Drive a diesel car in London? Monster! Recent emissions revelations have turned you into an outcast. It doesn’t matter that you quite like your powerful diesel BMW 5 Series, and you’re not going to buy a bloody Prius – so what can you do?
Right on cue, BMW has launched a plug-in hybrid version of its astonishingly capable new 5 Series, called 530e iPerformance. The name’s a mouthful – we’ll stick with 530e – but the figures are jaw-dropping: more than 140 mpg, 46g/km CO2 and NOx emissions so minuscule, they don’t even come into it.
And, as if it couldn’t get any better, the government will give you £2,500 if you buy one, taking it down below £30k – not far shy of the best-selling BMW 520d.
This is a game-changer because, up ‘til now, eight in 10 5 Series sold in the UK have been the 520d. The arrival of the 530e is expected to halve that, which means this could turn out to be the best-selling 5 Series in the country.
BMW took us to its spotless and very Germanic Munich garage for a trial drive. While BMW’s reps were light on the details, we did learnt that the car, is in essence a 2.0-litre turbo petrol 5 Series hooked up with a BMW i3 electric motor and a battery with enough juice to do 31 miles on electric power only.
Once the battery is flat, the engine kicks in, as it does in the plug-in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. There are several driving modes to give you different styles of eco-ness, including one that will fully charge the battery on the move. BMW’s done this with potential future city centre legislation in mind – if combustion engines are banned from certain areas, the 530e will still be allowed in.
Sensibly, you’ll just leave it in auto, and let the system work out what’s best. I did this and found the engine was off more than it was on, allowing me to cruise through Munich in silent, futuristic electric-assist serenity. It’s nothing like having a grunty old diesel clattering away: even a posh V8 5 Series isn’t this silent. And 0-62mph in 6.2secs is pretty fast, too; it’s a Tesla experience in an executive BMW.
When the batteries run low, or you really want max power, the engine will kick in. This is where the silence ends; BMW’s turbo petrol is a droney thing and will blare away if you give it full beans. It does fade away when you stop accelerating, and it’ll soon shut down when you lift off. But the surprise of this unexpected rumble brings you crashing back to the fossil-fuel age with a thud. This function is about as anti-Tesla as can be.
The rest of the 530e is pure new 5 Series, though. The interior is fantastic, infotainment is a match for your iPhone, it’s roomy and smooth-riding, and still a joy to get handy with in corners – despite the extra weight of its batteries in the back.
Realistically, you’ll never get 130-odd mpg unless you live within 20 miles of the office and frequently have a couple of hours to charge it up. Yet I saw high-40 mpgs on the trip computer, which isn’t bad for an enthusiastically-driven car in speed-loving Germany.
Plug-in hybrids like this remain imperfect. They’re beautifully silent when in EV mode, which only accentuates the racket they often make when the engine kicks in. It mixes two types of car: the petrol bit overcomes the limitations of electric, but at the expense of losing an EV’s silent smoothness. And while misleading official economy stats may help cheat the tax system, there’s no dodging the fact that real-world economy is worse than a diesel.
But who cares? It’s not a diesel, and perhaps that’s what matters. BMW makes big money by selling thousands of 520ds and 530ds a year, and while the mood at the moment puts diesel’s future under threat, it already has a solution for business execs who wouldn’t be in any other car than a Five. From sinner to saint in one model change.