BMW 530e — One for the drivers left amongst us
The BMW 5-Series is a hugely-important car in the Bavarian automaker’s model architecture. The 3, 5, and 7 have been around longer than any other model in their line-up. They’re not bought by the niche-seekers, but instead by those who want the tried-and-tested reassurance from a model that has been generations in the making.
Visually, the latest 5-Series follows a very clear evolutionary pattern from the previous model. The grilles are about three times as large as the car from the 80s, but compared to the latest 7-Series and X7, the BMW 5-Series’grille looks tame. They’re functional too, with gill-like inserts that open and close to either improve aerodynamic efficiency or aid engine cooling.
Mechanically speaking, the latest BMW 5-Series is around 100kg lighter than the previous car. It uses the same modular chassis of the latest BMW 7-Series, just without the prohibitively-expensive carbon fibre bits. Instead, they’ve used a combination of aluminium and magnesium extensively in order to keep the pounds under control. The new 5-Series does, however, borrow the suspension, seats, and brakes amongst other weight-saving parts that were used in its 7-Series big brother.
Behind the wheel, you’re presented with no shortage of power. The BMW 530e features a plug-in hybrid drive train. The electric motor is coupled to a twin-power turbo four-cylinder which, combined, gives you 276bhp and 420Nm of torque. You’ll find this more than sufficient to make progress lively, but the BMW 530e can also do the whole grown-up motoring thing too — just don’t expect an air-cushioned ride thanks to large alloys and stiffened suspension (our test unit had the optional M Sport pack). It’s not uncomfortable, but it’s what the manufacture would like you think is a more involved drivers experience.
If, however, stability and controlled road-holding is a consideration, you’ll value the extra dollop of handling prowess the M Sport kit provides. The staggered wheels lend to a sharper, more point-able front end, while the stiffer suspension keeps roll at bay. In fact, despite my best efforts to unsettle the car corner after corner, we failed to get so much as a hint of understeer. That said, there is an extra heft to the experience owing to the bank of batteries that have been slotted in the rear, out of sight, but at the expense of boot space. You’ll notice the boot floor is significantly higher than in a non-hybrid variant and is a trade-off you’ll have to learn to accept if you want the extra plug-in juice.
Inside, the infotainment screen sits atop the dashboard, rather than being integrated into it. It’s not as sleek or chic as having it moulded into the dashboard layout, but it does free up space on the centre console. It’s nice to see that the cabin is once again angled firmly towards the driver in a sort of cockpit-style, like BMW’s of old — at least much more so than that of the previous F10, but perhaps not as much as the E28 from the 70s.
There’s nothing retro about the technology in here though. There’s gesturecontrol that allows you to waggle your finger in the air to change the volume, for instance. It’s a function that’s ultimately a bit pointless — that is unless you want to look like some sort of cut-price kids-party magician waving your hand in the air. You’re better off keeping your hands on the steering wheel and operating the provided buttons to turn up the volume.
Those who fear parking can sort-of rest at ease in modern machinery thanks to the inclusion of parking cameras and sensors galore — that’s to be expected. But the BMW 530e takes things a step further. They call it “Surround View”; cameras placed around the car map out the surroundings, and after projecting a 3D-rendered sample of the car, you’re able to virtually watch yourself park from a third-person perspective — not just in a birds-eye view, but at every conceivable angle around the car.
Dynamically, the 5-Series deserves a lot of praise, for it does actually focus attention back towards the driver, rather than handing it over to a computer/and or alienating you from the experience. There’s no sweet-revving six-cylinder engine to keep the true enthusiasts happy, but they’ve done a good job at masking the inherent difficulties that come about when installing a bank of PHEV batteries and the cabling and associated processing units required to keep them ticking. The only complaint that can be levelled from behind the wheel is a slight tendency to tram-line at lower speeds, likely due to the massive wheels. But the steering is quick enough to make cutting through a mountain pass a pleasurable experience, with road feedback relatively good for a modern car that’s also trying to isolate you from the world.
Overall though, the BMW does a sterling job of catering to those who still enjoy driving, while being surrounded by a smorgasbord of creature comforts as well. There’s stiff competition in the market, but the 530e provides a pilot-oriented environment for anyone who still appreciates the finer aspects of driving. With Mercedes, Audi and Volvo also offering attractive competition, it’s this focus on providing the ultimate drivers’ machine that BMW still seems to have aced – it might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly a defining point in an increasingly competitive market.
Engine: 2.0 litre 4-cyl turbocharged petrol with 85kW single electric motor, 252bhp, 420NM
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Performance: 0-100kmph 6.2secs, 230kmph
*Prices are accurate for model and trim specified at the time of publishing
Sam D. Smith in an automotive editor and journalist with a life-long passion for all things car. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers (UK) and nominee for the Sir William Lyons Award for automotive journalism.