The BMW 545e xDrive M Sport Saloon PHEV delivers the sports saloon driving experience of a BMW 5 Series, complete with all-wheel drive, but it can also be propelled by electric power for up to 30 miles.
If you want an executive sports saloon that’s a genuine driver’s car, then the BMW 5 Series is probably one of the top choices. However we have to wean ourselves off petrol and move to zero emissions, so the models in the 5 Series plug-in hybrid range offer a way to keep the traditional driving experience but also allow around 30 miles of electric driving. The BMW 545e xDrive adds extra performance compared to the four BMW 530e models on offer.
The 545e xDrive is a 5 Series saloon with the addition of a 109 hp electric motor and a 12.0kWh lithium-ion battery. There are four 530e models with four-cylinder, two-litre petrol engines, but the 545e is the only model with a straight six-cylinder, three-litre 286 hp petrol engine with BMW TwinPower Turbo Technology. The overall system output is 394 hp and maximum system torque is 600 Nm. There’s an 8-speed Steptronic transmission and all-wheel drive.
The battery is positioned under the rear seat, with the boot being 410 litres in size, compared to 530 litres for the petrol model.
The interior is fairly standard 5 Series, which means that it’s well designed and, crucially, it works well. And the 5 Series looks good on the outside, helped by the large alloys and low profile tyres, but watch out for the potholes of South Manchester damaging the wheels…
The overall driving experience of the 545e is similar to other models in the 5 Series range – but with 394 hp and 600 Nm of torque. The 5 Series driving experience means a lot of very good things.
Firstly, you can get a good driving position. The car also sits low down, close to the road. Although the 545e is all-wheel drive, the key ingredient for a rewarding driver’s car is there – the rear-wheel drive-biased handling. The steering makes it enjoyable to pilot the car through corners, helped by the thick-rimmed M-Sport steering wheel – but be aware that this is a big car and it weighs a substantial 2,020 kg.
Again, in 5-Series tradition, the ride quality is also comfortable (but note that our test car had Adaptive Suspension), despite the large alloy wheels and very low profile tyres – although as mentioned above this wheel and tyre combination don’t like big potholes. On smooth motorways the 545e is comfortable, refined and effortless, and it feels planted to the road whatever driving conditions are thrown at it.
And then there’s the powertrain, which offers lots of performance (0-62 mph in 4.6 seconds), and the excellent transmission – with a traditional gear selector and steering wheel-mounted paddles – ensures immediate responses. If you need to get somewhere quickly on country roads, the 545e is fast and sure-footed – and the straight six-cylinder petrol engine has a sporty soundtrack.
So what we’re saying is this: traditional BMW buyers need not panic – the 545e is excellent to drive. But we can’t keep going on with petrol cars, so the 545e offers a solution: the potential for zero tailpipe-emission driving for up to 30 miles. Everyone’s driving habits are different, but many people will be able to drive the 545e on electric power for much of the time, just using petrol power for longer journeys. This gives the best of both worlds: it’s still a rewarding 5 Series, but you can have zero emissions locally.
One thing we’ve not talked about is the cabin, and this is again reassuring BMW design: it looks good but it also works well. The key reason for this is BMW’s iDrive system which allows you to adjust the controls on the wide central touchscreen via the rotary dial and shortcut buttons positioned conveniently between the two front seats. This is a much better solution than having to look away from the road and reach over to press buttons on the screen when you’re driving. There are also separate, physical controls for the radio and climate.
The satnav is an excellent example of how good the interior functionality is. The mapping on the touchscreen is really impressive, there’s also a clear route map in the driver’s instrument display, and there’s a really good head-up display giving simple directions.
There’s one other excellent thing about the cabin controls. Plug-in hybrids should deliver better efficiency than petrol cars, but only if the car is driven on electric power for the vast majority of the time. To do this, the driver needs quick and clear access to the buttons to control the hybrid system. The 545e does this, by having buttons for the hybrid settings between the driver and the gear selector – whereas too many of the latest PHEVs have these controls hidden away in the touchscreen.
The car starts in Hybrid mode, which uses electric power, but also using the petrol engine when it deems it necessary. If you press the Hybrid button twice, it switches to Hybrid Eco Pro mode.
If you want to override the Hybrid mode and lock the car in Electric mode (which works up to 87 mph), it’s just one touch of a button to do this.
If you drive out of the city on to country roads, then it’s one touch of a button to select Sport mode, when the petrol engine and electric motor work together to deliver the potential of 394 hp.
Below the drive modes there’s also a battery button, which allows you to save the battery charge, for instance for driving on a long motorway journey before entering a city, and to set it to a target percentage value.
There’s also the BMW eDrive Zone service, which facilitates the automatic switching over of the drive system to purely electric mode when entering an urban low-emission zone and similar inner-city areas.
The BMW 545e xDrive M Sport Saloon PHEV has an official combined WLTP electric range of 30 miles and a fuel economy figure of 122.8-128.4mpg.
In the real-world the car was delivering 20 miles of electric range, and after a week of mixed driving, most of it on electric power apart from a couple of longer journeys, the average fuel economy was 54.0 mpg – predictably less than the official figure, but not bad for a car with 394 PS. Strangely, BMWs seem only able to show fuel economy in the instrument display up to a maximum of 90mpg.
To enjoy savings in petrol costs you’ll need to plug in the 530e, and a 7kW home charge point will give a full charge in a few hours.
The BMW 545e xDrive M Sport Saloon PHEV costs £60,560. In typical BMW fashion, our test car was loaded with a number of options, including Aventurine Red metallic paint (£1,995), Visibility Pack (£1,000), Technology Pack (£2,495), Comfort Pack (£2,495), M Sport Pro Pack – including those 20-inch alloy wheels and Adaptive Suspension (£2,495), Electric Glass Sunroof (£1,095), and Split Folding Rear Seats (£395), bringing the total cost of the test car to a very substantial £73,355.
In addition to the BMW 545e, there are four other BMW 5 Series plug-in hybrid models: the BMW 530e Saloon, BMW 530e xDrive Saloon, BMW 530e Touring and the BMW 530e xDrive Touring (all with four-cylinder petrol engines).
The BMW 545e xDrive M Sport Saloon PHEV combines tradition with the future. The overall driving experience is traditional BMW: rewarding handling, good ride quality, responsive performance, and a dashboard that is functional for the driver. However this base has been supplemented by the addition of an electric powertrain that can provide up to 30 miles of driving range. The 545e is an excellent car overall, but at £60,560, or £73,355 after options, it should be. The BMW 545e xDrive M Sport Saloon PHEV gains a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10, but our standard plug-in hybrid rules apply: only buy a plug-in hybrid if you will be driving it primarily on electric power, with occasional longer journeys.