ROAD TEST BMW 540e: The future has arrived

10th October 2017 4:53 PM
BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent. BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent. Mark Bean

ENERGY debates are raging around the country.

Coal-fired power stations are shutting down, consumers are facing skyrocketing bills and many regions are facing widespread outages all while talk abut renewables, nuclear, gas and numerous other technologies goes in circles.

Meanwhile Tesla's Elon Musk says he's halfway to building the world's most powerful lithium ion battery to help power South Australia.

Which brings us to the electrical revolution. The big push is coming, and fast.

This week Holden revealed a small car that can travel almost 400km between charges - but isn't expected here until 2022.

BMW is among those at the forefront of the building plug-in momentum.

Where electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV failed in Australia, vehicles like the BMW i3 have become relevant with a range of more than 200km and drivers more willing to part with big coin for a prestige brand combined with a new consumer willingness to embrace the future.

Six electrified vehicles sit in the BMW showroom since the 530e arrived. Priced from $110,500, that sounds expensive. But you pay no more for this derivative than you would the pure petrol-powered equivalent.

BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent.
BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent. Mark Bean

VALUE

Typically lavish, you would be hard pressed to identify its electric credentials with the 10.25-inch colour screen, 19-inch alloys, automatic boot opener, 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system, M Sport aero pack, sat nav and leather trimmed cabin.

About the only identifier is the small eDrive button on the console and the second plug-in flap near the left front wheel.

Servicing is $1640 over five years or 80,000km, intervals are two years or 30,000km, which is not bad when comparing on the premium scale.

A six-year warranty/100,000km applies to the lithion-ion battery.

Charging the battery takes about five hours when using a standard power point. The BMW wall box can be installed for about $2000 (depending on your home set-up), which halves the time.

Next year BMW hopes to also offer a wireless charging pad when you just park the vehicle on top of a mat to refuel.

BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent.
BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent.

DRIVING

Eloquent and smooth, the 5 Series has always been something special. The electric power just makes it better and, best of all, it performs like any other car.

With battery charge it's a silent take-off and rapid power delivery.

One of the key differences once you get behind the wheel is found within the driver's instrument cluster in hybrid mode, where you get a power meter rather than a tacho.

You can dictate pure battery power which restricts the acceleration deployment to about 60% of the performance capacity. With 250Nm of torque at the ready from standstill, rarely do you need more mumbo.

The additional electrical magic beneath the skin does add weight (230kg compared to the 530i), although the 530e remains quiet, relaxed and a consummate executive cruiser.

Using a normal household plug when at work, each day the battery was good for about 40km. In real world terms our test achieved in the high 30s...although we managed the daily duties without a sip of petrol.

There are options where you can switch to the petrol engine to save battery power for slower speeds, as the electric source does its best work in traffic congestion.

BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent.
BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent.

SAFETY

Equipped with some impressive autonomous kit, the Beemer sedan can steer itself and maintain safe distances from vehicles ahead in highway situations.

All the expected kit is there, like anti-lock brakes along with stability and traction control, but you also have a parking assistant which can parallel and 90-degree park itself, cameras which piece together an all-round and top view of the car, cross traffic alert and functionality which monitors speed limit signs and advises the driver with a small icon.

HEAD SAYS

The boot space is limited, and it's small for a large sedan.

You could save some serious coin if you regularly travel short distances (like the majority of Australians).

HEART SAYS

Technology is great fun, but not everyone is ready to embrace hybrid functionality. There are limited recharging points, although some major shopping centres in southern metropolitan areas have recently had them installed, but a greater rate of change is required.

ALTERNATIVES

Lexus GS 450h ($108,080 plus on-roads)

Not a plug-in, but the Lexus hybrid system remains effective and frugal. Doesn't have the same driving dynamics, but high levels of luxury.

Mercedes-Benz E350e ($131,600 plus on-roads)

The start of many more from Benz, equally impressive technology and the philosophy is similar.

Tesla Model S 70 ($111,400 plus on-roads)

Full electric model with a range of more than 400km, plenty of performance but no petrol back-up.

BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent.
BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent.

VERDICT

Plug-in hybrid technology is the next frontier. There is no doubt Australians have been slow on the electric uptake. Electric vehicles make up less than one per cent of the new sales market.

Times are changing. While there are ranging views on the best choice of energy to power our next generation of cars, electricity is the easiest short-term solution which suits infrastructure needs.

There are less expensive alternatives on the market, including the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, but if you are looking for something in the luxury realm then the 530e is the perfect option.

You get the benefits of electric travel, the back up of a petrol engine, all while riding in pure luxury. And best of all, there is no price penalty to gain the technology.

BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent.
BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent. Mark Bean

AT GLANCE

BMW 530e iPerformance

PRICE $108,900.

ENGINE Electric motor 70kW/250Nm, while the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol 135 kW/320Nm - combined 185kW/420Nm.

TRANSMISSION Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive.

THIRST 2.3L/100km (combined average).

DIMENSIONS 4936 (L), 1868 (W), 1479 (H), 2975 (WB).

PERFORMANCE 0-100kmh in 6.2 seconds.

SPARE None, run flat tyres.

WARRANTY Three years unlimited, battery six years or 100,000km

CAPPED PRICE SERVICING $1640 five years, 80,000km.

SERVICE INTERVALS Conditioned based, two years or 30,000km.

BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent.
BMW has launched its fourth plug-in hybrid, making it available from $108,900 - the same price as the petrol-powered equivalent.