ELECTRIC cars are becoming ever more mainstream, and this BMW 530e is the latest example of new technology getting normal.
It’s the new plug-in hybrid version of BMW’s 5-Series and could be about to revolutionise its already-substantial sucess, especially among business drivers.
Plug-in hybrid vehicles work by combining a petrol engine with an electric motor and battery.
That means that the car can run on electric power for around 30 miles before the engine kicks in. Or both the engine and electric motor can work in tandem with the electric motor running the car at lower speeds or under light acceleration, switching to or working with petrol when more performance is required.
Form the outside, it takes a sharp eye to even spot that this 530e is the plug-in hybrid version of BMW’s 5-Series saloon introduced earlier this year.
Only details like a blue hue to the grille, blue lining to the BMW badge on the alloy wheels and the eDrive logo on the rear door pillar, as well as the giveaway charge point flap behind the nearside front wheel, mark out this as the ultra low emission 5-Series.
The plug-in hybrid takes the 5-Series to new efficiency levels, which isn’t surprise as it’s the first rechargeable one.
The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine and 83kw electric motor combine to produce 252bhp returning an average fuel economy figure of 141.2mpg, though that number is entirely dependent on how much time the car runs on electric rather than petrol, and the emissions figure is 46g/km.
That’s important for company car drivers because anything below 50g/km means lower monthly tax bills.
It also means the BMW is eligible for a £2500 Government grant off the purchase price.
As well as economy, the battery helps performance, and the 530e will accelerate from 0 to 60mph in just 6.2 seconds and is electronically limited to 146mph.
BMW has set out three driving modes for how the battery and engine work.
In the Auto eDrive setting, the car decides whether to use electric or petrol based on how hard the driver is pressing the accelerator and the car’s speed. Below 60mph and when not accelerating too hard the battery is employed, but push harder or get to higher speeds and the car switches seamlessly to petrol.
It’s essentially like a regular hybrid, such as Toyota’s Prius.
Press the button for Max eDrive, and it’s electric power alone, which obviously drains the battery faster but ensures the engine doesn’t get involved, which is useful for journeys where you know you won’t use the entire battery range. It will do up to 87mph on electric alone.
The third mode is probably the cleverest. Called Battery Control, the driver can set a level between 30-100%, and the car will automatically use just the petrol engine until the battery is back above the set level.
That’s great for a motorway run that ends by driving into a city, because the battery can be saved for the last bit, where the electric technology is at its most efficient, rather than wasting it on the high-speed run where the engine is better.
BMW has gone to great lengths to make it easy to use the 530e as efficiently as possible, and that extends to the dashboard. The dials make it clear how much you can accelerate and how hard you can push without dropping out of battery-only usage.
It’s simple, but it works, and is better than many other electric vehicles.
Like all electric vehicles, it’s a slightly different driving experience.
The way the technology works means there’s an addictive instant surge of power when you prod the accelerator, significantly more than with petrol or diesel.
Then there’s the noise.
Or rather, there isn’t. It’s a serene and calming experience driving a silent electric car, especially in urban settings where the smug satisfaction of knowing you’re running around without emitting anything harmful is an enjoyable sensation.
Equipment levels are good, with the 530e available in the same SE and M-sport trim levels as the rest of the range.
SE gets front and rear parking sensors, satellite navigation and dual-zone climate control as standard on all models, and the M-sport adds a sporty bodykit that lifts the looks, as well as other interior and exterior adornments.
As far as negatives go, the biggest one is that you lose 120 litres of boot space in order to package those batteries. It’s still got a 410 litre boot, which is enough for most situations, and also worthy of note is that the plug-in will only be available as a saloon.
But one of the usual negatives about plug-in cars doesn’t quite apply here. BMW has pitched this plug-in version as an alternative to its performance diesel model, the 530d, and has priced the two within £150 of each other, with the 530e costing from £43,985.
But that’s before the Government gives £2500 off the price of the low-emission version, and company car drivers will see their monthly tax bill drop by nearly £250 per month versus the diesel.
The 530d is slightly faster, but is obviously much less efficient if the plug-in hybrid is used how it is supposed to be – by spending as much time as possible using the electric power and as little as possible supping petrol.
That’s the key with these cars.
They don’t suit everybody, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a modern diesel that meets the latest emissions regulations if it’s needed for higher mileage.
But if the majority of journeys are below 30 miles or so between charges, then plug-in hybrids make a lot of sense, and this new BMW 530e iPerformance makes more sense than most.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: BMW 530e
Engine: Hybrid - 2.0-litre turbo-petrol plus 83kw electric motor
Power (bhp): 252
Torque (Nm): 420
Max speed (mph): 146
0-60mph: 6.2 seconds
Emissions (g/km): 46g/km