The BMW (G30) 530e from the iPerformance range is the first 5-series to have a socket. Launched last year, it has convinced a number of Irish drivers. 120 exactly so far this year (January-August 2018), which is impressive considering that during the same period only 58 petrol variants of that model (from the “modest” 520i to the hardcore M5) were registered. Of course for each 530e on the road, about 10 diesel models were sold (mostly 520d) so there is still a long way to go before the dominance of electrified versions. In the meantime let’s see how this car managed to convince the Irish buyer.
So what is the BMW 530e ?
No, it doesn’t have a 3-litre 6-cylinder engine. But it has similar power to its 2 sisters, (530i and 530d) justifying the name, 252 hp exactly. The powertrain is made of a petrol engine (the one from the 520i, a turbocharged 2-litre developing 184 hp) and an electric motor (95hp) giving a combined torque of 420 Nm and a 0 to 100 kph in just 6.2 seconds. Yes, it does deserves to be called 530. Lovers of the straight six will argue that this 4-pot just doesn’t sound the same as the 3-liter. They are right but the soundproofing is so good that you would only hear the engine at high revs – not something you’d do all the time – and in this situation you’ll realise that the exhaust work is actually quite good.
The very smooth 8 speed automatic gearbox transmits power to the rear wheels, like it does for any 5-series. The motor is located in front, between the engine and the gearbox (that is also in front). The battery pack (9.2kwh in capacity) is located below the rear seats. Finally the petrol tank is reduced to 46 litres (from 68 for diesel/petrol version). Unfortunately the boot loses about 120 litres of capacity to around 410, but it remains flat. The available height is not too impressive and folding rear seats are an option so the versatility is never going to be a quality on this car. There is currently no Estate variant for this 530e which could have solved the issue but if the global demand for the 530e is strong enough, there is no doubt that BMW will consider this body option. At 1770 kg this is a heavy car and the suspensions have been made stiffer to cope with the extra weight and avoid excessive body roll.
For the rest, it’s a true 5-series, a large, roomy and comfortable executive saloon that excels on the road and the motorway.
Range, Charging and driving modes
Like for most PHEVs (Plug In Hybrid Vehicles) the range is relatively modest, but can cover most drivers’ daily needs. During this test drive, carried out in summer, I could drive 35 to 40 km on a charge. It would be reduced in winter to probably 25 to 30 km. The car being heavy the average consumption will go anywhere from 17 to 25 kWh/100km, which won’t impress BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) drivers. Driving on pure hybrid mode -with an empty battery- the fuel economy can go to around 8 litres per 100 km, which is not impressive compared to the diesel version, but it’s a PHEV after all so it all depends on the percentage of electric kilometres you’re doing on top of it. During a 300 km return trip from Cork City to West Cork, over a weekend, I charged 3 times (in Glengariff and Kenmare). I managed to average a fuel economy of 4 litres per 100km that none of these so called “Self-charging”* models can dream of, considering the very high level of performance and comfort provided. The gearbox ratios are quite tall and the car happily cruises at 120 kph at 2000rpm in 8th gear allowing relatively good fuel economy at higher speeds where the petrol engine will work most.
Charging the 530e on a 16 amp type 2 socket (3.6 kw) takes around 3 hours. Allow 4 hours with the 3-pin granny cable. Unlike the i3, the charging port is wisely located on the curb side of the car, allowing easy street charging.
You have the 3 driving modes : Comfort, Sport and EcoPro. Engine, transmission, accelerator pedal and steering setup differ, but also the digital display, showing a rev-meter only on the sport mode for instance. Then you have 3 battery management modes, all compatible with each driving mode : Auto eDrive, Max eDrive and Save. Max eDrive is the one you want to use on a daily basis, for your short trips. The car will only run on electricity, till the battery is empty. The Auto eDrive will make the most of the engine and motor efficiency, using electricity when driving at low speed or accelerating softly, with the petrol engine kicking in when more power is necessary, like on a conventional hybrid. Finally the Save mode will make the car run like a hybrid, keeping the battery at a level you can predefine. This is particularly useful when you drive a long distance on motorway, where petrol is more efficient, with urban drive at a later time in your journey, so you can switch to eDrive and take advantage of the efficiency of the electric motor in this situation.
How is it as an everyday car ?
The 5-series is 4.93 meters long, 1.86 meters wide, so it doesn’t appear as the best city car. It’s much more competent on N-roads and motorways. The comfort is very good, despite the suspension setup and these optional 20 inch wheels of the model tested. Stick to the standard 19 if you can! The driving position is just perfect for anyone loving a country drive and the seats have the perfect balance between support and comfort. It’s really roomy both in front and in the rear and there is ample storage and cup holders for everyone. The quality of materials and finish is very high too, and combined with the very good ergonomics and ambient lightning for night drives, make this car a very recommendable place to be in.
The infotainment screen is large (10.2 inches) and very reactive. Voice recognition deserves a 5 out of 5 stars. It managed to recognize my first name -Guillaume- and its challenging pronunciation without spelling mistake and with the language still set as English ! And you can even have gesture recognition, a new technology that is for now more like a gimmick but that can for sure progress in future generations : for now you can execute simple commands like picking up a call or increasing the volume of the stereo. The optional Harman/Kardon sound system is really good and is perfect for a car with such good soundproofing. Apple CarPlay is optional but unfortunately still no Android Auto!
Once on the road, the drive is always engaging, and the thick steering wheel is really pleasant to handle. The car also benefits from level 2 semi-autonomous features, such as lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control (all optional). These work very well but requires lanes to be correctly painted. Unfortunately Irish slip roads do miss paint where they merge (or separate) which confuses the lane assist system (not specific to BMW), which is a shame as it is where you need this feature the most. We will need to change the way we paint dual-carriageway lines so cars can in the future become real safe autonomous vehicles.
Should I buy one ?
As for most PHEV, the choice of this version, over a petrol or diesel, will depend on your use of it. If you do mostly long motorway trips, it is difficult to recommend the 530e (as it is still difficult to recommend any PHEV or BEV besides a Tesla). The 530e is priced from €56.875 (SEAI grant and VRT rebate deducted), which is significantly less than similarly equipped 530i (€61.785) and 530d (€67.725). Of course a 520d will be a bit cheaper, starting at €54.445, but it’s also less performant and less refined. Even compared the the latter, this 530e can make sense though, since running costs can be significantly lower, should you plug in daily. A person who has a daily commute of 30km and drives 200 km during the weekend will find this 530e economically more interesting than the 520d.
It is difficult to compare this car to a BEV, the closest car to this 530e being the Tesla Model S, that is in a different category in terms of pricing, but if you still want to get a premium saloon with green credentials, without relying too much on the public infrastructure, this 530e may be the car for you.
* There is no such thing as Self-charging or perpetual motion. Energy comes from either electricity (if your car has a socket, ie a BEV), fuel (if it has a fuel tank ie Petrol, diesel, LPG or Hybrid) or a bit of both (if it’s a PHEV like this 530e).
Thanks to BMW Ireland for the test drive.
Photo credit : Guillaume Séguin