What form of technology will help save the world from cars, who knows? Will it be electric battery only cars, tried and trusted hybrids, hydrogen fuel cell driven cars or plug-in hybrids to name a few. Personally, it seems to me battery power is where we’re headed. But some manufacturers are investing heavily in bridging technology for now and BMW is an important case in point. It now has six iPerformance models that keep the combustion engine alive, with the added efficiency of a plug-in electric motor. Chris Bowen has taken the new BMW 530e for a spin, from Westfield Bondi Junction to Centennial Park in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs (more on that later!)
The new BMW 5 series is already a pearler, for a large luxury car it ticks just about all the boxes a well-heeled executive would want. There’s ample cabin room, a sumptuous interior and an exterior that is often confused with the limo-propertied 7 series. From behind the wheel it feels very substantial, not just in size but in the depth of its build quality. You really get what you pay for here, there’s little doubt about it. So how does whacking in a new form of drivetrain impact upon a near perfect saloon, well it turns out it may well be the pick of the crop.
The new BMW 530e falls into the PHEV category, it’s a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. In short you power the onboard battery via a power point to score around 50km of electric-only range. After that a 2.0 four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine kicks in to keep you going. This form of propulsion is hardly new but BMW does have the largest stable of such cars. The 330e, X5 xDrive40e and 740e feature the same concept. Then of course there are the i3 and i8 variants that really expand upon the green theme with recycled plastic interiors and carbon fibre frames just to name a few tree-hugging innovations.
Normally such tech carries a price premium, not so with the 530e. It kicks off at the same price point as the petrol only 530i at $108,900. So now there’s no charge to go green, in fact very green potentially.
The claimed combined fuel economy figure is a mere 2.3L/100km, staggering considering its 1770kg weight compared to the 530i’s 1540kg, the battery alone adds 120kg. But ironically the most complicated issue for this car surrounds fuel economy. After a full charge the electric-only distance depends on any number of variables, but mostly driving style or the type of trip dictates just how far you can silently creep along. I’ve heard figures anywhere up to 60 kilometres but even BMW itself suggests something around half that is more realistic.
As an everyday commuter car, you can expect a more realistic figure of 4.5L/100km or for longer trips 7.5L/100km. BMW say that most people don’t travel any more than 50km a day, in fact the worldwide average is 49km. This of course would be news to the hundreds of thousands that live at least that distance away from our CBDs. So, in short fuel economy is potentially phenomenal if you meet certain criteria.
Aside from the battery under the boot floor that reduces cargo space down 120L to 410L, a smaller 42L petrol tank that sits over the rear axle, the odd E bade, blue highlights on the wheel roundels and kidney grille slats plus a charging flap behind the right front wheel arch, the 530e is virtually identical to the 530i. The alternate drivetrain includes a 2.0L four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that puts out 135kW/290Nm but is joined by an electric motor that adds 83kw/250Nm. All up, the 530e becomes a 185kw/420Nm proposition and a very quick one. The 0-100km dash is all over in a more than adequate 6.2-seconds, the engine note isn’t exactly pleasant but remains far from offensive as well. An excellent 8-speed double clutch transmission helps propel the large German down the road with consummate ease. It feels like a typically dynamic BMW but I really need more driving time outside of 30km/h laps around Centennial Park.
As with many hybrid type vehicles there are plenty of modes and graphical displays to play around with to find your own fuel economy sweet spot. We look forward to a longer test drive to really explore the various modes but you can choose MAX eDrive, AUTO eDrive and Battery Control Mode. They either provide maximum EV only thrust, automatically find the perfect balance or conserve the battery for later EV-only use.
The 530i also scores a unique cooling system, acoustic pedestrian protection, an app can be downloaded providing extra connectivity and information about your car, for example it can located when you forget where you last left it and of course a charging cable. The battery itself is covered by a six-year 100,000km warranty.
So, what about charging and how long does it take? BMW say its battery can be charged up to 80 per cent in less than four hours via your normal domestic power socket. But you can purchase a BMW i Wallbox that will do it in under two hours. There is also the prospect of using public charging stations, back in March BMW scored a deal with Westfield shopping centres to provide 40 charging stations. Hence why our drive program commenced at Westfield Bondi Junction. At present BMW owners are averaging around 350 charges a month at this stage, at no cost.
Soon there will be induction charging pads, essentially larger versions of those used to charged compatible mobile phones. So, you could simply lay one out in your garage, park on top of it and not have to worry about power cables at all.
The EFTM Rubber Stamp of Approval.
Having driven the i3 and i8 it’s easy to dismiss such technology as perhaps gimmicky and in those two cases well and truly pushing the boundaries beyond what is comfortable for most people. But the BMW 530e is a normal looking, standard prestige car that seamlessly integrates cutting edge green tech into an already accomplished and lauded car, at no extra cost.
If you had to choose between the 530e and 530i you’d almost have to be mad not to run with the less thirsty option. I’m not sure BMW will sell too many of these, there’s still a stigma attached to anything with the word hybrid let alone plug-in attached to it. But from my initial driving impressions I must award the BMW 530e our highest honour. It scores the EFTM Distinction Rubber Stamp of Approval!