What is it?
This is the first plug-in hybrid 5 Series. It’s not the first hybrid 5 Series, that being the ActiveHybrid 5 available with the last-generation model range. Less than one percent of the 15,000 or so Fives BMW sells here yearly have been part-electric. The ActiveHybrid 5 was expensive, equipped with six cylinders and 302bhp, 149g/km CO2 performance to suit the US, which is why it made little ground here.
BMW hopes that will change, dramatically, with this new 530e iPerformance hybrid, which is a plug-in propelled by a 181bhp 2.0 litre TwinPower Turbo petrol engine and a 112bhp electric motor. The crucial difference lies in some key numbers: the 530e’s £44,765 list price is £770 more than for a 530d SE and £7405 more than for a 520d Efficient Dynamics, while its 46g/km CO2 emissions score it a 9% BIK rating compared to the 520d ED’s 23% and the 530d’s 26%. That’s vastly more competitive than for the ActiveHybrid 5 and enough, BMW thinks, to see it selling around 5000 plug-in 5 Series in a full year.
What's it like?
Start your trip with a fully charged battery and it’s on electric power that you’ll initially travel unless you’ve heavy with the throttle, in which case the petrol engine momentarily assists.
The 9.2kWh lithium-ion battery will realistically allow a 22-mile range, and in near total silence, the only sound being the tyres’ hum. The car remains tranquil even when the petrol engine kicks in, although the four-pot produces a pleasing internal combustion rasp if you ask plenty of it. The transition from one to the other is tremor-free, as you’d expect, and it’s easy to forget that you’re in a hybrid car at all, the 'Auto eDrive' driving mode enabling the car to select the optimum mix of power sources depending on the driver’s demands and the terrain advice supplied by the sat-nav. And while it may be saving fuel, the 530e is not slow, breaking 62mph in 6.2sec: pretty rapid for a car that’s partly about economy.
This twin-engined zest is complemented by a lithe, confident chassis that delivers a supple and sophisticated ride that’s as pleasing as this car’s quiet agility. Only the steering lets it down, the weight at the rim feeling curiously mushy, although it points the car accurately. As always with hybrids, there’s diversion to be had from monitoring the car’s energy usage and the game of trying to see how far you can go on amperes alone.
For this you engage 'Max eDrive' mode, which allows speeds of up to 87mph, although you certainly aren’t going to see the official 29-mile range if you attempt to cover it at that pace. A battery control mode allows the pack to be recharged to a level between 30 and 100 percent to provide electric range for later use, while recharging from a domestic socket takes five hours, this halving if you buy a £570 (with government grant) wallbox charger.
Should I buy one?
This hybrid 5 Series is a far better proposition than the previous offering. It’s reasonably priced, functions fusslessly, saves money in both energy and tax terms and provides the same polished array of qualities as the more conventional versions of the latest, excellent, 5 Series. Expect to see many more hybrid 5 Series than previously, especially given the pressure on diesel models.
Read Autocar's exclusive plug-in hybrid executive car comparison test here
BMW 530e iPerformance SE
Price £44,765; Engine four cylinder, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol, with electric motor assist; Power 249bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque 310lb ft at 1350-4250rpm petrol engine; Gearbox 8-speed automatic; Kerbweight 1770kg; 0-62mph 6.2sec; Top speed 146mph; Economy 141.2mpg; CO2 46g/km, 9%; Rivals Mercedes-Benz E350e, Volvo V60 D6 Twin Engine