Vehicle: 2020 BMW 530e xDrive iPerformance (Plug-in Hybrid)
MSRP as-tested: $80,930 CAD (Starting at $68,550)
Specs: 2.0L turbocharged 4-Cylinder + BMW electric motor (combined output of 248 hp and 310 lb-ft torque)
Electric Range: ~30km (EPA rating) from a 12 kWh battery
0-100kmh as tested: 5.8 seconds (6.2 seconds official rating)
Plug-in hybrids aren’t just for the environmentally-conscious, and the BMW 530e is a perfect example of electrification done right. Slotting in between the 530i and 540i, the 530e uses hybridization to improve on core attributes, rather than sacrificing other aspects for the sake of maximum efficiency. Responsive handling and generous torque figures make for a driving experience worthy of the BMW badge, while the electric motor’s seamless integration and noise-free power delivery adds to the already luxurious experience. In fact the only real downsides is the reduced cargo capacity and a reasonable $4500 premium over the base 530i xDrive, which is more than a fair trade considering the superior driving experience and increased efficiency this electrified 5 Series offers over the standard version.
One of the 5 Series’s key selling points has always been its excellent driving dynamics, and we’re happy to report that despite the extra battery weight, 530e is as rewarding to drive as its gasoline siblings. It might still not be as sharp as past iterations, but when driven back to back against its E Class and A6 rivals it’s clear that the BMW is still the sportiest of the bunch. Steering feels responsive even in its Comfort setting, and substantial weighting offers reassuring solidity to the drive, though never to the point of feeling overly stiff or effortful. If we had one minor complaint, it would be the slightly mushy brake pedal feel; a common symptom among electrified vehicles stemming from their regenerative braking systems.
When equipped with the M-Performance package, 530e is surprisingly capable on curvy roads considering its size and weight, taking corners flatly and confidently with little drama. It still feels like a large car behind the wheel, and it’s certainly no M car, but nevertheless it can be quite fun to drive spiritedly, in a smooth and confidence-inspiring sort of way. In a world where driving feel in midsize luxury sedans is often shunned in favour for a passenger-centric isolated experience, it’s nice to see BMW refocusing their efforts on a rewarding driving experience.
Driving Refinement + Efficiency:
With all that said, 530e holds its on the luxury side of things too. Highway cruising in any 5 Series always feels effortless and relaxing thanks to excellent noise and vibration insulation, but where the addition of an electric motor really shines is in the city driving experience. Capable of running on pure electricity for 30km on a full charge (often more if driving conservatively) and up to speeds of 140km/h, the electric motor delivers a buttery smooth, completely noiseless, and virtually vibration-free experience that simply can’t be replicated by gas engines. 3 drive modes allow you to choose how much you want the gas engine to participate, but important note, locking the car in Max eDrive does result in a power and top-speed decrease as the battery nears depletion.
Running out of juice or pushing the throttle past a detent threshold automatically switches you back into hybrid mode, where the experience is still impressively refined. Put your foot down and you’re met with a jolt of electric torque, which seamlessly transitions to the torque from the 2.0L 4-cylinder as the turbos spool up. Acceleration figures may be nearly identical to the 530i variant, but the important thing is that it feels smoother and quite a bit quicker off the line, all while delivering far more impressive fuel economy numbers and retaining a satisfying exhaust note when you’re craving some sport. During our time with the 530e, we averaged an impressive 6.1 litres/100km in a week of mixed city and highway driving, even without having to constantly top off the battery to maximize efficiency. And if your daily commute is less than 30km and have access to a plug it in every night, it may even be possible to run 530e without using a drop of gas .
If you’re looking to impress passengers with a visually stunning interior, look elsewhere. Whereas the E Class and A6 have adopted flashy futuristic-looking cabins, the 5 Series sticks with a conservative (if not slightly old fashioned) interior design. Personally it’s not my cup of tea, but no doubt some buyers will appreciate its simple, familiar, and easy-to-use layout. Materials are all robust and build quality is among the best, but more importantly, everything feels polished and just works as it should. From the liquid-smooth high resolution digital instrument cluster and screen, to the remarkably intuitive and lag-free iDrive system, it’s a far cry from the glitchy screens or bug-riddled software found on some cutting-edge luxury products. Sometimes it’s the little things that count, and BMW’s attention to detail lends to a luxurious interior that impresses with substance, rather than looks.
But while the cabin might not look so cutting-edge, 5 Series still comes with all the tech and gadgets expected of a luxury sedan of this caliber, including the latest BMW safety equipment and driving assistance features (available with the Advanced Driver Assistance Package). Our high spec tester also came with the Premium Enhanced Package, which bundles in soft-close doors, head-up display, wireless phone charger, wifi hotspot, heated rear seats, automatic trunk, adaptive full LED lights, and more. For 2020, BMW has also updated the infotainment to the new iDrive 7 system, as well as its fully digital Live Cockpit Professional instrument cluster; similar to those found in the rest of its lineup but with some UI tweaks to accommodate displaying electric-related info.
Cabin and Trunk Space:
Front seats feel appropriately wide and roomy, while generous head and leg room in the back provide plenty of space to comfortably fit even above-average height adults. 4 is a relaxing fit, though 5 is still plenty manageable providing the middle seat occupant is willing to deal with the large centre floor hump. On the other hand, trunk capacity does take a hit (that big battery has to go somewhere after all), but considering how large the 5 Series’s boot is to begin with, the resulting 14.5 cubic feet (down from 18.7) is still more than enough for your average family.
Some electrified vehicles proudly flaunt their ‘eco-ness’, whether it be through a special (and often ugly) aerodynamic design, or a bunch of electric/hybrid badges all over the car. Not the 530e. In fact, beyond the extra charging port door on the front fender and the subtle ‘530e’ badge out back, it’s identical the regular 5 Series, which isn’t a bad thing at all. With its sharp features and well sculpted proportions that highlight the car’s sheer length, it certainly has quite a bit of road presence, and looks as expensive and elegant as it drives.
From our perspective, it’s puzzling why the 530e doesn’t sell as well as other 5 Series variants. This hybridized 5 Series takes all the great things from the regular version and improves upon them with its superior refinement, gas-free city driving, more responsive powertrain, and more. Beyond the slightly hampered cargo capacity and the extra weight (which goes largely unnoticed in day-to-day driving), there are few reasons to not get this over the 530i if you’re willing to spend the extra $4500, especially if you live in the city and are able to charge it on a daily basis to get some return on your investment.