engine or CVT – it’s a true BMW.

The small battery pack results in a very modest 17 miles all-electric range. In Albuquerque, that hasn’t been a problem with daily trips to the grocery store, Target and ferrying grandchildren around normally completed as an EV in all electric mode. The X3 30e even has an electric vehicle warning sound designed to alert pedestrians. My neighbors say it sounds like a 737 taxiing to the gate when it enters our cul-de-sac in EV mode. While my i3S has a dedicated 220V 40 amp clothes dryer receptacle for Level 2 charging, the X3 30e does fine with a normal 20 amp 110 circuit for overnight Level 1 charging.

Unlike full EVs which are largely relegated to in-town driving in New Mexico due to the current lack of a state-wide charging infrastructure, the X3 30e can take to the highway like any other car without worrying about EV range or charging. On a trip to Chama, I was surprised to see the battery range increasing as I drove. Passing on the two-lane highway was enhanced by the car automatically kicking in the 108 hp electric motor with its instant torque to complete the maneuver quickly – just like what F1 drivers experienced, except always within legal limits of course. However, using the 30e engine has the typical ICE drawbacks: only 25% of fuel burned actually moves the vehicle while 68% of the fuel used goes to wasted heat with the rest lost due to various inefficiencies.

Compared to its 2021 X3 30i sibling, the 30e is more powerful with 288 HP vs 248 HP,  is quieter in EV mode, gets better fuel economy at 60 MPGe vs 25 MPG, is tons cleaner – 2.4 tons of annual tailpipe CO2 emissions to be exact, and slightly faster to 60 MPH at 5.9 seconds vs the 30i’s 6.0. However, that number doesn’t tell the whole story. If you have driven an EV, you understand the fun of the instantaneous torque evident in the 30e off the line, especially in sport mode. Lastly, my 30e was thousands of dollars cheaper than the 30i due to the federal tax credit.

If you are not convinced of the merits of instantaneous torque or are not predisposed to decreasing your personal carbon footprint, you should consider BMW electrification simply for the economy of it. Besides the reduced wear on the brakes, we only fill the tank of the 30e once every 2 months. PNM electric rates for the EV mode are much lower than gasoline costs for comparable usable energy and if you have a home photovoltaic system then the costs are even lower. If your solar panels have already recovered their initial cost of installation, then EV mode is free!

That said, I believe there will always be a place for our older BMWs like my E85 Z4 3.0si with a six-speed manual. Hopefully, tucked in a garage and used anytime, except as a daily driver.


Photo of Z4 at Golden, NM
E85 Z4 at the San Francisco de Asís Catholic Church in Golden, NM on the Turquoise Trail Scenic Byway.