We drive BMW's ActiveHybrid 5

2012-05-29 05:36

While governments and NGO’s and a whole bunch of other official-sounding organisations and protest groups have wailed and gnashed their teeth over "global warming" for the past 20 years one industry has been doing something about it.

The automotive industry – the very worldwide grouping that’s the target of much of  the ire while those doing the ire-ing get, every morning, into their cars, and head off to work or the shops.

BMW has just launched in South Africa its ActiveHybrid 5 Series sedan, it’s current (there are more developments to come) high-point of fuel-efficiency, luxury - and powerful, high-speed performance.


The German automaker (and many others, to be fair) were well aware, back in the 1990’s of the apparent contradiction of being ecologically aware AND making high-performance large cars. Various fuels – including liquid hydrogen in heavy pressure vessels taking up boot space – were tried. Hydrogen, BMW admits, has been put on hold as impracticable until, at least, 2025.

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In 1998, BMW said at the recent launch of the Active Hybrid 5 in Cape Town, a demand was made for an average cut in fuel-consumption across manufacturers‘ fleets of 25%. Pretty tough.

BMW, we were told, has turned out to be the only automaker to achieve this target, cutting consumption by 27.8%. In fact, its fleet average is down by 30% since 1995 and it plans to reach 50% by 2020.

Its average CO2 output in 1995 was 210g/km; the Blue Propeller people are aiming for half that – 105g/km – by 2020. It’s already down to 151g/km if sister-brand Mini is included in the calculations.


So: the ActiveHybrid 5 is here. Effectively (and here’s another contradiction in the green equation) a Formula 1 car in a luxury metal, plastic and carbon-fibre suit that uses an energy conservation/storage/release system much the same as the now famous kers in F1 but also applied in various forms by other manufacturers.

It’s the next step on BMW’s progress to the launch of the i3 and i8 Series cars in South Africa in 2014, the i8 being first shown at the 2009 Frankfurt auto show as part of BMW’s Vision EfficientDynamics programme – a high-performance sports car rated at 164kW/300Nm and 0-100km/h in less than five seconds but using only (a claimed) 2.7 litres/100km and capable of 35km on electric power alone.

BMW ActiveHybrid 5 specifications.

Meanwhile, we’ll tell you about the ActiveHybrid 5, a hybrid petrol/battery car which, in time, will be followed by the full electrification of entire drivetrains (and the more efficient use of said hydrogen).

Why not, though, have gone straight there? Cost, BMW explains; it seems there’s a seriouly upward-sliding cost involved with downward-sliding fuel-consumption. Previous developments – among them gearbox shift points, aero efficiency, multi-gear auto transmissions, braking energy recovery and storage and high-precision fuel-injection programs – were do-able and affordable.

Full hybrids such as this new 5 required more time and expense; next will be electricity generation from exhaust-gas heat – as much as 70% of energy produced by an internal combusion engine goes straight out of the tail pipes. And why only the 5 for SA: because the 7 and 6 models are left-hand drive only for now but the Sevens will be here by October 2012 – along with the more affordable ActiveHybrid 3 Series.


Under the shell of this new 5 is a combination of three-litre, straight-six petrol engine and an electric motor/generator bolted to the end of the transmission bell housing. A battery pack lives behind the rear seat and takes about 40 litres out of the boot space.

The turbocharged, 2979cc engine (twice winner of the "Engine of Year" title) is capable of 225kW at 5800rpm and 400Nm from 1200-5000rpm, the electric motor 40kW/210Nm. Together, they will propel the 5 to 100km/h in 5.9sec and on to a top speed of 250km/h. Or the electric motor can cruise (on the flat) for as far as four kilometres at a maximum of 60km/h before the petrol motor cuts in to start recharging the lithium ion battery-pack.

Recharging also occurs on overrun and whenever the engine output is not required to move the car – such as going downhill or slowing. The gearbox is an eight-speed auto/manual sequential

BMW claims an overall consumption figure of about seven litres/100km. Reality? We drove the car for about 200km, including a mountain pass and at the legal speed limit of 120km/h for long stretches with cruise control engaged and at the end of the drive the trip data computer showed an average of 8.8 litres/100km.

The drivetrain includes a clutch to decouple the engine (at up to 160km) to reduce drag, engine stop/start which engages when the car is stationary and the battery-charging system can take information from the satnav’s topography data to aim more for storage as hills approach "knowing" that a downhill recharge is coming. Pretty smart.


By now you’ll want to know how much? OK, R757 300 – which is about R100 000 more than the equivalent non-hybrid BMW 535i but the hybrid car has about R60 000 of standard-car options included. And, at last, an automaker has admitted how much a replacement (in this case 47kg lithium ion) battery will cost (though it is covered for five years under the unlimited distance warranty).

Keep R52 000 in a savings account. And thank you, BMW, for being so upfront.

The cars are in worldwide demand; the first batch for SA totals 30.

The car stands out from the rest of the BMW car park by having "ActiveHybrid 5" lettering on its C pillars; the BMW kidney grille has galvanised slats; the tailpipes are matte chromed. The door sills and an aluminium plate on the centre console have "ActiveHybrid 5" lettering, there‘s a bespoke engine cover and there‘s "ActiveHybrid Power Unit" on the casing for the high-performance battery in the boot.

The cabin fittings and upholstery are directly from the 5 Series range but (as mentioned) a top-end satnav system and four-zone aircon are standard in the hybrid. The full range of other BMW 5 Series options can be specified.


Specific to the car, however, is the data shown in the instrument cluster and control display: energy flow and recuperation display, boost function; operating status, battery charge level and fuel consumption.

If ordered, BMW ConnectedDrive has a head-up display, parking monitors, rear-view camera, Surround View, adaptive headlights and auto high-beam, parking assistant, lane deviation warning, Night Vision' amera with pedestrian identification, internet connection, connections for smart phone and external audio input and applications for receiving web radio, Facebook and Twitter.

  • Morne - 2012-05-29 10:05

    Lexus has had this technology on South African roads since 2008 in its GS450h.

      Thando - 2012-05-29 10:48

      What is interesting is that when the Toyota Prius came out in 1998 , the German manufacturers said that hybrids are a waste of time. Now they seem to be releasing more hybrids than the japanese. Wonder what changed ?

      musazwane - 2012-05-29 12:10

      The Beemer is using Lexus (Toyota) technology.

  • andrew.japhta - 2012-05-29 12:54

    @steph.reinstein I think the main point you're missing is market share, and that's what its all about.

  • lionel.mitchell1 - 2012-05-29 13:41

    Hopefully the new Lexus GS450h will feature here soon. I admire BMW for their efforts regarding the luxurious performance hybrid, but I believe the Lexus is still king of the hill in this regard.

  • trevorlbennett - 2012-05-29 14:26

    Can someone tell me why don't manufacturers use diesel cars to produce Hybrid cars, cause a diesel engine is already fuel efficient?

      naolifant - 2012-05-30 09:22

      @trevorlbennet, it's an Opec scam!

  • naolifant - 2012-05-30 09:25

    we have a new GS just launched, when is it going to feature here?

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