The BMW 5-series has been well established as one of the top choices among the business class.
It’s hard to talk about mid-size luxury sedans without mentioning the BMW 5-series. It’s been a staple choice in the segment for decades, known for its elegance and delivery of a dynamic driving experience. Earlier this year, BMW took the 5-series one step further by adding it to their iPerformance line of hybrid-electric offerings. The new 2018 BMW 530e xDrive aims to deliver the same qualities the 5-series has earned a reputation on, combined with the latest eDrive plug-in-hybrid technology.
On the outside, the 530e looks almost just like any other BMW 5-series, unmistakably BMW and handsome as ever. Here in Toronto it does a good job of blending into the masses of other BMWs on the road, without drawing much attention at all. In fact, the only visible indicators to the 530e’s unique powertrain are a couple of exterior logos and the tell-tale plug-in port on the front left fender. If you miss those indicators, the sounds from the 530e might be the first hint that it’s just a little bit special. The quiet whooshing of its electric drive, stopping and starting of the gas engine, and other signature hybrid noises are all very much present here, for better or for worse.
It’s a similar story inside the 530e as the interior is not significantly different than the standard 5-series, save for all the hybrid controls. The interior on the test car is finished in gorgeous Ivory leather, with Dark Coffee Brown accents, glossy wood inlays, and a splash of aluminum accenting, which looks great but actually feels a bit cheap to touch. As expected, the space is well laid out and comfortable for passengers up front and in the rear. The test car came optioned with the $2,500 Interior Comfort Package which adds more luxurious seats with massage and ventilation functions up front, unique reading lights and a leatherette dashboard. All of this looks fine, but still feels subpar compared to the dash in the Volvo S90 (reviewed here). The headliner, a decent quality black fabric, also feels a bit low-rent when compared with the suede options found in competitors at or below this price point. Also of note, the hybrid battery pack lives under the trunk floor, so you lose a fair bit of depth in the trunk compared to the standard 5-series.
That said, BMW does a good job making the driver’s seat a great place to spend time, not only are the upgraded seats phenomenal, but all of the controls feel great, and the crisp graphics on the infotainment screen and gauge cluster feed into the 530e’s high-tech vibe. The BMW iDrive controller on the centre console remains a favorite of mine, as you can control most functions from it without smudging the touchscreen or fumbling around for small buttons.
While the driver’s seat is a nice place to be, the driving experience feels like it’s been stepped down a little bit compared to what buyers might have come to expect from the 540i (reviewed here). The most notable letdown for me was the steering; in particular on-centre feel which just never felt confident regardless of how I set it. With both the hybrid battery system and the xDrive AWD system, the 530e is undoubtedly a heavy car weighing in at 5,335 pounds. Interestingly though, BMW has retained the car’s handling characteristics and the feelings that are missing while cruising in a straight line come rushing back as you start to play with the 530e through high-speed corners. The brakes are touchy, like most hybrids; but the ride is just right, firm enough to know what’s beneath you, but soft enough to be in complete comfort no matter how bad the road, and of course, the cabin is always silent.
The 530e shares its powertrain with the 330e (reviewed here), starting with a high-voltage 9.2kWh lithium ion battery pack powering the 111 horsepower electric motor. This is backed up by a 2.0L four-cylinder turbo gasoline engine good for 180 horsepower. The total combined system makes 248 horsepower, which feels like a lot more thanks to the instant torque of the electric motor and high torque output of the turbo-four as well. That means, despite its eco-friendly nature, the 530e is no slouch easily passing at highway speeds and is said to do 0-100km/h in an impressive 6.1 seconds. Power goes to all four wheels through the 8-speed Steptronic transmission with paddle shifters. The driving experience is smooth, responsive and refined, with the eDrive set to Auto mode it’s easy to forget that you’re driving a properly high tech hybrid machine.
The 530e can be setup exactly how you want it to maximize efficiency, power or electric usage. In addition to the typical Sport, Eco and Comfort drive modes, you can also set the eDrive system to “Auto eDrive”, which optimizes things for you, “Max eDrive” keeps the car going on electric mode as long as possible, or “Battery Control” lets you set the charge level of the battery to be maintained. The last comes in handy when you want to conserve or even generate battery power while on the highway to ensure that you’ll have electric reserves for an upcoming urban stretch. If you’re into playing with these functions, you can really maximize the efficiency of your entire drive.
I opted to leave well enough alone and kept the system in “Auto” for most of the test. The car was able to get about 20km on full electricity while running the heat and heated seats, before the battery got low enough for the gas engine to kick in. Once the gas engine comes on the system operates more like a regular hybrid and switches back and forth between the gas and electric drives depending on conditions and available power.
Running the daily commute in cold temperatures, heavy traffic and with limited charging opportunities my consumption for the week sat at 8.4L/100km. I am sure with more charging opportunities, and more strategic usage of the eDrive modes the 530e is capable of much better numbers, but in the grand scheme that is very low consumption for a car of this weight and refinement.
The 530e starts at digestible price of $66,900, but gets pricey fast when you start adding options. The test car came equipped with the $6,500 Enhanced Premium Package which adds a slew of goodies like soft close doors, Harman/Kardon sound, heads-up display, adaptive LED headlights and other luxuries. Interestingly, you need to opt for the package if you want a rear seat trunk pass-through, or SiriusXM radio. It also got the aforementioned $2,500 Comfort Package, $1,000 for the Driver Assistance Package to add the full gamut of electronic driving aids and adaptive cruise control, and another $750 for the Smartphone Connectivity Package adding Apple CarPlay, WiFi hotspot and wireless charging. On top of that, the test car also got $1,500 upgraded Nappa leather, $1,200 Dynamic Damper Control and $500 for the Steptronic transmission paddle shifters.
The total then comes to $82,750, which puts the car into a pretty high tax bracket. The only saving grace here is that the Ontario government is currently offering big incentives up to $8,460 on this particular car. Other provinces have similar programs, but not to the extent that Ontario does with the Quebec credit coming in around $4,000 and $2,500 in B.C.
The BMW 5-series has been well established as one of the top choices among the business class, so if you fall into that buying group, but want to be a little bit different, while saving fuel and showing your compassion for the environment, the 530e might just be your ticket. It is, by a good margin, the most livable and “normal” feeling luxury hybrid I’ve experienced to date.