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Driven: Next-gen BMW 5 Series hybrid for SA

2017-05-01 08:53

NEXT-GEN HYBRID: 'If the 530e i-Performance is the future of luxury executive sporting cars then there is a lot to celebrate here,' writes Alexander Parker as he drives the SA-bound BMW 5 Series plug-in hybrid. Image: BMW

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BMW has launched the new Hybrid 5 Series.

Alexander Parker

'If the 530e i-Performance is the future of luxury executive sporting cars then there is a lot to celebrate here,' writes Alexander Parker as he drives the SA-bound BMW 5 Series plug-in hybrid.

Munich - Diesel is history - and good riddance, too. Of course, it’s not dead yet. You can still go out there and buy a diesel car and that will remain the case for some time. Indeed, over the next decade a diesel car might well remain the rational choice.

But the writing is on the wall for the smelly stuff. It was the EU mandarins that cajoled and bribed the good burghers of the EU into diesel cars, telling them (truthfully) that diesel emissions were lower in carbon than petrol emissions, and that this was good for the environment. 

Emissions saga

They structured tax regimes to support it too, taxing carbon emissions and fiddling with fuel taxes to make diesel cars cheaper to run.

But all the time they knew that dramatically higher emissions of particulates and nitrous oxides inherent in diesel emissions were causing cancers, lung-related illnesses, and increases in asthma rates.  The EU’s own figures suggest that almost 467 000 people have died early as a result of particulate emissions alone emanating from diesel engines. It’s a shocker, isn’t it? 

i-Performance

For many car manufacturers diesel cars have been their stock-in-trade, as especially people buying company car fleets have been doing so with tax implications in mind. BMW, purveyor of executive cars and technologically advanced engines, has long had a high diesel mix in its production. One has to feel for them. They’ve invested billions into diesel engines as a result of EU law, which is why a 2017 diesel-powered BMW is a clean-running affair.

VIEW: 2017 BMW 5 Series hybrid  

But not as clean as a petrol engine, which is why the Bavarian company’s recent launch of its i-Performance range gives some hint of the future – because while diesel may no longer be the wonder-fuel it was held up to be, those carbon targets aren’t going anywhere.

In Germany earlier in April, I drove the all new BMW 530e i-Performance, a plug-in hybrid 5 Series with an electric motor as well as a two-litre, twin turbo-petrol engine. The numbers speak of a solidly powerful car: 185kW and combined peak torque of 420Nm will shunt this car along to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds and along to a top speed of 235km/h.

BMW 5 Series hybrid

You will have read details on the new 5 Series in these pages last year, so you’ll know that this is a handsome and high-tech executive autobahn-stormer with just-so handling and poise. But a plug-in hybrid? How’s that going to work in the “executive athlete” of BMW’s advertising campaigns? 

I think it’s probably a good moment for some full disclosure; I like hybrids, and I have done for years. I like them because, even in their least exciting and functional form, they are still spectacularly efficacious. I know people like to say that diesel cars are just as efficient in town, but it’s just not the case. In the urban jungle, the hybrid wins – they use less fuel and they don’t pump filthy carcinogens into the lungs of your children. Yes, I’m all for hybrids.

Additionally, BMW have had the cradle-to-grave environmental impact of the 530e established by an outside agency – and they say it’s 15% less harmful to the environment than a standard 530i, and that takes into account all the mining required for the minerals in the batteries. That’s just another nail in diesel’s coffin.

But eco-hybrids can be problematic, with their CVT gearboxes and limited performance figures, they do have a reputation of being that least BMW thing of all – dull, soulless and slow. 

These are not problems the 530e has, though. You’ve still got eight proper gears that shift smoothly whether you’re using electric, petrol or both engines, and you’ve still got the full-fat BMWishness you’d get in a conventionally propelled car. It’s a proper rear-drive luxury car that’s as much a joy to helm as anything else the company makes with a “5” badge on the bootlid.  

And so off we went, battery fully charged over lunch, for a bit of a drive in Germany’s south-eastern corner. The highest praises I can really offer the 530e is that it feels just like a mid-range BMW 5 Series. It is quiet and quick and well-engineered. There’s a hell of a lot going on under the skin, but the most important thing here is that it is pretty much compromise-free. 

Driving modes

I was especially impressed with the various battery settings. These work in parallel with the drive settings you’re used to on a BMW (Sport, Sport +, Comfort and EcoPro). In the 530e you also get, on a separate switch, the journey ahead through three driving modes: Auto eDRIVE, Max eDRIVE and Battery Control. 

Auto eDRIVE is the default, and uses battery power and electric power as it thinks best. Max eDRIVE is essentially an electric-only setting, and Battery Control allows the driver to maintain a state of charge or, if you prefer, to deliberately charge the battery whilst driving, which you might do on a freeway or open road if you know you will soon be arriving in a congested town.

And so, in real working life, this means that on any given ordinary commute of less than 50km in slowish traffic you might need to use literally no fuel at all, especially if you have the opportunity to charge your car at work (five hours in an ordinary socket, three hours at a BMW Wallbox). 

eDrive

On our long drive in the countryside I used mainly Auto eDRIVE, but switched to Battery Control a few kilometres before getting into Munich’s afternoon traffic, meaning I still had 50% of charge by the time we arrived in the city, where I was able to re-select Auto eDrive again and complete the journey in town on electric power. At the end of a long day on the road, we’d used about 5.5 litres/100km (of petrol, remember, not diesel) doing some spirited stints along the Autobahn and through the back lanes, as well as a good run in a busy city. That, to me, is superb. 

Add to that next year’s introduction of induction charging, developed in partnership with Mercedes-Benz in the quest for standardisation, this will mean you simply park your car over a pad and the car will charge. These pads will appear in offices, supermarket car parks and garages, and will mean your charging cable will get dusty in your garage at home.

The 530e i-Performance is will, as a result of its complexity, probably end up costing a fair bit more than a 520d or a 530i, but if this is the future of luxury executive sporting cars then there is a hell of a lot to celebrate here. Diesel is dead. Long live the car.



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