As a plus, it’s electric
ONCE the 530e iPerformance arrives in July, BMW will have the biggest range of plug-in hybrids in Australia.
This big sedan, capable of driving up to 43km using only electric power, will join the smaller 330e sedan, X5 xDrive 40e SUV, 740e limo and i8 super-sports coupe in the Bavarian brand’s PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) line-up.
Arch rival Mercedes-Benz has four PHEVs, Porsche only a pair. Audi, Mitsubishi and Volvo also have PHEV models.
BMW, which also has the electric-only i3 city car in its catalogue, is pushing ahead with electric mobility more forcefully than anyone else — even though consumer interest remains low and government incentives for plug-in cars, common elsewhere in the world, are non-existent in Australia.
But the 530e doesn’t deserve to be ignored. This is a desirable and capable luxury car that just happens to be a PHEV.
Conventional versions of BMW’s latest 5 Series with turbo petrol and diesel four and sixcylinder engines went on sale in Australia in March, and the 530e shares their strong points.
It’s a good-looking car with a luxuriously roomy interior, packed with the latest in safety, driver-aid and infotainment tech. Thanks to its graceful handling and smooth ride, it’s a pleasure to drive.
As with other iPerformance models, the electric motor of the 530e is housed in the front of its automatic transmission, where a torque converter would normally be found. A clutch between the 2.0-litre turbo four and the electric motor connects or disconnects the two power sources.
Performance is brisk when both are working together. According to BMW, the 530e is as quick as the 530i (0-100km/h in 6.2 secs) but uses only onethird the fuel in the official consumption test.
The electric motor adds a real kick to acceleration, especially noticeable when moving off from rest.
The 530e’s default driving mode is Auto eDrive, in which the drivetrain computer blends internal combustion and electric power and, as it seeks efficiency, frequently shuts down the engine. Floor the accelerator and the engine starts instantly.
In this mode the 530e can reach 90km/h on electric power alone. BMW’s engineers have done a great job of making this complex drivetrain work really smoothly.
Switching to eMax mode turns the 530e into a purely electric car for as long as there is charge in the lithium-ion battery pack beneath the rear seat. Performance, though reduced, is still lively enough for most situations and top speed in this mode is 140km/h.
Some drivers will achieve BMW’s claimed electric-only range of 43km. Our enthusiastic driving in eMax on Bavarian backroads drained the battery just short of 30km.
A second test, in slower moving traffic, gave a better result. The 530e drove the last 30km back to BMW’s test centre outside Munich using electric power exclusively, with 17km of battery range remaining on arrival.
The final option, Battery Control mode, enables from 30 per cent to 100 per cent of the charge to be held until needed — for example, in city centres in Europe and elsewhere that ban internal combustion vehicles or impose fees for access.
The new 5 Series was designed from the start to accept plug-in tech. It shows. The car’s only serious shortcoming compared to regular versions is a reduction in boot space to a still spacious 410L.
BMW is yet to announce a firm price for the 530e but it’s likely to be only a few thousand more than the 530i.