► Our two-for-one 5-series hybrid road test
► One’s a 4cyl, the other’s a straight-six
► Both are vying to be your next company car
BMW’s expanded its plug-in hybrid offerings in with perennial 5-series saloon and Touring estate. The original still remains – the 530e (though now without the iPerformance badge of the previous iteration) – but a new, punchier and more BMW-er 545e has arrived on the scene.
Either could be your next company car, so let’s get straight to, er… business.
They’re both equally handsome…
To our eyes, at least. Remarkably stately and reserved given some of BMW’s recent concept cars, and even production cars. But that’s what BMW’s design team wants – leave the wild designs to the even-numbered models, but keep some design decorum for the perennial sellers. And, since the 5-series’ facelift in 2020, that look has evolved into a properly handsome machine.
The interior barely changed from the pre-facelift, however; only the new digital dials and larger central infotainment screen being the significant changes. Still, it’s a pleasurable place to spend your time; you’re able to sit low in tremendously supportive seats, gripping that fat-rimmed steering wheel and in an interior that feels far better built and less plasticky than an E-Class.
Specific to the plug-in hybrid 5-series options are blue eDrive dials with a power meter rather than a rev counter, and the drive modes have changed from Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport in non-PHEV 5ers to Electric, Hybrid and Sport here. As for charging, you plug it in via a port on the front left wheelarch
Tech like gesture control for the infotainment can be had (but we’d avoid it, if you or your front passenger like to gesticulate while you’re talking), and BMW offers all sorts of apps via the iDrive system to help make your life easier. Given these are PHEVs, BMW’s eDrive Zone app can be installed, which switches the car into Electric mode when it enters a geo-fenced, inner city area. As well as that, BMW has recently announced a points system via your My BMW account; the more miles you drive on e-power, the more points you’re given. Those points can be ‘spent’ on lowering the cost of charging your PHEV.
What does the 530e offer me?
A 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor delivering a total of 288bhp and 310lb ft of shove. An eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard, and xDrive is available as an option. Regardless of whether it’s rear- or all-wheel drive, the 530e is capable of a 5.9sec sprint to 62mph.
Here, BMW claims up to 37 miles of e-range (we managed a total of 28 miles on a full charge), emissions as low as 31g/km under WLTP rules and the usual bafflingly high fuel economy figure of a PHEV: 201.8mpg (or 176mpg if you pic an M Sport). Yours for a smidge under £50k in the UK in boggo SE saloon spec, or around £44k for the sharper M Sport model.
In terms of performance, the 530e is slick, smart and smooth. As a whole, there’s plenty of performance available from the engine and e-motor, and that instant throttle response from the electrified part of the powertrain makes the whole car feel athletic and light on its toes. When the engine does reveal itself, it’s refined with a raspy growl as the revs build.
And what about the 545e?
BMW’s swapped out the four-cylinder for a 3.0-litre straight six but, beyond that, the rest of the powertrain configuration is the same. There’s a total of 389bhp and 443lb ft available, sent to all four wheels as standard.
The 0-62mph time drops to 4.6 seconds, as does the claimed maximum e-range: 34 miles (our experience saw a total of 24 miles on a full charge). Fuel economy figures are rated at up to 166.2mpg for this one. Prices start at around £58k for this one.
While the 530e feels brisk and zippy, the addition of a six-cylinder engine transforms the 5-series PHEV’s attitude into a properly muscular and powerful machine. Again, you benefit from that instant throttle response at low speeds, but let the engine wake up properly and the total torque available allows you to progress at a real pace. And, while that four-cylinder growl gives the 5er a racy vibe, the muted howl of a sweet six is enough to give any car fan a warm fuzzy feeling.
How do they drive?
In terms of handling, there’s little to differentiate between them both. The ones we drove were both xDrive and had the same 20-inch alloys specified but, even so, the ride is mostly impressive; low-speed potholes send you the biggest jolts but, at a cruise, things get properly cushy. As you should expect, the 5-series is still a remarkable motorway cruiser even with plug-in hybrid power.
The steering’s direct and weighted beautifully and, despite being a heavy car, body control is remarkably well resolved. You can’t quite hide all of the 5er’s bulk, though – this is a large thing to hurl around.
BMW 5-series hybrid: verdict
Regardless of which of these get your money, you can be satisfied in the knowledge that you’ve got yourself a handsome, well-appointed and sharp to drive saloon with usable e-range on short commutes.
We can’t deny the allure of the 545e; it’s one of the smoothest and most satisfying plug-in hybrid cars on the market, giving you the best of both worlds – e-power when it’s needed, and a creamy but potent straight-six when you want some oomph. But promising both performance and efficiency usually means you end up getting neither wholeheartedly.
Buying a plug-in hybrid executive saloon is primarily a decision of the head, not the heart. The 530e’s lower entry price, promises of better fuel economy while still maintaining all of those standard-fare 5-series qualities makes it hugely appealing, so it makes the most sense.
Specs are for a 530e xDrive M Sport