In a somewhat surprising move BMW has brought its latest plug-in hybrid iPerformance model to market in Australia at exactly the same price point as the identically-equipped petrol-powered 530i model.
That’s a move that goes without precedent in Australia, where the additional cost of hybrid hardware traditionally gets passed onto consumers thanks to Australia’s lack of subsidies or incentives for buying a so-called green vehicle.
Surely corners have been cut to get to that point? No, not at all. Apart from minor difference centres around the hybrid vehicle’s operations, the 530e matches its petrol-only sibling for specification, which in the case of the latest-generation 5 Series, makes it a rather lavish eco-offering.
Vehicle Style: Prestige large sedan
Price: $108,900 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 185kW/420Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol-electric hybrid | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 2.3 l/100km
Unlike BMW’s flagship eco cars, the i range, which use high-tech construction materials and bespoke engine and construction systems, the iPerformance range is far more mainstream, based on regular BMW models, but powered by a plug-in hybrid powertrain rather than a traditional petrol or diesel engine itself.
In the case of the 530e that means that while there is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the bonnet, there’s also a battery pack at the rear and an electric motor between the engine and transmission that can either power the car by itself over limited distances, or be used to boost performance while still aiming to reduce the 530’s thirst for petrol.
At $108,900 plus on-road costs the 530e certainly sits at the elite end of the green-market, but with performance that matches the 530i, and superior fuel economy with no financial penalty Australian buyers might once and for all look more favourably upon plug-in hybrids as something more than an eco-oddity.
- Standard Equipment: Leather seat trim, Sensatec-covered dashboard, dual-zone climate control, head-up display, wireless charge pad, electrically adjustable front seats and steering column, heated front sports seats, adaptive LED headlights, 12.3-inch instrument cluster keyless entry and start, cruise control with speed limiter, speed limit information, illuminated sill plates, 19-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 10.25-inch touchscreen display, iDrive controller, DAB+ digital radio, satellite navigation, ConnectedDrive online services, Bluetooth connectivity, 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio
- Cargo Volume: 410 litres
BMW has gone for a low-key approach to the 530e, so apart from a few extra badges and an extra fuel filler flap in the front guard (to cover the electric charge port) it looks the same on the outside as any other 5 Series.
The interior similarly sticks closely to the design and specification of the other 530 models, the 530i and 530d, with the usual leather trim, colour head-up display, digital instrument cluster, LED headlights, powered front seats and steering column, and keyless entry and start.
The 530e also shares its 10.25-inch iDrive infotainment system with the rest of the range, with a touchscreen display plus rotary control, 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio, satellite navigation, digital radio, plus a suite of ConnectedDrive services to let you pick when to start and stop charging, pre-ventilate the cabin, and more.
While seating space and comfort matches the rest of the range, the 530e does suffer a cargo penalty - with a battery pack where the fuel tank would usually sit, and a slightly smaller fuel tank shifted to behind the rear seats, boot capacity takes a hit from the regular model’s 530-litre capacity down to a more compact 410 litres.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 135kW/320Nm 2.0-litre fur-cylinder turbo petrol plus 83kW/250Nm electric motor (185kW/420Nm combined)
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Wishbone front, multilink rear with adaptive dampers
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, 12.05m turning circle
With combined outputs of 185kW and 420Nm the BMW 530e seems a fair match for the petrol 530i (with 185kW and 350Nm) and almost comes close to the six-cylinder 540i’s 450Nm.
Broken down a little further the 530e runs a 135kW/320Nm four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine alongside an 83kW/250Nm electric motor allowing the 530e to match the claimed 6.2-second 0-100 km/h acceleration time of the 530i yet with fuel consumption as low as 2.3 l/100km - less than half that of the already frugal 530d.
The 530e can also be driven solely on electric power, albeit for a limited range - officially it’ll cover 43 kilometres before asking for assistance from the petrol engine, though BMW concedes that in real-world driving that’s more likely to be about 30 kilometres.
That’s still enough to cover the so-called ‘average’ Australian commute without needing a drop of petrol, with the added convenience of being able to easily cover long distances without needing to do a thing with the petrol engine ready to chime in at almost imperceptibly when battery charge runs low, or if a burst of rapid acceleration is called for.
To test that out BMW started us out in the 530e at the Bondi Junction shopping centre - one of 10 Westfield complexes around the country where BMW has installed electric vehicle charging stations - to let it demonstrate its abilities around Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
To the uninitiated the 530e would feel just like a normal car, yet three driving modes- Auto eDrive mode, which uses the electric motor as much as possible but taps into the petrol engine when needed, Max eDrive mode where it uses the electric motor only, Battery Control mode where it switches off the electric motor when the battery reaches a predetermined state of charge - are the only real giveaway that this particular 5 Series is any different from the rest.
Although it may not sound over-endowed, the 83kW/250Nm electric motor is strong enough to shift the 530e from standstill with vigour, allowing it to poke about town in near-silence up to 80 km/h.
If you’re more enthusiastic with the accelerator pedal, or encounter an incline, the petrol engine will provide extra assistance, but the changeover is hardly noticable free from any vibration or stuttering as it starts up and shuts down.
Following a 30-minute wander through Sydney's beachside suburbs, the trip meter showed 25 kilometres of travel had resulted in a fuel consumption figure just below BMW’s claimed 2.3 l/100km and around 40 percent battery remaining - all without ever feeling like anything other than a completely normal car.
Should you happen to deplete the battery entirely the 2.0-litre petrol engine is able to run as efficiently as your average small hatch at around 6.6 l/100km, - not bad and not far off with the official claimed figure for the more powerful 530ia figure that's around the same as a small hatchback.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With parity pricing that matches the equivalent 530i, the 530e will become Australia’s test case for fuel efficient vehicles and plug-in hybrids. When presented with a car that has an identical price, but better green credentials and lower fuel consumptions, will motorists pick the efficient option, or stick with what they already know?
After our introduction to the 530e, the plug-in 5 Series makes a compelling case for itself. In some cases the smaller boot might matter to some customers, but in most situations that’s not a deal breaker.
From the outside, with 19-inch wheels, and the standard M Sport styling package of the 530i there’s little about the 530e that says ‘eco warrior’ and that in itself might be the ideal incentive for buyers looking for a more subtle approach than something like the BMW i3 and its It Came From Outer Space styling.
Only time will tell how warmly the 530e will be received, but on first impressions BMW’s newest plug-in hybrid has the potential to do well for itself.
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