From £35,8357
The compromises of adding a plug-in hybrid drivetrain to the 5 Series make the new 530e iPerformance tough to recommend

Our Verdict

BMW 5 Series

BMW brings 7 Series luxury limo quality to the executive saloon class

26 April 2017

What is it?

Breaking news: BMW ditches 50/50 weight distribution. Okay, a slightly tabloidian embellishment; that long-standing philosophy is still true for most of its models, but not the new 530e iPerformance plug-in hybrid.

With a 182bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine up front, a 111bhp electric motor sitting in the bell housing where you’d normally find a torque converter for the eight-speed automatic gearbox, a 9.2kWh battery pack under the rear seats that can be charged in less than three hours, and a 46-litre fuel tank over the rear axle, that particular engineering ideal was clearly too much. The weight distribution has ended up at 47% front, 53% rear instead. 

Still, with the standard G30 5 Series being such a beautifully balanced machine, what difference will a slightly weightier bottom make?

What's it like?

Performance, both the green and the grunt kind, appear solid. Claimed CO2 emissions are as little as 46g/km, while combined fuel economy is 141.2mpg. Yet, as anyone with a cursory knowledge of hybrids will tell you, you’ll be catching fairies before you achieve those figures in the real world. Perhaps more representative, then, are the claimed 0-62mph sprint time of 6.2sec and 146mph top speed – or 87mph on electric power alone. Incidentally, due to system losses, that’s from a combined power output of 249bhp. 

Is the 530e the ultimate combination of performance and parsimony, then? No, not really. Start off in all-electric Max eDrive mode and it’s a magnificently quiet car, but its modest performance is best suited for crossing town rather than country. The claimed 31-mile range disappears alarmingly quickly at motorway speeds, too. 

Switch to Auto eDrive mode and the petrol engine kicks in when required. At gentler speeds the transition is smooth, but bury your foot hard to the accelerator stop and it’s less sublime, with a consistent two-second delay as the gearbox sorts itself out, before the colourless but largely unobtrusive background buzz from the engine kicks in. 

Pace is good, mind. There’s enough of it to breeze you past bumbling trucks on a B-road, or carry you easily into three-figure speeds on an autobahn.

On turn-in, there’s more body lean than you'd get in the lighter, conventionally powered models, but despite the uneven axle mass, there’s still a decent balance. The 530e pushes on at the front a little sooner than expected, but then our car was shod with less grippy winter tyres. 

The steering is the biggest disappointment. There’s not enough weight build-up as you crank on lock, so you’re always making little corrections to keep the trajectory correct; it’s a far cry from the intuitive helms of the other G30 models we’ve drivenSo is the mild thudding over ruts in the road and the fidget at high speeds, even with adaptive dampers fitted. Again, this may have been down to the tyres, but equally, it could be the stiffer springs used to counter the heavy battery. Meanwhile, the regenerative braking delivers a less progressive middle pedal, making it trickier to come to a smooth stop.

There’s more to dent the 530e's credibility next to a 530d as well. The boot, which is a good-sized 530 litres in the diesel (or the petrols, for that matter), is smaller, because the repositioned fuel tank eats into the space. Now 410 litres overall in the 530e, it’s the restricted height that will make it less capable when it comes to fitting bulkier items, such as a large suitcase.

Should I buy one?

Should you go for a 530e over a 530d, then? If you’re a company car driver or the majority of your journeys are short and through town, maybe; you’ll be able to utilise the electric motor effectively, so fuelling it will cost next to nothing. But for everyone else, the compromises are too great for too little; we’d have matched our average of just under 40mpg in a 530d just as easily

While the 530d is the work of genius, the 530e feels like a work in progress. It needs its rough edges smoothing off. The big question is, is that possible, or must we accept hybrids as a flawed stopgap until a better solution can be found? Well, one company insider admitted as much, hinting that BMW still hasn’t buried its hydrogen fuel cell project for that very reason. 

Interesting times, then, and an interesting car, but from this experience, the 530e is not a compelling one

BMW 530e iPerformance SE

Location Germany; On sale May; Price £43,985 (less £2500 gov't grant); Engine 4 cyls, 1998cc, turbo, petrol, plus electric motor; Power 249bhp (combined); Torque 310lb ft (combined); Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1845kg; Top speed 146mph; 0-62mph 6.2sec; Economy 141.2mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 46g/km, 9%; Rivals Mercedes-Benz E 350 e, Volvo S90 T8 (due this year)

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Comments
8

27 April 2017
they are expensive,heavy,and not very economical in real life,diesels seem to have the edge still,lower co2 and euro six less polluting overall,the electric is a better idea but depreciate too much due to fear of being obsolete.I can see the sense in owning a small electric for commuting and a diesel suv etc for the family.

27 April 2017
I don't drive a huge number of miles, and a PHEV suits me; 80+ mpg real and the occasional longer journey I take the hit on lower petrol-only economy. Full electric is certainly worse for depreciation and costs surely - at least when I did like-for-like comparisons for PHEV. And I hate SUVs ;)

bol

27 April 2017
That's my experience too. My PHEV suits my needs perfectly at the moment. Once EVs can cover a genuine 200 miles between charges and add another 100+ miles on a half hour charge, I'll jump. Won't be long. Hydrogen on the other hand - which keeps getting mentioned as a future alternative - is a total dead end for most uses in my opinion.

27 April 2017
Displayed by this car are not necessary shortcomings of driving a phev. BMW could have designed the car from scratch so that the boot space was not compromised but they were obviously happy to accept the compromise in their design. Winter tyres will always affect the steering feel/ride/handling, not always for the worse but almost always to the detriment of sharpness. If/when the bread and butter 5 series become a phev then I imagine the outcome would be pretty different.

27 April 2017
BMW have chosen at the moment not to sell this car in Switzerland where there aren't any real tax advantages. I think that probably shows how they value it.

27 April 2017
I seem to remember the last time I read about the 330e in autocar it was highly recommended. But the 530e is not. Why the difference between the two?

29 April 2017
Where is the L6 ?
...

29 April 2017
This is disappointing, because the same drivetrain in the 330e has been received favourably. The petrol straight six is also adored in the 3 series but described as comparatively disappointing in the 5. Has BMW dropped the ball?

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