So-called green technology is good for the world, but until now it hasn't been so good for the hip pocket. Electric vehicles, alternative fuels and plug-in hybrid tech usually commands a premium compared to traditional petrol engines.
The 2017 BMW 530e features the German automaker’s latest plug-in hybrid tech that allows it to travel a short distance (your daily commute for instance) without producing a whiff of exhaust emissions due to its electric drive system, while also allowing limitless open-road travel thanks to a more familiar petrol engine.
How much more would you expect to pay for a ‘best of both worlds’ eco solution like that? Surprisingly the 530e commands no premium compared to the petrol-only 530i it shares its basics with, showing that BMW is serious about greening Australia’s landscape - albeit at a slow-selling end of the market.
This could be the start of a seismic shift in the way Australians select a new car, but before we get swept away in a tide of green euphoria let's jump behind the wheel to see if the 530e makes more sense than its regular petrol-powered counterpart.
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 | Tested: 5.5 l/100km
To be fair, the 2017 BMW 530e doesn’t mark the first time a plug-in hybrid matches the price of an internal combustion BMW, with the X5 40e priced to match the diesel-powered X5 40d, but diesel cars are traditionally more expensive than petrol ones, so this is the first time prices match at a base level.
Performance doesn’t take a hit with the green option either. Both the 530e and 530i produce 185kW (that’s a combined figure from the petrol engine and electric motor in the case of the 530e) and both can hit 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds from a standing start.
Standard features haven't been reduced either as all the 530i’s essential bits carry over to the 530e with sat nav, leather trim, M Sport styling, powered front seats and more, all part of the included package.
So why pick the 530e? Because BMW claims you can drive up to 43 kilometres without using a drop of petrol if you plug it in every night - and if you charge it off-peak that top-up should cost nothing more than loose change.
The official fuel consumption figure is a scant 2.3L/100km, for the first 100km at least, and if you were to pull electric charge from a renewable or carbon neutral source CO2 emissions are a low 53g/100km.
Somehow though Australia has missed out on the current global trend to reduce vehicle emissions. There’s no ‘gas guzzler’ taxes, no emission-based road taxes, and only a token reduction in the LCT threshold as an incentive for picking a more fuel efficient vehicle, making a car like the BMW 530e a less compelling choice than it should be.
- 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
- Options Fitted: Sunroof $2900, Metallic paint $5000, Tyre pressure monitoring $550
- Cargo Volume: 410 litres
The design of BMW’s latest-generation 5 Series is genuinely elegant. There’s an obvious German sensibility to the appearance and layout, overlaid with a marked improvement in quality and luxury compared with the previous model.
Standard features include the latest must-have tech like a wireless charge pad for compatible mobile phones, and a 12.3-inch dynamic instrument cluster to go with more traditional luxury car inclusions like powered front seats and steering wheel, leather trim, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, and a premium Harman Kardon audio system.
Front sports seats include seat heating and multi-way adjustment including base length and bolster support, meaning drivers of all sizes should find the right seating position with ease as well as being able to recall it via the two-position memory function.
The smart looking leather trim looks right at home in a circa $100k car, although the Sensatec covered dash (BMW’s version of artificial leather) doesn’t quite match the look and feel of the rest of the interior surfaces.
Passengers relegated to the rear will find things just as comfortable, but despite the 530e’s generous exterior proportions rear legroom can feel just a little tighter than it really should be, although width and headroom are plentiful.
Thanks to a shuffling of under-car components that allows both a battery pack and fuel tank to be fitted, boot space gets pared back from the 530 litre capacity of the regular 5 Series to a more trim 410 litres, with a lumpy floor to match, reducing the 530e’s ultimate luggage carrying capacity. A long weekend’s worth of luggage will still fit, but it might take a little forethought to squeeze everything in.
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, independent multilink rear with adaptive dampers
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, 12.05m turning circle
Where the interior of the plug-in hybrid 530e barely changes from the regular version, the drivetrain is vastly different, being both part EV and part petrol-powered. For all of that, the flow-on effect to the way the 530e drives is minimal.
TMR’s time with the 530e started at BMW’s head office with a battery that was only topped up to an indicated 80 percent and involved a 37km trip back to the office (give or take a few hundred metres in the search for a car park).
With a claimed range of 43 kilometres from a full charge that should have meant just over 34 kilometres of EV driving with the charge available, however the indicated range from the trip computer showed a less optimistic 26km (BMW admits real-world range is more like 30km).
So the dream of a zero-emissions capable commuter car goes somewhat out the window. As it is without the ‘max EV’ drive mode selected, the petrol engine chips in at speeds of around 80 km/h to provide assistance, resulting in an indicated 1.7L/100km for the journey back to the office… still not too bad.
The driving manners also impress. With electricity at your disposal the big 530e is eerily silent, and were it not for the delay between squeezing the accelerator and the vehicle’s tardy response, the EV experience would be wholly addictive.
As battery charge depletes and the petrol engine chips in, the smooth and silent operation gives way to the subtlest hint of engine noise and vibration, but overall it’s so faint that occupants are unlikely to notice.
With more driving, plugging-in where we could overnight (as an owner might be expected to do), with trips both inside and outside of electric range, the big 5’s fuel consumption rose to 5.5 l/100km - above the claimed figures for both of BMW’s diesel-powered 5 Series models, but impressive for a vehicle of this size.
The old your-mileage-may-vary caveat most certainly applies here. If your work commute is short enough and you religiously plug the 530e in the consumption drops appreciably, and if you rely on petrol power only (negating the benefit of the PHEV system) that figure will be higher - roughly speaking, regular cross-country driver’s won’t get the best out of this car, but those that head in and out of the city over short distances will benefit more.
As for the rest of the driving experience, it’s pure BMW. The 530e goes and stops confidently when requested, and handles impressively out of town. There’s a sense of extra weight on board thanks to the additional drivetrain hardware, but it hardly dulls its dynamic traits in any significant way.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the BMW 5 Series scored the maximum five-star score when tested in 2017 based on crash tests conducted by Euro NCAP. According to ANCAP this rating applies to 520d variants only.
Safety Features: Seven airbags (dual front, front seat side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee), front and rear outboard seatbelt pretensioners, ABS brakes, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, speed limit recognition, tyre pressure monitoring, and 360-degree camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: BMW’s range utilises condition-based servicing, meaning service intervals may vary depending on how the vehicle is used. BMW Service Inclusive pre-paid packages are available for up to five years or 80,000km starting from $1640 for a basic package to suit the 5 Series. Your BMW dealer can explain the full terms and conditions of the program.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Mercedes-Benz' version of the plug-in hybrid saloon, the E350e, is a close match to BMW’s in terms of efficiency and range, but trails it on power and commands a higher price premium. Despite that the swish interior fit-out of the E could be enough to sway some buyers.
Despite leading the luxury pack with its early adoption of hybrid technology, the Lexus GS450h's non-plug-in tech is now a generation or two behind its Euro competitors, with a soggy CVT automatic that robs driving enjoyment, and a generally older vehicle that doesn’t feel as fresh.
Although it’s slightly more expensive, the Tesla Model S 75 allows you to go fully electric with a decent 450km official range, and access to Tesla’s Supercharger fast-charging network where available. The interior isn’t as flash as BMW’s and there’s still some travel limitations with a fully electric vehicle.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Although BMW has matched the price of the 530e to its regular petrol powered counterpart, the technology is still a long way from what you or I might consider accessible, remaining the preserve of the well-heeled. However, bringing this car to Australia without an additional price premium is at least a step in the right direction.
BMW does at least embarrass rival Mercedes-Benz, charging far less for the 530e than the conceptually similar E350e, and tears Lexus non-plug in hybrids the GS 300h and GS 450h apart, making the former appear woefully underpowered and the latter looks behind the ball for technology, efficiency, and price.
For all of that, the 530e still isn’t a perfect fit for all buyers, but plug-in hybrid technology is a fantastic way of introducing the buying public to an electric future and could drive a future generation of buyers towards EVs over time.
City-fringe dwellers should find the idea of reduced emissions driving and charge-at-home convenience irresistible, with the freedom to venture beyond city limits with no special preparation further icing on the cake.