Recently I drove the latest addition to the BMW iPerformance range, the BMW 530e. Aside from acknowledging its significant merits there are some drawbacks. Our test drive navigated a small sample of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs from the charging stations at Westfield Bondi Junction, to the serene but 30km/h mandated speed limits of Centennial Park.
So how does plug-in, iconic luxury barge really function in the real world where people travel way beyond the onboard battery’s capacity. In my case I probably took it to the extreme, traveling 262.8km each day to find out.
The Great Charge Challenge.
The new BMW 530e falls into the PHEV category, it’s a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. In short you power the onboard battery via a power point to score around 30km of electric-only range. Previously I said up to 50km/h but you’d literally have to drive downhill all day to continuously use the regenerative brakes and engine to top the battery up on the run.
Rather than use the optional BMW 3.7kW iWallbox that can be installed at home or work, the 530e does allow for an 80 percent charge in under four hours via a traditional mains power outlet. The iWallbox halves that time, but costs a couple of extra grand.
So, each morning I’d silently slip out of my driveway after a solid seven to eight-hour overnight charge. You get three modes, Auto e-drive, Max e-drive and Battery Control.
Max e-drive purely uses electric power and limits power and throttle response dramatically to score as many electric kilometres as possible. Of course, should you need to overtake rapidly it will seamlessly bring the petrol engine to life. I limped on this mode as far as I possibly could, never scoring more than 32km of range. That was on flat back roads in the rural area I live and a little way along a motorway at 100km/h. After that it was back to the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine to keep me going.
Given I was unable charge at work it then became a constant game. When the battery went flat I’d flick over to Battery Control mode. Over the next 30 odd kilometres to work the engine and braking would feed enough electricity back into the battery to score between 10 – 15 extra kilometres of electric range for the trip back home. So, this process went on for five days, suck all the juice out of the battery after an overnight charge and then try and generate as much power as possible for the trip home. The result, I averaged 7.2l/100km, not what BMW had designed this car for but the battery itself is covered by a six-year 100,000km warranty.
The Green Claims.
The claimed combined fuel economy figure is a mere 2.3L/100km, staggering considering its 1770kg weight compared to the 530i’s 1540kg, the battery alone adds 120kg. World standards are applied by BMW when it comes to figuring out the figures, it says most don’t travel more that 50km a day. So statically a figure of 4.5L/100km or for longer trips 7.5L/100km is indeed realistic.
Of course, my daily commute was over the top, and if I happened to work at one of the Westfield shopping centres that provide charging stations my economy would have been much better. Soon there will be induction charging pads, essentially larger versions of those used to charged compatible mobile phones. So, you could simply lay one out in your garage, park on top of it and not have to worry about power cables at all.
But What About the Drive.
The alternate drivetrain includes a 2.0L four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that puts out 135kW/290Nm but is joined by an electric motor that adds 83kw/250Nm. All up, the 530e becomes a 185kw/420Nm proposition and a very quick one. The 0-100km dash is all over in a more than adequate 6.2-seconds, the engine note isn’t exactly pleasant but remains far from offensive as well.
As with any BMW it drives with that inherent precision. For what is a large car it corners with such a level of arrogance it leaves you wondering why other makers such as Audi need to incorporate highly supplicated Quattro systems to try and near the fun on offer. The dynamic damper control, particularly when in Comfort mode, absolutely dispenses poor ride surfaces with distain. The 530e is one hell of a hushed experience, even when the engine springs to life.
My week-long test really showcased where BMW are at with technology. This is one smart vehicle. It reads speed signs, even those LED motorway signs with huge accuracy. Its Driving Assistance Plus system allows for up to 40 seconds of hands free driving, well at least on clearly marked roads that are relatively straight. The Head Up Display is the most in-depth I’ve seen.
Plus, on the model I drove it even included BMW Night Vision with person and animal recognition. I’ve seen this system once before, on a Rolls Royce Wraith. It basically provides a forward-facing night view stream beamed to the centre screen. On the pitch, black road that leads to my area it detects pedestrians via heat seeking tech and will firstly highlight them on the screen and alert you further should you venture too close. It also works with rabbits and horses, true story.
The EFTM Rubber Stamp of Approval.
So, while in my case the whole PHEV concept is a little redundant, if I had the choice of choosing between the 530i or 530e I’d choose the later every time. Why? Because they are both the same price at $108,900 before on roads. Although the black beast featured in our pictures did skyrocket to $120,050. That’s what $3,700 for night vision, $2,900 for a sunroof, $500 for headlight washes, $2000 for metallic paint and $550 for mechanical roller sunblinds for the rear and side windows does.
The 530e is the closest thing to driving the mega luxury 7 series while featuring basically all the same tech. It’s brilliant, it’s desirable and still manages to be a masterclass from behind the wheel for the keen driver. I award the BMW 530e the EFTM Distinction Rubber Stamp of Approval.