- Max Speed
What is it?
The big brother to the plug-in hybrid, tax evad…sorry, tax ‘efficient’ four-cylinder BMW 530e. So it’s a load of 5 Series saloon goodness, this time with a 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder and the same 107bhp electric motor wedged between it and the eight-speed automatic gearbox. Total outputs are 389bhp and 443lb ft of torque, which adds up to a sub five second 0-62mph time and the usual BMW 155mph limiter. But amongst all the go-faster good news is - depending on specification, because electric capable cars are sensitive to that sort of thing - 39-50g/km of CO2 and 128 -166mpg. Which you won’t get in real life, because physics doesn’t work that way. Still, there’s a possible 33 miles of pure electric running on offer, but… see previous sentence.
You sound like you’ve already made your mind up on this one?
Not really - it’s just that the standard WLTP (worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure) figures seem to be largely misrepresentative of real-world expectation, so you have to take all that with a large pinch of salt. Or an ability to quickly calculate at least 30 per cent off. Also, models and specs can make big differences (wheel diameter and option weight, mostly), so getting the car that actually gets closest to those figures can be incredibly specific, and that matters if you’re working out the company benefit-in-kind brackets. Still, plug this Five in regularly and you’ll see better mpg than a straight petrol and more miles on cheap electricity will be advantageous.
So what’s inside then?
Well, there’s a small set of batteries under the back seat and boot floor that power that 107bhp electric motor plonked between the petrol six and the eight-speed auto. The boot is smaller than a regular 5 (410-litres plays 530 standard), but not unacceptable, and the pack offers a possible 33 miles of pure EV running in perfect conditions. The good news is that electric assistance and a more powerful ICE offer all sorts of advantages not related to company car lists - the 545e has proper instant shove compared to the 530e; see the performance figures for details.
So how does it work?
Well, you plug the 545e in via the charge port on the front wing and then you can either punt around on pure electric by selecting ‘Electric’ mode, rely on the car to make the best decisions by using Hybrid mode, or sequester the electric motor to provide extra speed by selecting Sport (both engine and motor together, all the time). Electric power generally offers low-20s range in normal driving (up to 87mph), and hangs around longer in Hybrid mode, making the most of the combined motivation. Interestingly, the car can be set up to operate as a geo-fenced EV, saving charge and then immediately dropping into electric-only mode when it gets into a low-emission urban zone. Clever.
Is it any good?
If you punt the throttle, the smooth six fires up neatly and calmly fires you towards the horizon in a long-legged surge. Not violent as such, but you certainly notice. The trouble is, the car does feel a bit heavy, and the steering is a little bit uninterested. There’s certainly speed, but it’s not very involving. Traction is pretty much absolute - thank the excellent xDrive all-wheel drive system for that - and even on slippery UK winter roads, the car was as surefooted as you need.
Quiet too - and not just in electric only. But when you start to play with the various modes, the fast PHEV Five does a bit of a superman. Be aggressive and the car comes with you, dialling up the response, the traction and the amusement. It shows some of the talent that makes us love the 5 Series, and goes remarkably hard - the only issue being that you delete all the advantages of efficiency, and the relatively small 46-litre petrol tank and easily-absorbed battery capacity mean that range suddenly looks a bit small at sub-400 miles. Still, it’s actually a really fluid car on the right bit of road, decent weight distribution and good throttle response paying dividends. You never quite escape the feeling that there’s a bit of weight and momentum to deal with, but it’s a pleasant surprise.
So … what is it? Fast or PHEV?
The ability is certainly there if you want to go quickly. But where the 545e really excels is at being a fast cruiser. The interior is lovely, well-made and generously equipped, with the kind of comfort only really found on cars worth twice the price. The technology works best when it can anticipate the kind of driving you’re doing (using the sat-nav helps it plot), and it’s all pretty much seamless - big high-five to the excellent eight-speed gearbox here, too. And as we previously mentioned, it’s serene and sorted in the cabin, with a well-judged set of damping controls - even ‘Sport’ mode on the dampers isn’t out of kilter with UK roads, and that’s actually quite a revelation.
Can you tell the difference from the outside?
Bluntly, no. There’s a ‘545e’ badge on the back and the front-wing charge flap, but otherwise this is as-per the regular 5 Series; a sporting, handsome saloon car that flies neatly under the radar.
Would you have one?
Well, if you’re serious about PHEV, you can’t help but notice that some of the more forward-thinking ones are looking at 50-60 miles of electric capability. Which puts the 545e into harsh perspective. You’ll also need the more basic SE spec (18-inch wheels, which don’t look as nice) to get the lower end of the CO2 ratings and if you start to option M-Sport goodness (20-inch rims and run-flats) then you’re looking at trashing the BIK score (or at least making it a bit worse).
It’s a good car, but sits somewhere in a no-man’s land. Are you looking for efficiency, or speed? If you want to get the fastest car for the available tax breaks, it’s a fine thing, but use any of that power (or fail to plug it in) and it makes less sense. At what point would the speed outweigh the 530e’s greater efficiency? The interior is lovely and feels expensive, space is good for passengers, and it’s a handsome, if conventional, three-box saloon. It just seems to be caught between two stools.
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