BMW’s classiest tuners work their thoughtful magic on the ultimate diesel X3
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£45,755 when new
BMW 530e iPerformance? What sort on ungainly name is that? Indeed. Clearly BMW is allergic to just writing ‘PHEV’ on the bootlid of its plug-in hybrids, so it christens it like a knock-off MP3 player instead. Fortunately, the new 530e doesn’t bear the clunky iPerformance legend anywhere outwardly visible. What sort of plug-in hybrid have we got here. Fast one? No. Not in the mighty, all-the-power flagship vein of the new Porsche Panamera Turbo S e-hybrid. The 530e is on a par with your regular 5 Series models, and at £43,985, its price tag is slap bang in the middle of the four-cylinder 530i petrol, and the straight-six 540i. Convenient. For that, you get a 181bhp turbocharged four-pot engine, and a 94bhp electric motor that’s squeezed directly into the eight-speed automatic gearbox. When both power sources are working at their most effective rate, you’ve got 276bhp to call upon, and a very meaty 310lb ft. However, straight-line urgency is more junior hot hatch than four-door hypercar, with the 530e arriving at 62mph a sensible 6.2 seconds after setting off, and topping out at an adequate but not eyebrow-raising 146mph. In other words, it’s quick enough to hold its own as a forty grand exec express, but this isn’t a test bed for a hybrid M5. Hit me with the charging times. Plug it into a wall socket and you’ve got a full battery four and a half hours later. Not ideal. Shell out for BMW’s i Wallbox and that becomes a 2hr 45min delay. Wireless charging (via a, um, wired charging pad you park on top of) comes later this year. So is it very economical? Let’s do the honorable thing and quote the official test results: 141mpg and 46g/km. That’s inflated by a 29-mile electric-only ‘Max eDrive’ mode, which is key to making the 530e’s case for urban commuters. Zero emissions in the city is going to be the trend in the next decade. BMW cunningly arranged for us to test drive the 530e in Austria, where there are many mountains, and started us off in a 530e parked quite high up one of said Alps with a full charge. This meant lots of coasting down hills leaning on the regen to help the boot-mounted battery (cargo capacity freefalls from 530 to 410-litres, and you can’t have a Touring bodystyle), and as a result, after 10 miles, the car was reporting 0.1l/100km of fuel used, equivalent to, ahem, 2,824mpg. Because the engine had only sprung into life for about a second. Nice try, BMW, but in the interests of the rest of us who don’t get an Alpine ski-jump run-up to our daily grind, we reset the trip back on the flat and went about some more usual business. A-roads, urban mooching, some motorway cruising and even a brief stint on the autobahn holding a steady 105mph. The result was a more realistic – and nevertheless impressive – 62.7mpg, with the car picking and choosing when to deploy electric-only power and when to burn fossil fuels via the clever Auto eDrive mode we’re familiar with from the BMW i8. That’s…actually impressive. As ever with these plug-in cars, the sense it makes lives and dies by the parameters under how you’re going to use it. If you can charge at work, or overnight at home on cheap-rate electricity, and your commute confirms to BMW’s averages of less than 30km a day, with over half in urban climbs, you’re golden. If you’re a captain of industry dashing between northern powerhouses, a 520d – or 530d if you’re in a hurry – is still going to prove far more suitable. A rangey diesel has a flexibility the whole car industry is going to have a headache surpassing. If you fit the conditions, the 530e is commendably easy to pull big economy from. Eco Pro mode intuitively tells you when to lift’n’coast like your own private F1 engineer, and it’ll run on the e-motor alone at up to 82mph, if you’re patient enough with your throttle dabs. It rewards anticipation, which isn’t as tiring as it might sound. This is a largely relaxing car to do distance in, especially as the electric-only running is near-silent (no whining milk float backing vocal here), and the handover between engine and battery is polite unless you mash the kick-down button, which sends the gearbox into a hesitant stammer. Some very clever calibration has been lavished on this powertrain, and it shows. Only sometimes, the 530e’s a victim of its own success. The petrol engine’s buzz is ever-present when you’re cruising, and after the serenity of e-power, it’s more jarring than a regular car, if you catch my drift. Did someone say drift? Really not that kind of car. Especially not on winter tyres, as tested. The 530e has, in fairness, survived hybridisation with handling intact more successfully than say, a VW Golf GTE. It weighs 1770kg – 155kg more than a 530i – but the increase has been cleverly cloaked in the 530e, so it corners with more prowess than the canal boat you might expect. Get brutal with the overly light steering and it’ll heave-ho like a well-oiled dad on a wedding dancefloor, but like I say, nothing about the 530e’s power delivery, or its largely exceptional refinement, or sumptuous cabin encourages any kind of heavy-handed pretensions. The play value comes in hypermiling, weird as that may seem. Anything else? Pity there’s no estate (BMW points you towards the X5 40e if you want payload with your parsimony), but right now, there aren’t too many rivals in Europe for this thing. Audi won’t have a new A6 e-tron here for at least a year, and Volvo is taking its sweet time about bringing the T8 Twin Engine-powered S90 hybrid to the UK. Mercedes will sell you a hybrid E350e: the petrol-electric E-class, which has very similar vital stats to the BMW. So which one you fancy will likely come down to badge preference. Both have the same advantages, and the same old predictable plug-in pitfalls.
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