- Makes swift and quiet progress
- Extra weight, but no less agile
- A really easy way to embrace sustainable driving
- Battery reduces boot space
- 45km electric range is modest
- Clever wireless charging tech not quite ready
One of the biggest deterrents to buying an electric – or partially electric – car is the added cost. Most of us have good environmental intentions, but Australians have proven very reluctant to pay more for electrification. Volvo’s electrified XC90 T8, which offers 45km of electric range, costs $21,000 more than a the petrol or diesel version. Most budgets just don’t stretch that far. But what if a car with 45km of battery power was the same price as the petrol? That’d be a gamechanger – and admirably, we’ve finally hit that point. The 2017 BMW 530e iPerformance, a plug-in version of the 5 Series, costs $108,900 – the same as the petrol 530i that the 530e mirrors in specification.
Naturally, the plug-in 5 Series is still an expensive car, out of the reach of most people – but that misses the point. The price parity milestone shows that battery technology is getting cheaper, fast, to the point where BMW – a cost-conscious, profit-driven brand – tell Chasing Cars they aren’t losing money in the decision to ditch the price premium for electric tech.
Unlike many early plug-in hybrid vehicles like the Holden Volt, the BMW 530e feels and looks totally normal. In fact, it’s almost indistinguishable from a petrol 530i, which is the point. With the exception of the silent, lag-free electric drive, you’d be hard-pressed to identify the electric from the combustion. The 230 kilograms of added bulk haven’t blunted the 5er’s agile front end, either: if anything, it’s actually made the ride quality more settled and serene.
The fact there’s still a petrol engine up front means the 530e is a bridging vehicle. It’s not fully electric and at least on paper, 45 kilometres of electric range is modest. But bridging status has its advantages. In a big country like Australia, country touring occurs over such vast distances that a Tesla’s usable 400km range is rapidly exhausted, before taking hours to charge back up. With the BMW, you plug it into mains power to charge it for in-town electric range, saving the 46-litre petrol capacity, with fast fill-ups, for long distance driving.
The smaller battery bank keeps prices well down, too. Spec-for-spec, a fully electric Tesla Model S 75 with a claimed 450km range is about $37,000, or a third, more expensive than the 530e. Given the fact most Australians drive 38 kilometres a day, a distance comfortably within the BMW’s battery range, that’s a significant sum that many would prefer to pocket.
Notably, the 530e is also significantly cheaper than its direct competitor, the Mercedes-Benz E350e, which is more powerful but can only run 30 kilometres on battery power – it’s also $131,600, making the charged-up BMW look like a value buy.
Under the bonnet, the 530e – like the 530i – has a two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. It’s a downsized version of the 530i’s 185kW, 350Nm version. The 530e makes do with a more miserly 135kW, 270Nm tune that is offered standalone overseas as a 520i model that we don’t get here in Australia.
Any concern that the 530e is underpowered is tempered by the relatively substantial 9.2kWh electric motor that produces a further 83kW and 250Nm. The figures don’t add together in hybrids, though – but the 530e’s total system output is good, with a 530i-matching 185kW of power and a beefier 420Nm of torque.
That 185kW and 420Nm is available when the engine and motor are working together – in instances of hard acceleration, for example. On those occasions, the 530e is properly swift, especially when overtaking.
When you’re driving the 530e purely on electric power, you only have those 83kW and 250Nm at your disposal. It’s not a slug, but if you want to prevent the petrol engine from kicking in you do need to be a little bit patient with the accelerator. 83kW is like a Volkswagen Polo – but remember, it’s hauling a 5 Series BMW.
So how does the 530e decide whether to use the petrol engine or the electric motor? Left to its own devices, it will try to judicially use the electric motor before engaging the petrol engine full-time. However, this is customisable via buttons near the gear shifter. You can lock the 530e into electric drive, where the engine will only engage for emergency acceleration, or you can instruct it to save the electric juice for later. That’s useful if you’re on the highway but know you’ll be in stop-start city traffic later on.
As you would expect, the 530e is eerily quiet when on battery power alone. The motor operates in silence. However, it remains very remarkably hushed even when the petrol engine is brought into play; the insulation from the outside world is impressive in the new 5 Series.
The batteries are responsible for an additional 230 kilograms of mass, which is placed just ahead of the rear wheels. This has shifted the car’s weight distribution from 51 front, 49 rear to 48 front, 52 rear – which is actually an improvement.
I struggled to pick the extra weight from behind the wheel, with the 5 Series’ agile front end seemingly unaffected. However, the 530e does feel particularly settled and planted on the road, and the extra weight over the driven wheels means it is harder to step the rear end out in enthusiastic cornering.
Adaptive dampers are standard on the 530i, and they produce serene ride quality in Comfort mode. Shifting to Sport mode seems to introduce an artificially hard edge, however. In the 530e – and in the new 5 Series in general – you’re left feeling like it’s a car for relaxed cruising rather than hustling down backroads. That’s most un-BMW-like, but I’m yet to try a 5 Series with M Sport suspension.
The 530e comes with boosted-up M Sport brakes as standard that are up to the task.
You also get the necessary paraphernalia to charge the 530e at home or at work. It comes with a five metre charging cable that plugs into a standard 230 volt household power point. It takes less than four hours to charge the battery to 80% and left for a further couple of hours you’ll get a full charge. This will be convenient enough for most: charge it overnight and you’ll have 45 kilometres or so ready in the morning, which is sufficient for the average Australian commute.
Inside, the new 5 Series feels more like BMW’s flagship 7 Series than an upscaled 3 Series. There’s an immediately upmarket feel – most touchpoints feel expensive. The materials centre around soft leathers and tasteful wood. The interior feels large, relaxed, and more accommodating than the previous-generation F10.
Visually, the BMW doesn’t have the overt wow factor of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which is more flamboyant and centres its interior around enormous twin 12-inch screens. Like other BMWs, the 5 Series is more restrained – but it’s a conservative Teutonic elegance that I think I actually prefer.
The 5 Series does have a digital driver’s display, but it isn’t used to the same effect as the Mercedes. It’s largely limited to recreating traditional dials on the virtual screen – though at least the 530e gains additional visual flair, replacing the tachometer with a cool battery charge meter.
A particularly large and detailed heads-up display is standard on the 530e, as it is across the 5 Series range. It’s colour, and presents in-depth navigation, driving and audio information directly ahead of the driver.
Then there’s the wide 10.25-inch screen at eye-level in the centre of the car. It runs BMW’s latest iDrive 6 software, which improves an already strong software suite: this is the first iDrive with touchscreen integration. It works well, though the rotary controller between the front seats remains the safest and most intuitive way to interact with the car’s functions on the move.
Because the 530e arrives by default with the vaguely dynamic M Sport package, you get beefier sports seats in the front that hold drivers relatively firmly in place, and offer good adjustment. At no cost, you can specify the 530e with the more conservative Luxury line which has larger and more traditional seats. In general, the BMW’s ergonomics are good. The exception is the attractive new steering wheel, which doesn’t adjust low enough for me.
The standard-fit leather, called ‘Dakota’, is nice enough though one of the best optional upgrades is the Nappa leather package: it’s super-soft and makes the 5 Series feel even more special. It’s good value, too, at $1,300. There is artificial leather covering the dashboard, which looks good.
The 530e might feel more 7 Series than 3 Series, but coming from the $232,300 740e hybrid reveals perhaps the only hint of flimsiness in the mid-sizer’s cabin: the feel of the rotary knobs. They are simply more solid in the 7 Series – but you can upgrade them with the interesting $1,000 option of heavier ceramic dial surrounds. Consider it.
Sight lines from the front seat are surprisingly good, despite the size of the new 5 Series: it’s just shy of five metres in length. The large side and rear windows help – as does the standard-fit 360-degree parking camera, which lets you visualise the entire vehicle while parking.
Previous 5 Series shapes were a bit tight in the back seat – the new G30 is larger and more accommodating, however. It’s not as generous as the E-Class Mercedes, but for six-footers there is adequate legroom and good headroom. It’s best to keep it to two in the back of the 530e, though: the prominent driveshaft tunnel, which sends power from the engine to the driven rear wheels, means it is poky for a third member.
A challenge for plug-in vehicles is that as they’re built around an internal combustion engine, the new electric batteries have to go somewhere. In the BMW, they’re under the back seat, where the petrol tank, where the petrol tank would normally sit. So where does the tank go? Well, it’s first downsized by 22 litres to 46 litres, and shifted backwards, partially into the boot.
So the 530e does have a smaller boot than the 530i – it’s down by about a fifth in size to 411 litres. That’s fine – it just means that instead of being ‘huge’ like the standard car, the boot is merely ‘big’: about the same size as an Audi A3 sedan, in fact. The presence of the petrol tank means that there is an annoying split in the boot floor height, but this means a bag of golf clubs will still fit comfortably closer to the boot opening.
Plus, BMW have managed to retain the ability to split and fold the rear bench, so long items will still squeeze between the heightened floor to slide through to the front of the car. For most people, most of the time, the 530e will be more than practical enough. A few suitcases still fit back there without an issue.
In the cabin, the latest 5 Series is pretty massive and storage spaces are plentiful. A large glove box and a spacious bin between the seats complement plenty of places to stash a mobile phone, and the door bins are big enough for a bottle of water.
In the back, it’s very comfortable for two and just doable for three. A prominent drivetrain tunnel, sending power from the petrol engine to the rear driving wheels, means there’s not much space for the third person’s feet.
There are, however, air vents for back seat passengers and there is a comfortable flip-down armrest with cupholders.
Real 5 Series practicality is still waiting in the wings: a Tourer station wagon is incoming this year, with BMW predicting about 10% of buyers will opt for the wagon body. Whether the 530e hybrid will be available as a wagon – something I’d personally love to drive as a daily – remains to be seen.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
BMW 530e service costs
The 530e needs to be serviced annually or every 20,000 kilometres, which is pretty generous for this class. BMW doesn’t have capped price servicing, instead choosing to offer up-front servicing packs that are actually quite good value.
All 5 Series models are offered at sale with a $1,740 Service Inclusive package that includes scheduled servicing for the first 5 years or 80,000 kilometres of ownership. That price includes all checks, oil changes, filter maintenance, spark plugs and labour costs. A further Service Plus package is available that covers incidentals too. The packages are transferred automatically to new owners of the car.
The 530e has a good warranty lasting three years with unlimited kilometres. You also get three years of roadside assistance.
BMW 530e fuel economy
Officially, the 530e is rated at 2.3L/100km. Like on other plug-in electric vehicles, this very low number doesn’t actually mean much.
From a full charge until the electric motor is depleted – about 45 kilometres of normal, non-aggressive driving – you’ll theoretically use no petrol. While you’ve got charge available the petrol engine doesn’t kick in unless you stab the accelerator hard, or if instruct the car to save its electric power for later on.
Of course, if you charge up the 530e at home, you will see your electricity bills increase in cost. However, some providers offer good solutions. In November last year AGL launched a $1 per day electric vehicle charging plan that is particularly attractive.
Either way, the 530e ends up costing less to ‘fuel up’ than its petrol sibling.
BMW 530e depreciation
Glass’s Guide doesn’t yet have data available for the 530e but I don’t suspect it will depreciate much worse than a petrol 530i. If you keep that car for three years and 40,000 kilometres – about average – it should recoup about 50.7% of its value at sale ($55,300).
That’s quite a bit more impressive than the 46.7% the Mercedes E350e is predicted to retain, and slightly better than the Lexus GS450h’s 49.8%.
VALUE FOR MONEY
When it comes to value, the 530e really is the stand-out among the 5 Series range. The 530e is priced equally to the mid-range petrol 530i ($108,900), and it receives all of the 530e’s equipment, alongside the additional benefit of the electric motor.
So what do you get for that chunk of cash?
Like the 530i, the 530e arrives with BMW’s M Sport package as standard. That adds 19-inch wheels and meaner looks to good equipment levels: there’s a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display, a powerful 600 watt 16-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, heated sports seats, an electric bootlid and adaptive LED headlights.
And that’s on top of the kit on the entry-level, diesel 520d ($93,900): powered leather seats, a 10-inch touchscreen with navigation, 2 USB ports, DAB+ digital radio, keyless access to all four doors, a 360-degree parking camera, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and cross-traffic alert.
Spending more on a 5 Series reaps fairly marginal gains. A six-cylinder diesel, the 530d ($119,900) adds no more equipment over the 530i or 530e, but does feature a delightful 195kW, 620Nm engine. The current range-topper, the petrol six-cylinder 540i ($136,900) has a 250kW, 450Nm engine and adds fruit in the form of 20-inch wheels, active anti-roll bars, a sunroof, and cooled Nappa leather seats.
Three worthwhile options that really should be standard on the 530e are Apple CarPlay integration ($623), a tyre pressure monitor ($550), and the glass sunroof ($2,900).
Other notable options on the 530e include the 540i’s softer Nappa leather (not bad at $1,300) and BMW’s touchscreen Display car key ($450).
A Mercedes-Benz E350e is admittedly better-equipped than the BMW, with air suspension and a panoramic sunroof, but it is substantially more expensive at $131,600 and packs less electric range.
Realistically, the BMW 530e competes for buyer attention with a number of mid-size luxury models with petrol and diesel engines. These include the non-hybrid 5 Series models themselves, plus the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6, Lexus GS and Jaguar XF.
However, if it’s a luxurious mid-size sedan with sustainability credentials you’re after, then the 530e has three major competitors from Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Tesla.
Mercedes-Benz E350e ($131,600)
The E350e is the most natural competitor to the 530e, and it’s based on a very similar idea. The E350e also pairs a two-litre turbo petrol to an electric motor, and the Mercedes is punchier, with a total output of 210kW of power and 550Nm of torque. However, it’s no quicker than the BMW, taking the same 6.2 seconds to get from 0-100km/h. The Benz has a smaller 6.2kWh electric motor, meaning it can only get 30 kilometres before you’ll need the petrol engine. The Mercedes is much more expensive but it is a little better-equipped, and has a nicer and more impressive interior.
Lexus GS450h F Sport ($108,080)
Lexus introduced the idea of the luxury hybrid long ago – but they do it differently. There’s no plugging in a Lexus hybrid, because their small electric motors (it’s 1.9kWh in the GS450h) are only meant to get the car off the line without engaging the petrol engine. The GS is a solid and attractive vehicle, though, and it’s quick. The hybrid pairs a naturally aspirated V6 to the electric motor to produce a total of 254kW and 400Nm. The GS is getting old, though, and you can tell in the interior, which doesn’t stand up to the modern designs of the BMW or Mercedes.
Tesla Model S 75 ($117,287)
Tesla’s Model S is a standout because it is fully electric – there is no combustion engine whatsoever. You have to keep it charged to run the vehicle. Super-powerful versions are available but they are hugely expensive; the base model 75 (named for its 75kWh electric motor) is more attainable. Producing 285kW of power and 441Nm of torque, it’s only as fast as the Lexus with a 5.8 second 0-100km/h sprint time because the Tesla is really heavy thanks to all those batteries. It’s undoubtedly recognisable, though, which many will love and the huge touchscreen inside is impressive.
|Capacity||2.0 litres (engine); 9.2kWh (battery)|
|Fueltype||Petrol, and electric power|
|Induction||Single turbocharger (petrol)|
|Power to weight ratio||106.1kW/tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||2.3L/100km|
|Fuel capacity||46 litres (tank), 9.2kWh (battery)|
|Average range||~650km (petrol), 43km (electric)|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Rear wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Unoccupied weight||1,743 kilograms|
|Cargo space (seats up)||410 litres|
|Cargo space (seats down)||Not listed|