2017 BMW 530e iPerformance review

The BMW 530e is the latest and probably greatest member of the company's iPerformance PHEV range. It mounts a compelling case that makes a mockery of the tiny sales it will achieve.
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The BMW 5 Series sedan is the latest recipient of the brand’s plug-in hybrid drivetrain, a bridge between yesterday’s internal combustion vehicles and tomorrow’s full-electric ones.

The BMW 530e iPerformance will join the conceptually identical 330e and X5 xDrive40e in Australian showrooms from July, pairing a conventional turbo-petrol engine with a modern electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack.

Like its siblings, the 530e will be priced thereabouts with its nearest IC equivalent. This means it’ll cost a few grand more than the $108,900 BMW 530i, but will have the same power, more torque, be EV capable for bursts, and have more spec.

It’ll also be about $20,000 cheaper than the fully electric (in other words, more evolved) Tesla Model S 75 — which has a 450km EV range but no extended petrol option — and the equivalent Mercedes-Benz E350e PHEV.

The 530e is actually the sixth iPerformance offering and BMW wants this part of the company (also factoring in the dedicated EV i3 and i8) to acquire more than 100,000 sales this year, about 8 per cent of its global volume.

What you get with the 530e is a 5 Series that can do an average day’s commuting — around 50km — with no emissions and little noise, but also run as a petrol-fired offering over unlimited distances sans compromise.

One real driver of this technology bridge is the imminence of major cities the world over banning non-electric-capable cars from downtown. This isn’t crazy talk, it’ll be in effect in major European cities in the short to mid-term.

Yet the PHEV seems to some a better fit for Australia than pure EVs for other reasons, notably its remarkable lack of charging infrastructure compared to more civilised markets in Europe and much of Asia, and a culture that ideates driving vast distances unhindered — even if few people ever do so.

The foundation of the iPerformance PHEV is a 2.0-litre turbo four making 135kW and 290Nm. Located behind this is a 83kW/250Nm electric motor, giving the 530e combined output of 185kW and a mostly instant 420Nm, and a 0-100km/h time of 6.2sec.

For contrast, the “price-equivalent” 530i has 185kW/350Nm and does 0-100km/h in the same 6.2sec.

Behind this petrol-electric drive unit is an eight-speed automatic transmission, situated so its ratios can be used even in full-electric driving. In signature BMW form, combined outputs are channelled to the rear wheels.

Powering the motor is a 9.2kWh lithium-ion battery pack that can be charged to 80 per cent by a domestic socket in four hours, or a 3.7kW BMW i wall box ($2200 plus fitment) in a smidgen under two hours. You can also use public charging stations, if you can find one.

BMW will also start rolling out wireless inductive charging, based on a strengthened ground pad fed by a 230V input that 'talks' to a small protected pad on the underside of the car, in the US and Europe during 2018. Not for Australia in the near future, we're afraid…

As with the other iPerformance models, as well as something such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, you can strategically drive the 530e iPerformance in various different modes.

The big-ticket one is the Max eDrive pure electric mode that gives you a claimed 43 kilometres of zero-emission range, with a maximum capability of 140km/h. This instant torque can be augmented by engine via downshifting if need be.

Then there is the Battery control mode that preserves the battery charge at a pre-set level and uses the engine as a drive source and/or a generator in lieu. Maybe you want petrol for the motorway, and to keep EV capability for town.

Then there’s the Auto eDrive mode for people who don’t want to overthink it, so want the car’s brain circuitry to decide what is most efficient and when.

Naturally this is the default mode, and using it we actually managed about 56km of EV range with heavy brake-energy recuperation downhill (way more subtle than the one-pedal-driving i3), followed by cumulative fuel economy of 5.8L over the next 100km of moderately intensive driving.

In other words, over a long drive the 550e is less efficient than a diesel, yet in the daily urban commute — most Australians drive fewer than 50km per day — it’s both CO2 and NOx free and entirely silent. Horses for courses.

There’s also an independent ISO certification calculating the overall environmental impact of the 530e, from the extraction of raw materials and the manufacturing process as a whole, to the usage phase and recycling down the line.

The “global warming potential” of the 530e iPerformance is deemed 15 per cent lower than that of the BMW 530i powered purely by a combustion engine. If only renewably generated power is used to charge the battery, the impact is further reduced by up to 47 per cent.

The cool thing about the 530e, just like the 3 Series and X5 versions which this reporter has driven in Australia, is the lack of compromise. Drive it as a petrol all you like, don’t charge it, load up the 411L boot and flip the back seats down for long items…

If it weren’t for the different digital instruments that show brake energy regeneration levels and electric range, and the iDrive menu that shows what each part of the drivetrain is doing in real time, you could just be puttering around in a 520d or 530i. Expect for the uncanny silence of the EV mode, which only adds to the ambience.

Dynamically the 530e isn’t all that distinguishable from other 5 Series models. The batteries add a few hundred kilos of weight, but they’re also mounted low and under the back seat, so weight distribution is ideal at 48:52.

With adaptive dampers, comfort over urban cobbles, smooth freeways and pockmarked regional b-roads alike was hard to fault, with comfortable and quiet bump absorption paired to good body control and well-weighted steering.

The cabin layout will be familiar to BMW owners, and it lacks the immediate showroom ‘wow’ factor of the E-Class. The 10.25-inch floating screen runs the new iDrive 6 software, with the rotary dial controller matched to a series of horizontally scrolling tiles.

The BMW 530e iPerformance spec will about match the 530i, and come with the M Sport package adding the M Aerodynamics body kit and performance brakes (or the Luxury Line setup for the same cost).

Standard fare will include a navigation system with 10.25-inch display, wireless smartphone charging, head-up display, park assist with 360-degree cameras and 3D front/rear view, adaptive dampers, adaptive LED headlights, electric boot, 19-inch BMW M light alloy wheels, a 16-speaker harman/kardon surround-sound system and an anthracite roof liner.

Like other 5ers, there are semi-autonomous driving technologies such as an adaptive cruise control system that stops to zero, and responds to gaps in traffic more quickly than most, while the lane-keeping assist nudges you back between the lines like in a Tesla or E-Class, though regulations mean you need to take the wheel every 30 seconds or so.

Our tester had the group’s fiddly gesture control system that lets you change the audio volume or skip tracks with precisely positioned hand signs — twirl your index finger to make the music louder, for example — a gesture key and remote-control parking. Meh.

In addition, the 530e gains iPerformance-specific content, such as stationary cooling system, Acoustic Pedestrian Protection, extended ConnectedDrive services featuring eDrive stuff, the charging cable and a eight-year warranty covering battery deletion or failure.

The BMW 530e is an interesting bit of kit, just like the $72,900 330e.

PHEVs are a bridging technology that will someday be looked upon as a curio, but, in the here and now, cars like this one offer a compromise for people who may baulk at the idea of a fully electrified Tesla Model S.