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Engine options, speed, acceleration and refinement

No other hybrid saloon we’ve road tested will prepare you for the unapologetic speed of the BMW ActiveHybrid 5. It clocked a satellite-verified 5.6sec sprint to 60mph, went from 30 to 70mph through the gears in just 5.0sec and covered a standing quarter mile in 14.1sec. 

Just for the record, the latter two numbers are identical to those recorded by BMW’s E39 M5; that was among the world’s quickest four-doors when it launched.

Feathering the throttle to stay in all-electric mode is as frustrating as ever. Where's the button to keep you on battery power for as long as possible?

So is this faster than BMW’s current 535d? Not quite. But the sensation of speed that you get from the ActiveHybrid 5 is definitely more compelling and longer lasting than that which you get from the diesel. The electric motor responds the instant you flex your right foot and infuses the lower end of the rev range with an addictive potency. 

At the other end of the tacho, the rasping smoothness of BMW’s blown six is even more marvellous. The eight-speed gearbox shifts intelligently in automatic mode and quickly in manual mode. And to be able to use the gearbox to climb through the revs at all, when the hybrid norm is to serve up more transmission slip than forward momentum when you’d rather be pressing on, makes this 5 Series so much more involving than its direct rivals.

The price to be paid for all that pace and verve, however, is economy. In the real world, the ActiveHybrid 5 isn’t a frugal car. It isn’t even close. Over almost 1000 miles of mixed driving, our test example returned just 21.6mpg. Some of that can be put down to the sporting character of the car, which does encourage you to extend it across country roads. But even allowing for that, BMW’s official combined figure of a whisker away from 50 miles to the gallon looks like a scandalous over-estimation.

BMW ActiveHybrid 5 2011-2015 news

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Although its charging phases are quite cleverly managed, the very limited capacity of the car’s high-voltage battery seems partly to blame. BMW says it’s good for two miles of low-speed electric-only range, but in our experience a near-full charge can be depleted in the stop and start of a half-mile motorway traffic jam.