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In a prolific model range such as BMW’s, there are lines skewed towards success measured in sales volumes and profitability, and others primarily charged with affecting change, in brand building and in moving the car game somewhere new, be it forwards or, perhaps, sidewards.
The new 2017 BMW 530e iPerformance sedan sits firmly in the latter, a car not exactly immediately identifiable in its role within the Munich stable – the amalgam of ‘e’, ‘i’ and ‘performance’ in its namesake blurs the message of purpose somewhat – but it’s a car with clear purpose nonetheless: plug-in hybrid (PHEV) technology, from an ownership prospect, is now compromise free.
That’s the nutshell summation for both an idea and a car that deserve much more elaborate explanation. And, indeed, further digging still for validation.
The 530e is the sixth “electrified” vehicle to hit BMW's Aussie showrooms, joining the PHEV trio that is last year’s X5 xDrive40e iPerformance and 330e iPerformance sedan, the 740e iPerformance limo that launched earlier this year, and the EV halo torchbearers that are the i3 and the i8.
But the song and dance around the 530e is that, according to BMW, it offers absolute parity with the petrol-powered 530i: same spec, same luxury, same performance and driving experience at exactly the same price, with all of the benefits petrol-electric brings and with compromises so insignificant as to barely raise concern. It’s the cake-and-eat-it scenario as a key tipping point in Munich’s rose-tinted electrified future.
Before delving into the smarts at play, let’s stack up 530e’s stats against the 530i to test those ‘parity’ claims.
Both list for $108,900 before on-road or options and, outside means of propulsion, specifications are bang on identical. The 530e’s hybrid propulsion addenda – everything from plug point to the lithium ion battery pack’s cooling requirements – adds a formidable 230 kilograms over the petrol car’s 1615kg kerb weight, making for a total of 1845kg.
However, BMW says that it’s the extra 70Nm afforded by the (185kW) 530e’s combined petrol-electric 420Nm output that levels acceleration prowess to 6.2 seconds apiece for both 5 Series variants.
Where the 530e marches ahead isn’t actually in the gallop. Where the petrol 5er parades an impressive 6.2 litres per hundred kilometre combined consumption figure, by European testing methods the hybrid measures a scant 2.3L. That’s an incredible benefit all things being equal, which certainly seems the case given evidence thus far.
If there are notable compromises to the 530e pitch, it’s that you lose 120 litres of bootspace – the boot floor has been raised – and fuel tank volume which, at just 46 litres, is about two-thirds the size of the 530i and might impact overall range.
That said, forecasting, let alone measuring, actual and useable range and consumption – two key benefactors of opting the hybrid route – is quite the grey area listed under the headline ‘depends’, and deserves deeper analyses.
Turn outs that the 530e offers up quite different returns for different usage.
For a start, google ‘530e electric range’ and some literature suggests 42 kilometres, an NEDC (European test cycle) EV test statistic, whereas BMW Australia quotes a “real-world” 32km range with 100-per cent battery charge that takes into account our “big wheeled, warm climate, cranked air-con” conditions. To confuse matters, we did, however, manage 56 kays of pure EV driving at the international launch of the car overseas...
Those who diligently plug in and complete a ‘full charge’ prior to regular driving cycles below 30 kilometres in duration – typical workaday trips for many city dwellers, then – might well experience best-case zero fuel consumption and emissions.
Normal urban driving? BMW claims a stunning 1.5L figure. Everyday driving? That’s closer to 4.5L on average its maker says, and we’re already well over that golden Euro-certified 2.3L quote.
Long journeys and extended use, trip well beyond the car’s electric only 42-kilometre range, its maker says that a 7.5L figure is more realistic.
Yes, it’s complicated. Even before you discuss options available to the driver. There are, of course, the expected suite of drive modes that affect frugality and the car’s holistic performance, including Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Individual modes. But further to this, heightened complexity for the end user is presented via three selectable powertrain settings via an eDrive button.
How’s it work? ‘Max eDrive’ forces all-electric drive, and full electric power at that, at speeds of up to 140km/h. ‘Battery Control’ mode, perhaps slightly confusingly, is all-petrol power that will propel the car at speed of up to 235km/h, presumably someplace well beyond the eye of the law.
And, of course, there’s ‘Auto eDrive’, which self-regulates the complicated business of shuffling between electric, petrol or combined propulsion but allows electric-only drive up to 90km/h. Flexibility-wise, it’s pretty impressive.
Clearly, the hybrid benefits when measured by consumption and range hinge largely on how, where and even when you use the 530e.
This is why BMW Australia chose the unorthodox and unexotic (if eminently upmarket) location of Westfield Shopping Centre Bondi Junction, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, as the departure point of the 530e’s local launch program.
Westfield’s carpark plays host one of 10 ChargePoint locations on Australia’s east coast co-opted by the car importer and retail network. The socio-economic demographic of the area is right in the BMW 5 Series (hybrid or not) crosshairs. And the brief, sub-40-kilometre urban road test planned should undoubtedly showcase the most positive benefits of 530e ownership in a typical to and from work simulation.
How’d it go? The nutshell appraisal is that it goes really well.
For a start, I’m quite familiar with and suitably impressed by the recently released internal combustion 5 Series range and around town it’s an extremely familiar and equally impressive driving experience.
Albeit one with a largely and, by comfort measures, suitably silent soundtrack given the electric-only 83kW/250Nm outputs offer a surprising amount of around-town motivation before the petrol engine chimes smoothly and seamlessly in. And infrequently at that. It’s surprising how little energy it takes to keep 1.8 tonnes of luxury car moving with the flow of urban traffic, a lot of it stop-start, too.
The 135kW/290Nm produced by the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder is far from heady in a hefty luxury car, but swing the needle completely clockwise on the bespoke instrumentation’s ‘power meter’ – indicating Charge recuperation at its left side, percentage of output on its right – and ‘eBoost’ activates, where both engine and motor pull together – again, 185kW/420Nm combined – for satisfyingly swift acceleration.
Not to meddle in the launch demonstration, I left the eDrive mode in Auto throughout. Even fully flexing the 530e’s combined muscle more often than one might on the jaunt from home to the corporate carspace, the onboard computer returned a consumption figure of just 1.6L/100kms for our simulated trip.
And that’s quite obvious with judicious and near complete use of the 9.2kWh battery pack’s capacity. Had I decided to push on to, say, Canberra, some 280 kilometres away, average consumption might be a very different story.
Ride and bump compliance is excellent, the steering is light and aloof, it feels built solidly and has an impressive degree if refinement and class.
Inside, it’s laden with tech framed in a somewhat ‘classic’ BMW design brief, it’s lush, richly upmarket, impressively appointed and, again, is neither better, worse or in fact much different at all to the rest of the 5 Series range.
Even the slightly wooden brake pedal feel and slightly assertive engine-braking – both indicative of energy recuperation hardware – is quite subtle compared with many other hybrids on the market.
At least that’s the general impression after a short 30-kay urban jaunt. I’ve not stuck the 530e through a corner with gusto yet but the extra quarter-ton of kerb weight should undoubtedly impact upon cornering prowess.
That said, the notion that any German prestige carmaker’s large-sized, non-performance sedans are ‘driving entertainment machines’ is increasingly passé, and that if dynamism is your want, there are fitter 5 Series variants for the task. Or, perhaps the mid-sized 330e hybrid is the much wiser choice.
Recharging? There was no opportunity at launch to test BMW’s recharge claims, though it quotes that an 80-per cent recharge takes four hours (at 1.8kW) using the supplied plug and five-metre cable via a domestic socket.
Alternatively, a cost-optional BMW i Wallbox (at around $2150 installed at your venue of choice) rated to 3.7kW halves the 80-per cent recharge time to two hours. Free of charge, though, is a ChargeNow card providing no-cost access to some 300-plus charging stations located around the nation.
And that last 20 per cent to attain that 32km all-electric maximum range? Depends, apparently, as the time it takes to attain a properly full charge is, BMW says, “highly variable”.
Essentially, the electrified 5 Series makes most sense once you flip your mindset from internal combustion convention and embrace the mindset that shorter, slower trips yield the largest paybacks in efficiency, cost effectiveness and eco-sensibility. Provided plug-in diligence is adhered to.
Surely such benefits in a big, leather-dipped, techno-laden limousine makes for a package of quite niche appeal on the Australian landscape, even in the guts of Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
Yes, BMW offers more spaciously practical (X5), more driver centric (330e), more luxurious (740e) and more revolutionary, eco-pretentious (i3 and i8) electrified offerings. But in presenting a hybrid alternative to petrol motivation with unprecedented parity and without hip-pocket penalty, the 530e is a huge success, whether anyone actually buys one or not.