TELL ME ABOUT THIS CAR
The idea of a petrol-electric hybrid version of BMW’s large-size corporate express isn’t new. Four years ago, the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 arrived in Australia boasting a turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine hooked up to a mild hybrid system. It could drive for about three kilometres on battery power alone, and used about 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres of fuel.
Since then, a new 5 Series has arrived in town heralding some of the latest cutting-edge technology that will one day trickle down to the cheapest BMW-badged cars. It has added a rechargeable battery to the mix, a 43 kilometre range and uses almost a third of the fuel of the car it replaces.
Most compelling of all, though, is that instead of charging a premium for the smart fuel-saving tech, BMW has set the price of the 530e iPerformance, as the new plug-in Bimmer is known, at exactly the same as the petrol-engined 530i version - $108,900.
- Good fuel economy on test. The BMW 530e iPerformance is officially rated at 2.3L/100km, and on test we recorded a 5.2L/100km.
- Okay, so at $108,900 the plug-in hybrid 5 Series is expensive. But you get all that hybrid tech for free compared with the petrol-engined equivalent.
- You can drive on electricity alone if you want. That’s a huge advantage if your commute each workday is around 40 kilometres – you’ll virtually never have to use fuel.
- If you do drive more than 40 kilometres a day, you only burn fuel when you run out of stored electricity.
- Buying a plug-in hybrid that can drive in full electric mode future-proofs you if ever the government decides to add a congestion zone to a city, but with a free ride for zero-emissions cars (like London does).
- The hybrid system is set up to scab as much energy as it can out of braking, and convert it to electricity. The 530e’s clever electronics makes it less heavy on the brakes as a result, so you save in terms of brake wear.
- The plug-in BMW comes with a recharging cord as standard. It means anywhere there’s a power point, you can charge the batteries.
- Buy the BMW and you get a tag that also gives you free faster recharging at a number of public stations.
- It’s cheaper than the Benz-badged equivalent, the Mercedes-Benz E330e. You’re paying more than $20,000 to get into one of those, but it uses only 0.1L/100km less fuel than the BMW. Then again, the Benz is more powerful.
- You’re buying a car that uses significantly less in fuel than a Toyota Prius, the poster car for environmental driving, yet you still have to pay almost $8000 in luxury car tax.
- The iPerformance badge is misleading. The combination of the petrol engine and electric motor has more torque than the petrol equivalent, but the only time you notice it is from a standing start.
- The car is heavy, and feels it at times. The hybrid bits add 230kg in weight – almost a quarter of a tonne – so some of what makes the petrol-engined 530i feel so good to drive, such as its lightness over the front wheels, is lost.
- Real-world all-electric range will vary depending on how you drive the car. Drive hard, with the heater on high, lights ablaze, and the windscreen wipers at full speed and you’ll deplete the batteries a lot faster. Drive like nana on a mild day and with the aircon on low and you’ll go far.
- You lose boot space. The hybrid system’s battery pack is made up of 96 individual cells strung together, and it sits under the boot floor. The fuel tank has also moved partially under the boot floor, too, eating into space.
- Speaking of the fuel tank, it has shrunk from 68 to just 46 litres. If you’re on a long road trip with no recharging available, that’s a lot of fuel stops.
ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?
We’ve already mentioned the Mercedes-Benz E330e, a plug-in hybrid E-Class that’s more expensive, more powerful and just as fuel efficient, but won’t go within cooee of the 530e when it comes to electric-only range.
Lexus sells the equivalently-priced GS450h, but its V6-based petrol-electric hybrid system is tuned towards performance. The penalty for that is instead of running on the smell of an oily rag like the Benz and the Bimmer, it drinks fuel like a small European hatchback. Oh, and it doesn’t have a plug to top up the batteries, so all the recharging comes via your right foot.