SPARE a thought for those who aren’t and probably never will be a fan of diesel. It’s hardly the most delightful of substances to handle, and service stations without disposable gloves on hand ought to be closed down. Trouble is diesel engines have seen huge advances over the last decade and with manufacturers pouring millions into developing cleaner, faster and more refined powerplants, they make an awful lot of sense.
BMW has been at the forefront of this trend too; only a few weeks ago it announced a fiendishly-clever triple-turbo high performance diesel. But it has an arguably unequalled reputation for superb petrol engines, and now it’s trying to combine this knowhow with some electric boost.
The Active Hybrid 5 is the firm’s first hybrid offering to reach the UK and just looking at the vital statistics it has an awful lot to offer. Behind the familiar 5-Series nose there is the 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged 302bhp petrol unit already used elsewhere in the BMW range and in particular the 535i – the car that BMW says the Hybrid 5 is an alternative to.
In the Hybrid 5 however there is 52bhp electric motor added to the mix and with both motors pulling at the same time there is 335bhp and 332lb.ft of torque, all channelled to the rear wheels only through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. No question then that it is still a sporting saloon; 0-62mph takes only 5.9 seconds and it is fast enough that the 155mph electronic limiter is required. Yet the eco numbers are remarkably good too. The combined fuel consumption of 44.1mpg is just a whisker behind a manual 535 diesel, as is the 149g/km CO2 emissions figure.
Yet from the driver’s seat there’s almost nothing to tell you you’re in a petrol hybrid. The comprehensive standard specification includes the highest grade satellite navigation, which in a clever combination of technology adjusts the drivetrain to suit forthcoming road conditions for maximum efficiency. There’s four-zone climate and the high-gloss wood trim too. So far, so typically excellent 5-Series.
But when you fire it up there’s complete silence, and if you tread gently on the accelerator it pulls away entirely under battery power. From starting the Hybrid 5 can manage 2.4 miles before it has to switch onto petrol power, but with the charge flowing in and out you find yourself switching into pure electric mode far more often than the mileage would suggest. It also runs up to 37mph in electric mode, but better still is the way in which the engine shuts off completely on the overrun.
As with many recent BMWs the Hybrid 5 has driver-selectable modes including Sport, Comfort and most crucially EcoPro. In this mode everything is geared towards efficiency, including the air conditioning, throttle response and gearshift selection. It also increases the speed at which the engine falls dormant; even at 100mph, back off the accelerator completely and the Hybrid 5 will shut down and feed energy back into the battery.
It achieves the key goal for a hybrid in that it adds something to the driving experience but without asking anything more from the driver. Better yet, it doesn’t harm its credentials as a sporting saloon. Even in EcoPro or Comfort modes the Hybrid 5 gets along smartly if you use a little bit of acceleration, and the eight-speed automatic breezes between shifts.
Turn up the wick at little and it still feels just as sharp. Hit the button again and in Sport or Sport+ mode the Hybrid 5 feels just as sharp and responsive as any other 5-Series. BMWs philosophy of good weight distribution has been maintained despite the addition of weighty batteries in the boot area. Admittedly the test car was on regular rubber rather than the standard low rolling resistance tyres, but the inherent ‘rightness’ of the basic set up is impossible to miss.
And when you decide to forgo the economy driving the Hybrid 5 has a mighty turn of speed. You can shift manually with the wheel-mounted paddles, and forget the car you’re driving is remotely green. And this being a petrol it revs with genuine keenness, responds sharply to throttle inputs and with all that power and torque, blast along with real vigour.
The real gem though is that the Hybrid 5 makes a financial case for itself too. At a shade over £46,000 it gets pretty close to its in-house rivals, but what the Hybrid 5 does that nothing else can is match petrol power with performance, economy and low emissions all together. That you can get all this in a car which is excellent to start with is the best news of all.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
BMW Active Hybrid 5, £46,860
Engine: 3.0-litre petrol with electric motor producing 335bhp and 332lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Eight speed automatic driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 155mph, 0-62mph 5.9 seconds
Economy: 44.1mpg combined
Emissions: 149g/km of CO2
- Power4 (higher than average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups2 (higher than average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: