The UK company car market is in the midst of a seismic shift.
The adoption of the latest WLTP emissions testing standard, combined with another tightening of CO2-based UK company car tax rules, has really marginalised the suitability of conventional petrol- and diesel-powered cars for fleet use and shifted the spotlight squarely and unflinchingly onto the plug-in hybrid.
As many company car drivers will have already discovered to their cost, if you want to continue paying anything like the same benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax on a company car in 2021 as you have in past, the only way to do it – if you haven’t already – is to move out of a petrol or diesel car and into a PHEV.
These are the cars you should be considering for that big move.
BMW’s competitors have followed its lead so many times when seeking success in the UK fleet market over the past few decades. It makes perfect sense, then, that BMW was the first premium brand to offer the market a really convincing plug-in hybrid executive option in the shape of the previous 330e, and that it should continue to lead the field with the current one.
The latest 330e combines a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with an electric drive motor mounted upstream of the gearbox, making it handle and behave much like any other G20-generation 3 Series. It imposes a relative penalty on boot space compared with its conventionally powered siblings, but it’s unlikely that typical business users will notice the shortage, and cabin space is unharmed.
With up to 288bhp of combined electric and petrol urge, the 330e has a fleet turn of pace and its powertrain feels particularly responsive as well as slick-shifting. The weight of that hybrid powertrain can be detected only slightly, and only really in its occasionally permissive high-speed vertical body control. Most of the time, the 330e just feels like an agile, entertaining, first-rate 3 Series in its sporting driver appeal.
The 330e has a WLTP-certified electric-only range of 37 miles, putting it in the mid-range 10% BIK tax bracket for PHEV options for the 2020-21 tax year.
We’ve driven the new 545e xDrive in prototype form only, but we still have every reason to believe the finished product will be one of the most desirable plug-in executives on the market when it arrives.
Unlike the 530e, this particular plug-in 5 Series mates BMW’s excellent 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six engine with a secondary electric motor, resulting in a combined output of 388bhp and 442lb ft. A 12kWh battery enables an electric-only range of 34 miles. Add that to CO2 emissions of 38g/km, and the 545e is set to get a BIK tax rating of 10%.
Performance is pretty exceptional, and the transition from electric to petrol power is barely detectable. Acceleration is suitably potent, too. Put your foot down and the 545e will hit big speeds quickly and with very little in the way of discernable effort. And even though the car we drove had firmer M Sport suspension, ride comfort remains immaculate.