BMW 530e Plugin Hybrid Review

BMW’s lineup continues its trend toward electrification, offering plugin versions of the 3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series and X5. Not to be overlooked are the i3 electric vehicle and i8 hybrid supercar. This week we’re testing one of the newest editions to the plugin electric fleet: the 530e.  

The 5 Series is the venerable business man’s car in every facet. Re-designed last year and hitting the market only a few months ago last spring, the 2017 model was short-lived and now we’re on to the 2018 model. The edition of the plugin hybrid is something new for the 5 Series and wasn’t available in the previous generation.

BMW has tweaked the look for a more beefy feel compared to the 2016 model and also managed to shed about 100 kilograms of weight depending on which options the vehicle comes equipped with.  The new 5 Series is also slightly larger but makes use of advanced construction using aluminum and high strength steel to be able to shed the weight. The chassis itself is stiffer and further to this is the addition of variable-ratio steering with speed-sensitive electric assistance and even rear-wheel steering. There has been much rumbling online about the new 5 Series steering feel. In other words people are complaining they don’t have as much road feedback as they’d like from the steering system. Don’t count me among those people. I found the steering feel more than adequate. Furthermore there is an electronic controller which regulates precisely this function depending on speed. If Sport mode is switched on there is a noticeable increase in stiffness in the steering that allowed for more spirited driving.

Under the hood of the 530e we find a similar setup to the 3 Series plugin hybrid. It consists of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder motor making 184 horsepower and 236 lb ft of torque. The state-of-the-art electric motor has an output of 113 horsepower and maximum torque of 184 lb-ft. The motors both direct their power to the sedan’s rear wheels via the standard eight-speed Steptronic transmission. What’s interesting is that by positioning the electric motor upstream from the transmission allows the transmission’s ratios to be used in all-electric mode too. This dispenses with the need for a torque converter, something that goes a long way towards offsetting the weight penalty of the additional drive unit.

So what’s all this technology like to drive? Basically it feels like you’re driving an electric car all the time. BMW says you can go 50 kilometers using only the electric motor however in the real world I found it very hard to get close to this number. What I liked is when the charge ran out and I was forced to drive on gasoline, there was no noticeable change in driving dynamics. The battery can maintain a small amount of charge though regenerative braking – enough to whisk you off from a stop sign with that torque-laden feel. All in all, the vehicle did all that I needed it to performance-wise. It’s not underpowered even at highway speed and provides emissions-free cruising around town when charged.

There is a driving mode for every occasion. By default the car is set to Auto eDrive which determines the optimal amount of electric power or fossil fuel power to comply with your foot’s pressure on the accelerator. Next up is Max eDrive which runs on electric power only for as long as possible. The 530e is noticeably slower without the help of the gasoline motor however keep in mind you’re only using 113 horsepower. The third mode is Save Battery mode in case you want to store some energy to e-cruise a litter later on. It doesn’t just save battery though – the motor operates a mini-generator that actually charges the battery up to 50% capacity. This is a handy feature if you’re on the highway going somewhere and don’t want to waste precious battery life when the gas mileage is at its best. Then when you arrive at your destination, you can continue to whisk from stop sign to stop sign in silence.

The interior pampers you with luxury at every level with the softest leather covering the most comfortable seats. The dash design is tweaked from 2016 and remains functional. I’d like to see BMW take a cue or two from what Mercedes-Benz has been doing and spice things up a little but I’m in no way complaining. Things that were just so-so include that electronic gearshift, the tiny start button that’s maybe a little too tucked away and the fact that BMW’s infotainment system is a mess of menus that seem to go far too many levels deep.  Another rather irritating aspect was that the car never seems like it’s off when you turn it off. Hit the button and the engine cuts but the infotainment system keeps going like nothing happened even when you exit and walk away from the vehicle. Pressing the off button should kill everything the first time. One press on, one press off please!

The 2018 BMW 530e plugin hybrid starts at $66,900 – a $4500 premium over the base 5 Series. It’s unlikely you’ll recoup that amount of money on saved gasoline though I did manage to yield a combined fuel consumption of just 4.8 L / 100km. I was able to do that because I made sure to plug in as much as possible and mostly drove to and from my kids’ school each day. If you do more traveling, expect the figure to rise.

Right now I feel like this system is more of a gimmick than a real world way to save money on fuel. As is the case with just about every other plugin hybrid at the moment, the fuel savings are definitely present but not enough to justify the increased cost. If the price was the same as the gasoline version then we’d be taking but it’s still a few years out before this will become the new normal.