Don’t be fooled by the hybrid badge – with a total of 340bhp, the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is more about performance than economy, but is the BMW 535d a better buy?
Think of a hybrid and most people will probably think of Toyota. However BMW has now joined the hybrid party with its first hybrid product, the ActiveHybrid 5. The focus is very much on performance rather than economy, as its 44.1mpg fuel economy is no better than the 520i – and is considerably worse than the 520d.
The base for the ActiveHybrid 5 is the BMW 530i. This means that it is essentially a tried and trusted car with an all-new hybrid system integrated into it.
Power comes from the 3-litre straight-six petrol engine with a twin-scroll turbocharger. This is supported by the hybrid system’s 54 bhp electric motor, with the engine and electric motor both powering the rear wheels through an 8-speed automatic gearbox. The lithium-ion battery pack allows the ActiveHybrid 5 to theoretically travel for up to 2.5 miles at up to 37mph without the petrol engine.
Everything else about the ActiveHybrid 5 will be familiar to owners of the current 5 Series. The exterior looks as good as a regular 5 Series, with only a few changes, such as new badges and different wheels. It’s the same story inside, with the normal upmarket, luxury feel of the 5 Series, which also features clear and well laid out controls. There are only minor differences from a regular 5 Series, such as a small dial at the bottom of the rev counter which shows the state of the hybrid battery charge. A similar display under the speedo usefully shows the remaining driving range.
One change that is more significant is the loss of boot space due to the hybrid batteries.
The driving experience of the ActiveHybrid 5 is an area that is difficult to fault. You get all the selling points of the 530i, along with more power and torque from the hybrid system, and the potential of near-silent all-electric running. We say ‘potential’ because in reality the distance that you’ll travel in one go on the hybrid battery is likely to be very short – in our experience much, much less than the official 2.5 mile electric range.
Whereas most hybrids have a CVT transmission, which leads to a very ‘indirect’ driving experience, the ActiveHybrid 5 has an automatic box and there’s certainly none of the increase in revs and noise – but not speed – that’s a feature of most hybrids when you need to accelerate quickly. We would have been very surprised if BMW had launched this car with any compromises to the driving experience, and thankfully the company has succeeded in ensuring that the ActiveHybrid 5 drives like a 5 Series sports saloon.
The ActiveHybrid 5 comes with a choice of five drive settings: Eco Pro for maximum efficiency, Comfort and Comfort+, and Sport and Sport+. These are controlled via a rocker switch positioned conveniently between the gear lever and the driver. With these drive options, the ActiveHybrid 5 always has a comfortable ride, and more sporty personalities can be chosen.
The iDrive controller sits at the passenger side of the central transmission tunnel, and is again in a perfect position to control features such as the satnav or media. With all of its menus, the iDrive system may be a bit overwhelming the first time you use it, but once you’ve used it a few times it’s actually more intuitive than most other systems, and certainly better than using a touchscreen. The satnav has a huge screen with very clear mapping.
The ActiveHybrid 5 also has an excellent head-up display that projects speed and navigation information onto the windscreen, and even the steering wheel-mounted controls, for cruise control and media, feel well positioned.
With a total of 340bhp from the engine and hybrid sytem, 332 lb.ft. of torque, a 0-62mph time of just 5.9 seconds, and an electronically-limited top speed of 155mph, the car should deliver sufficient performance to satisfy most people’s needs from a five-seater saloon. Show the ActiveHybrid 5 a slow vehicle on a twisty B-road and you’ll have complete confidence that you’ll be able to accelerate past it safely – and it makes a great noise in the process. That statement doesn’t apply to many hybrids, and this is where the ActiveHybrid 5 scores so highly.
The eight-speed automatic transmission works well. You can override it manually using the gearlever, but there are no steering wheel-mounted paddles.
One area where there is a price to pay for the hybrid system is in the weight department. The 520i weighs 1685kg, whereas the ActiveHybrid 5 tips the scales at a hefty 1925kg, thanks to the additional weight of the hybrid system and battery.
As is the case so often with BMWs, there is virtually no tread going across the tyres, so they’re useless on wet grass, and this is also the reason why we get so many emails from people in winter saying that they’re going to sell their BMW because it’s impossible to get any traction in snow.
The ActiveHybrid 5 returns 44.1mpg together with emissions of 149g/km CO2. These figures may not sound particularly ‘green’, but for a car that also produces 340bhp, suddenly these figures look good. The 520i SE automatic, which returns the same 44.1mpg, only produces 184bhp – just over half of the power output of the ActiveHybrid 5. For company car drivers, the ActiveHybrid 5 has a Benefit-in-Kind company car tax liability of 20%.
In terms of real-life miles per gallon, in mixed driving to Scotland and back, with lots of motorways, we achieved 33mpg. Driving carefully it’s possible to achieve 40mpg. The issue is that with the performance on tap from the ActiveHybrid 5 , most people won’t be able to resist displaying a heavy right foot (why would you buy this car if you didn’t want the performance?), and so the real-life economy isn’t likely to come close to the official 44.1mpg figure.
There’s only one ActiveHybrid 5 model, but the 5 Series range includes a variety of petrols and diesels. The ActiveHybrid 5 costs £46,885. The 520i SE automatic, which returns the same 44.1mpg, costs £32,680. The 520d EfficientDynamics returns 62.8mpg, along with 119g/km CO2 emissions, 17% Benefit-in-Kind company car tax liability, and it costs £30,435.
Our test car had a number of options including comfort package (£1750), visibility package (£1255), 18-inch alloys (£1095) rather than the standard 17-inch wheels, variable damper control (VDC) (£905) and professional multimedia plus package (£800). All options came to £8795 and took the total price of our test car to £55,650.
The BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is an excellent car to drive. It has lashings of performance, a rear-wheel drive chassis, an automatic box rather than a CVT, it’s quiet, comfortable and refined, and it looks good.
On the downside its economy isn’t going to worry a Toyota Prius, it’s expensive, and it has reduced boot space.
You could buy a BMW 520i for £32,680 which has the same economy. Or you could buy a 520d that can return 62.8mpg for £30,435. But in the UK, for a similar performance/economy mix, you’d probably be best to consider the 535d which has faster acceleration (0-62mph in 5.5 seconds), better economy (52.3mpg) and lower emissions (142g/km CO2) (although a slightly higher BIK tax rate of 22%), and in SE trim it costs less at £44,295. It also has a larger boot.
But all that is missing the point of the BMW ActiveHybrid 5. People are likely to buy this car because they like BMW and they like the idea of the technology that’s in the car. They’ll be able to amaze people with the performance of a car with a hybrid badge, and they’ll also be able to impress people with its silent electric running, albeit for a very limited range. The ActiveHybrid 5 should appeal to prestige petrol-focused markets such as North America. It’s unlikely to make much of a dent in 520d sales in the UK.
So, with our heart, the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 should get a 10 out of 10. However with our head, especially when compared to BMW’s own products such as the 535d or even the excellent 520d EfficientDynamics, it’s very difficult to award it such a score. So taking all factors into account, but, as always, with our focus on miles per gallon and emissions, the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 ultimately gets a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.
However one thing that the ActiveHybrid 5 certainly achieves is the whetting of our appetite for the forthcoming BMW i8 hybrid, which promises to do a much more stunning job of combining performance and economy.