Saturday, January 28, 2012

BMW 5 Series 530 ActiveHybrid

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.

Greg Kable
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.

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