From £45,950
An entertaining and highly refined alternative to traditional petrol and diesel models

Our Verdict

BMW ActiveHybrid 5
Risible economy dooms sporty hybrid 5 Series to sideshow status

The BMW ActiveHybrid 5 sees the company fitting a petrol-electric powertrain to its 5-series executive saloon

  • First Drive

    BMW ActiveHybrid 5

    An entertaining and highly refined alternative to traditional petrol and diesel models
26 January 2012

What is it?

BMW may have elected not to produce its first two petrol electric hybrid models, the Active Hybrid 7 and X6 Active Hybrid, in right-hand-drive form, but the firm has finally given British car buyers a reason to look beyond its traditional petrol and diesel-powered models with the new Active Hybrid 5, placing its steering wheel on the correct side.

When it arrives here later this month, the petrol electric Active Hybrid 5 will be priced £7920 above the highly rated 535i at £46,860 – a hefty premium, if would seem, given its moderate increase in performance, even if it is offset by improved levels of fuel economy.

The higher price also gets you greater standard equipment says BMW. Still, it remains to be seen whether the new petrol-electric hybrid, which will eventually count the upcoming Audi A6 Hybrid and Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid among its rivals, retains its value as well as its petrol engine sibling.

At the heart of the new car is BMW’s familiar turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six petrol engine, producing 302bhp and 295lb ft. It is supported by a brushless electric motor mounted in forward section of the new car’s standard eight-speed automatic gearbox and endowed with a nominal 54bhp and 155lb ft. Together, the combustion engine and electric motor provide a combined 335bhp and 332lb ft – some 33bhp and 37lb ft more than the 535i.

Energy for the electric motor is supplied by a 1.35kWh lithium ion battery produced in-house at BMW from cells purchased from US supplier A123. The 1.35kWh pack is mounted within the floor of the boot, robbing some 165 litres of nominal luggage capacity.

What’s it like?

Being a full hybrid, the Active Hybrid 5 is capable of travelling for almost 2.5 miles at speeds up to 37mph on electric power alone – albeit only on relatively flat roads and with light throttle loads only. At the slightest hint of an incline or a sharp movement of your right foot, the petrol engine kicks in to boost performance.

The whole process is achieved with reassuring smoothness and efficiency, and can even be linked to the topography feature of the Active Hybrid 5’s optional navigation system to see it provide even greater benefits, such as at the end of programmed journeys where, if the conditions permit, it automatically switches into electric mode for the final mile or so providing there is sufficient battery charge.

But while highly proficient around town, it is out on the open road where the Active Hybrid 5 really shines. Solid straight line stability, urgent in gear qualities, low levels of wind noise and excellent driveline refinement make it a consummate cruiser on the motorway.

Despite the added weight, the increased reserves ensure performance remains strong and the handling is also terrifically entertaining – something that in our experience is not always a given with hybrids. We’ve driven quite a few petrol-electric powered cars in recent years, but I can’t recall one that feels quite as well sorted and nearly as agile as this new BMW.

There’s an inherent balance and fluidity to the chassis that makes the Active Hybrid 5 a real joy to push over challenging roads. The ride is typically firm but there’s plenty of spring travel and tyre roar is exceptionally well suppressed even on extremely course surfaces – providing the Active Hybrid 5 with tremendous long-distance qualities.

Should I buy one?

The Active Hybrid 5 offers improved economy over the 535i. With a combined average of 44.1mpg, it improves on its petrol engine sibling by over 10mpg, extending its range to a theoretical 650 miles. Whether it’s enough to warrant the £7920 premium is largely dependent on your priorities, and that’s before you even consider the 535d, which returns as much as 52.3mpg.

As a sheer technology statement, though, the Active Hybrid 5 is very impressive. And that, for some, is all that will matter.

BMW Active Hybrid 5

Price: £46,860; Top speed: 155mph (limited); 0-62mph: 6.4sec; Economy: 44.1mpg (combined); CO2 emissions: 149g/km; Kerb weight: 1850kg; Engine: 6 cyls in line, 2979cc, turbo, petrol, plus electric motor; Installation: front, longitudinal, RWD; Power: 335bhp (combined); Torque: 332lb ft (combined); Gearbox: 8-spd automatic

Join the debate

Comments
25

27 January 2012

I was expecting a lot better from BMW. The '35d' is much cheaper, much faster and much more economical.

Anonymous

28 January 2012

[quote Fidji]

I was expecting a lot better from BMW. The '35d' is much cheaper, much faster and much more economical.

[/quote] Yeah. The 535d is a much better choice in nearly every way. I can't see why someone here would buy it over a 535d or even a 535i - it just doesn't make economic sense. I just think that this particular car seems pointless here in the UK. It's more suitable for markets where diesel isn't popular.

28 January 2012

Too pricey for the minimal improvement achieved, you would have to be seriously anti diesel to even consider this.

28 January 2012

[quote Liammm][quote Fidji]

I was expecting a lot better from BMW. The '35d' is much cheaper, much faster and much more economical.

[/quote] Yeah. The 535d is a much better choice in nearly every way. I can't see why someone here would buy it over a 535d or even a 535i - it just doesn't make economic sense. I just think that this particular car seems pointless here in the UK. It's more suitable for markets where diesel isn't popular.[/quote]

You're spot on. Maybe in America, where hybrids are 'cool' and diesels 'drool', would be where this car might do well. But I think BMW should go down the same route Mercedes are going down with the E-Class, and offer the hybrid drivetrain with a top end four pot diesel. I'd rather take a 67mpg E-Class over a 44mpg 5-Series if I was after a hybrid like this. Especially when the Merc would be cheaper and about as quick. Also, BMW could have done a good job with the new '28i' (actually a 2.0) engine. That is faster than this hybrid despite having nearly 100bhp less (probably because this car is so lardy). Also, iit does the same fuel consumption as this. So surely, making the 5-Series hybrid use the 245bhp 2.0 turbo, BMW could have sold it for a lot less, made it much faster and much more economical. Honestly, they should offer me a job...

DKW

28 January 2012

[quote Autocar]ith a combined average of 44.1mpg, it improves on its petrol engine sibling by over 10mpg, extending its range to a theoretical 650 miles.[/quote] Please Autocar, stop quoting us official mpg figures for hybrids as if they have any meaning. On a car like this, whose predominant characteristic is nominal fuel efficiency along with a lower tax band, you are really going to have to assess the fuel consumption yourself to have anything meaningful to report.

28 January 2012

"a hefty premium, if would seem, given its moderate increase in performance"

I do not think it is there for that purpose, but all that aside the ends do go some way to justify its existence, but why not fit it to the diesel............ and leave of the extra kit to keep the price down.

28 January 2012

Reading the review seems that this could be one of the first hybrid cars capable of give driving pleasure and this is a big achievement.

On expensive cars like these I think the refinement is more important than mpeg. The idea behind an hybrid for a £50k car should be improve efficiency and look greener retaining a proper big petrol engine.

I once test drove a Cayenne hybrid and I don't care of the mpeg it can achieve, it just sucks to drive compared to a regular Cayenne S. Why spend so much for something worse?

28 January 2012

Question: if BMW can already produce its own hybrid system, which seems pretty efficient and seamless, why does it need Toyota's?

28 January 2012

I think it is really promising to see a decent drive in a Hybrid car, means it can be done! well done BMW. I know the prius and insight arent designed to apeal to petrol heads but its good to BMW engineering a good drive into a Hybrid.

I know the Tech in it is alot more expensive than a regular 535i but its a shame it has such a hefty premium over the standard. But i geuss if it comes with most of the options on the 535i than it could be worth it, as im sure it is easy to spec up a 535i 7k without trying.. I still dont think i would opt for this over the 535d and 535i

28 January 2012

What I still fail to understand is why every manufacturer seems to bolt their hybrid pack onto a petrol model - surely for optimum mpg and CO2 they should start with the diesel model anyway?

And yes from the report you wonder what BMW stand to gain from Toyota input for hybrids, although I can see Toyota gaining plenty from BMW diesel input - maybe a bit of a one-way street.

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