Friday, 24 August 2012 3:50 PM
For the past decade or so Toyota and Honda have reigned supreme in the world of the hybrid.
But are they set to be toppled now that the luxury market has finally embraced this technology? There are now offerings from Audi, Mercedes and BMW.
Fresh from its sponsorship of the London Olympics 2012 BMW has entrusted me with its ActiveHybrid 5; a 5-series with a 3-litre straight six turbo petrol engine coupled to a 54hp electric motor. The high-performance lithium-ion battery, which resides at the back of the reasonably sized boot, is charged whenever the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is braking, with the electric motor performing the role of a generator. At speeds up to 37mph this 5 series uses electric power, making it pollution free around towns. However, any incline resulting in acceleration sees the engine take charge. The operating status of the powertrain is displayed in the instrument cluster and on the iDrive central control unit’s screen.
It’s got to be one of the fastest hybrids around reaching 60mph from standstill in just 6.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph. This means that you can overtake in places that you would never normally consider. When the accelerator is kicked to the floor it’s like a scolded cat and there’s a raspy, racing car-type note released from the exhausts.
But surely the point of a hybrid is to be super environmentally-friendly and efficient. It is therefore irksome to find out that it only returns 44mpg and makes me question the logic behind this vehicle.
The point, according to the German car maker, is that the ActiveHybrid 5 delivers similar performance to its 535i but has 16 per cent lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Its engine stop / start doesn’t always come on when the vehicle pulls up at the lights though.
Perhaps the comments I make on my video at testdrives.biz are a little unfair. A fully charged electric motor allows the Beemer to travel about three miles. It takes around five minutes to fully charge the battery from empty. It is claimed that careful driving can actually see the BMW cover 650 miles on its 67 litre tank. Try doing that in a 535i.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the popular 5 series and in common with most other cars on Britain’s roads, and the population as a whole, the sixth generation model has grown in size.
With its purposeful nose, trademark double kidney grille and ‘bling’ 17-inch alloy wheels it’s certainly eye-catching. From inside the cockpit the distinctive, long bonnet is quite a focal point. As long as the driver has the key on them, if they lift a locked door handle, it will automatically open.
While its interior is well above average in terms of build quality it is lacklustre and predictable - plenty of black rubber, plastic and leather. But it’s nice to see strips of brushed aluminium, which break the monotony. A neat touch is the leather topped centre armrest that splits in two when opened. Rear occupants have a comfortable existence.
Its eight speed Steptronic automatic gearbox is simple to use. Similar to Peugeot there is a head up display, which projects the travelling speed onto the inside of the windscreen and only the driver can see it. One qualm is that if the driver wants to check the odometer they have to make a point of leaning forward in order to peer over the steering wheel – the digital reading should be higher up.
In a £47,000 car I expect both heated and cooled front seats but only get my first wish, which is unfortunate as leather does get sticky in hot weather.
The ActiveHybrid 5 has highlighted the variety of cruise controls now available.
Generally there are three types, let’s call them gold, silver and bronze for sake of argument. Gold sets the speed, measures the distance of the vehicle in front and reacts accordingly, braking and accelerating as appropriate thanks to clever radars – this is found in Rolls Royce, Jaguar and Volvo cars.
For silver remove the radars but the system still keeps the engine at the desired speed no matter what the incline – this can be found in the Skoda Fabia.
Basic bronze is for flat roads - show it a downward hill and it will gain speed while it will lose speed travelling up it, as in the Renault Megane. This BMW has the middle system, operated by a control at the left of the steering wheel. It can be used at speeds of 20mph and above. Given the continual change in traffic speed, for me this system results in pins and needles in my left hand. I find the speed limiter easier to handle.
Arguably the BMW adds a new dimension to the hybrid market; while it’ll travel further on its battery than a Toyota Prius or Honda Insight and charges quicker, the overall economy figures need improving. Diesels still win hands down for those seeking frugality.
BMW Active Hybrid 5