As a plus, it’s elec­tric

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - PRESTIGE -

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.

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