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BMW’s next M3 could be faster and more efficient thanks to a plug-in hybrid drivetrain

The iconic BMW M3 has been offered with an eclectic selection of engines since its introduction in 1985. Early models featured a four-cylinder mill, second- and third-gen models got a straight-six, fourth-gen models were fitted with a V8, and, finally, the current model is again powered by a straight-six.

According to a new report, the next M3 will follow the path of innovation blazed by its predecessors and launch with a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain, a first in the nameplate’s illustrious history. Built using technology gleaned from BMW’s eco-friendly i sub-brand, the plug-in drivetrain will consist of a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged straight-six similar to the one that powers the current model and either one or two electric motors.

The electric motors will provide approximately 73 foot-pounds of torque, meaning the next M3 should offer a healthy 479 foot-pounds of twist in its most basic state of tune. A horsepower figure has not been provided. The two-door M4 will be fitted with the same setup.

The straight-six will spin the rear wheels in normal driving conditions, and the electric motors will zap the front wheels when additional power is needed. The hybrid M3 will boast an all-electric driving range of approximately 20 miles, and it will return considerably better gas mileage than the current model  (pictured), which is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

BMW will offset the weight added by the bulky battery pack with lightweight materials such as carbon fiber. Speaking to The Detroit Bureau, a company insider pointed out that batteries are steadily becoming smaller, lighter and more powerful, and the M3 is set to benefit from these advances.

Although the move is highly controversial, going hybrid will allow BMW to give the M3 more power while remaining in compliance with the strict fuel economy and emissions regulations that are scheduled to come into effect across the European Union in the coming years. Mercedes-AMG has recently confirmed that it will most likely introduce its first-ever hybrid within the next few years for the exact same reasons.

Related: BMW could build the world’s first quad-turbocharged diesel engine

BMW has plenty of time to make up its mind about what will and won’t power the next M3. The current model went on sale about a year and a half ago, and it’s not scheduled to be replaced until 2020 at the earliest.