BMW continues to grow its iPerformance brand
Words by: Adam Allen
BMW is sure taking this electrification thing seriously.
Like other manufactures, BMW is betting that electrification is going to play a serious role in automotive mobility well into the future. They have invested a huge amount of resources to make sure that it is poised to deliver vehicles with drivetrains that use electrons in one way or another- we first saw this strategy take shape with the carbon fibre rich i3 and the traffic-stopping i8 sports car. Now the focus is shifting to installing hybrid drivetrains in their familiar 3,5,7 and X5 models, each of whom will feature an “e” in their model designations and will have unique badging and subtle blue exterior accents compared to their strictly gasoline powered counterparts. We like that the technology in these cars gets better with each passing model year, but also command a relatively low premium over their conventionally fueled stablemates- in the 530e’s case, it costs a little over $1,000 more than the 530i. For that sum, you get better fuel economy and a healthy jump in torque- an additional 52 lbs./ft. to be exact.
Remember the ActiveHybrid 5? What was that all about anyway?
BMW would probably like it if you forget about any lingering memories from when they tried to make a go of selling ActiveHybrid models. There was the X6 version which featured a twin-turbo V8 (!) augmented by a small degree of electric only propulsion- unsurprisingly, it landed with a thud and people were reluctant to plunk down over $100,000 for an X6 that didn’t perform all that well and certainly wasn’t able to pull off anything closely resembling good fuel economy. There was an ActiveHybrid 5 and 3-series which fared better than its SAV sibling, but not by much- it too had a hard time mustering meaningful fuel economy gains and its ability to use electric only motivation was so little that it was pretty much rendered useless. Customers responded with an ambivalence that saw these models fade away unnoticed. We’re happy to report that the company’s hybrid program has come a long way since those days.
Back to the 530e. How does it all work?
Regular visitors to this space will recall that we tested the 330e last spring and an X5 40e a couple of winters prior to that. We came away properly impressed by the strides BMW is making in building hybrids that don’t suck. The 530e you see here uses the same underlying bits to get the job done as the others, but here’s a refresher: you will find a 2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo under the hood that works in tandem with electric motors drawing from a 9.2kWh battery pack to deliver a total output of 248 horsepower and 310 lbs-ft or torque, the latter a substantial increase over the 530i.
Does it offer the same kind of hybrid specific settings so you can get the most out of the drivetrain?
The 530e offers the same customization options to the driving experience we’re all used to in all BMW models- ECO PRO, Comfort and Sport. iPerformance models take that one step further by offering differing options on how you’d like your 530e to use its battery reserves. Every time you start the 530e up, it defaults to AUTO eDRIVE mode, which means the computers will decide the best and most efficient way to deploy electric only power or whether the 2.0 litre engine needs to be summoned. If you’ve got the battery juiced up, select MAX eDRIVE to turn your 530e into a fully electric car- the gas engine will remain dormant until you run out of charge or floor the gas pedal. What we particularly like about MAX eDRIVE is that the electric motor is mounted slightly upstream of the transmission, meaning electric motivation is handled by the excellent ZF 8-speeder instead of some wonky feeling CVT. BATTERY CONTROL is the final setting and you use this one when the batteries are fully drained so you can get as much electricity back into them as quickly as possible. We would use this one when the batteries were all but depleted, especially on the highway. After a moderate trip on the super slab, the batteries would get a good amount of charge and we’d switch back to AUTO eDRIVE as we coasted down the exit ramps. No matter the situation or level of charge, BMW has you covered. Best of all, you will never have to worry about range anxiety.
Fine, but does all this take away from the driving experience?
Not at all. As with other iPerformance models, the engineers have a mandate to keep driving satisfaction high on the 530e’s list along with its fuel saving agenda. As we noted, our tester matched a gasoline powered 530i in horsepower but trumps it with a useful 310 pounds feet of torque. It mirrors its conventionally powered stablemate in acceleration metrics, but around town the seamless combination of gas and electricity give the 530e an accelerative urge the 530i simply cannot match. Our tester even came with paddle shifters which encourage you to use them, such is their level of responsiveness. Even the brakes, which are tasked with slowing the car and recouping energy for the batteries feel entirely natural and serve up the same stopping confidence you’d expect from any 5-series. It’s really the suspension and steering that feel slightly aloof from a performance standpoint, but they do contribute to the overall refinement and comfort of the 530e. Look, you can hustle this thing down a backroad just fine, but that’s not where the real satisfaction lies. Rather, the brilliant gauges that show how much power you are using and the threshold of when the gasoline engine fires up are more fun anyhow. It becomes a game of sorts, seeing just how little you can get your fuel consumption numbers down during trips. Once, on a very short jaunt with the batteries fully charged, we saw an incredible 0.0L/100km- you can’t do better than that. We should also acknowledge the nearly transparent manner in which the engine shuts itself off and fires back up again. Stop/Start systems can be notoriously annoying, but not so in the 530e- they nailed it.
Is the interior constructed of feel good materials like repurposed balsa wood and recycled milk cartons?
Thankfully, no. Step inside the cabin of the 530e and the usual perfume of buttery soft leather hides fills the nose, and fingertips are still treated to high quality touch points and materials. Other than a specific set of gauges, there is no clue that you’re driving a plug-in hybrid, and that’s a good thing. The highlight has got to be the seats- they are blissfully comfortable. Part of the Interior Comfort Package, ($2,500) they are worth every cent.
What might go wrong?
The biggest gripe we can levy at the 530e is the loss of truck space to accommodate the hybrid gubbins- those used to packing elaborately for road trips will now find themselves packing much lighter out of necessity. The other niggle we discovered would have gone completely unnoticed in warmer temperatures, and that is the system’s unwillingness to provide access to fully electric propulsion on cold days. After charging the 530e and hopping aboard we were told by the infotainment system that the batteries juice could not be used.
Should I buy a 530e?
If it’s a luxury plug in hybrid you seek, then you will certainly end up in a 530e. The only other manufacturer who offers something similar is the Cadillac CT6, and that’s a much bigger car with a price tag to match. Thinking about looking at offerings from crosstown rivals Audi and Mercedes Benz? Your search will be short lived because none of those two offer something analogous to the 530e. The best part? Driving a 530e is something you’ll actually enjoy.
2018 BMW 530e- Specifications
- Price as tested: $82,750
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 180 @ 5,000 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 255 @ 1,350 rpm
- Electric Motor Output: 111 horsepower @ 0 rpm (9.2 kWh lithium ion-battery)
- Total System Output: 248 horsepower/310 lbs-ft. of torque
- Curb weight: 2,015 kg (4,442 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 9.9/100km (24 MPG)