Emerging from the underground scene in the 1980s and gaining widespread popularity a decade later, the pioneers of Alternative rock were on a mission. A mission to set themselves apart from the legions of “mainstream” rock musicians. A mission they succeeded so well, they became a paradox of sorts in themselves as it became commonplace for people to conform to non-conformity. And while it can get quite difficult to describe music once you get into it, there are some unique parallels when we use that same term and apply it to our automotive world.
When alternative fuels were first introduced into the World years ago, quite a number of critics scoffed at the idea, too heavy, too slow, too inefficient, too expensive, the list of complaints went on and on. But the pioneering geniuses behind alternative propulsion, like their musical counterparts, charged ahead with their non-conformist thinking. Never mind what the “mainstream” World said, they were on their own mission. A mission that while admittedly has taken longer to reach Nirvana, has yielded plenty of results, and has (deliberately this time) once again brought what was previously an “Alternative” train of thought to the “mainstream”.
One of the fruits of their labour was the creation of BMW’s iPerformance line of plug-in hybrid automobiles. Today, we were gifted the keys to one of the cars, the BMW 530e. And if you were wondering if the 530e makes a viable case for you to go “Alternative”, read on.
Aesthetically it is again the little details that set this electrically charged 5 Series apart from its regular stablemates, with splashes of blue hues, eDrive and iPerformance badges located in strategic yet discreet areas of the bodywork, complimenting the most distinct visual differentiation of this car’s design, kidney grilles with blue chrome inserts.
These little design touches might not seem like much, but it does inject a little bit of techno-babble-funkiness into the G30 Chrome Line trim’s somewhat serious and professional business-y demeanour.
Stepping over the illuminated eDrive sills when getting in, you will be once again greeted with a cabin of familiarity with BMW’s excellent driver-focused ergonomics, paired with a feeling of solid build quality using a myriad of high quality materials. All the high-tech gadgets that are on other 5s are also available here, gesture control, surround view and 3d view are all available to buyers of the 530e.
Thumb the started button though and things start to get a little bit more interesting as the digital gauge cluster fires up into life, showcasing a redesigned layout bespoke to this car with the most prominent change being the replacement of the traditional tachometer with a Power % readout. This readout displays how much of the car’s power is being used with a very interesting “eBoost” point the very end. A meter showing how much battery charge is left is also present in place of a traditional coolant temperature readout.
Toggling between the various eDrive and Driving Experience Control modes will also be reflected directly in front of you. With a non-traditional powerplant under the bonnet, redesigning the gauge cluster makes a lot of sense.
Similarly to the 330e we tested earlier, the 530e comes with 3 distinct eDrive hybrid driving modes. Auto eDrive lets the car do its thing to determine the most effective way of delivering power while allowing for a top speed of up to 90km/h on electric power alone.
Max eDrive is as stated, using electric power as much as possible with the combustion engine kicking in only when you go heavy with the throttle.
Battery Control though is somewhat different on this car. On the 330e we tested earlier, the battery hold level was fixed at a preset 50% level. On the 530e though, the percentage of battery charge you’d like to have in reserve can be customised.
It might seem like a rather small addition but it really does improve the driving experience by quite a bit as it allows you the option of a much longer commute on E-power alone.
Speaking of which, range on the 530e is also much more usable with BMW claiming a real-world range of 50km on electric power alone. Even if you discount 10% off that range, it will still be a very respectable 45km on batteries alone. That’s pretty much an entire day’s worth of travel for most of us on a regular workday. Combined range is also very impressive with BMW stating a real-world driving distance of 650km. Enough even for trips up to a neighbouring country up north.
On the road, the 530e rides very well with bumps and imperfections easily soaked up by the chassis. With the car’s batteries located under the rear seats, there is a slight weight penalty to be had but with a combined engine torque output of 420Nm (and 252 horses), this weight deficit can be overcome easily with just a good prod of the throttle pedal. Bury it deep into the “eBoost” region and you will see 100km/h come up in an easy 6.5 seconds.
The 530e does feel slightly more grown-up in the handling department though. Even though the 530e turns sharply and is easily able to carry license-busting speeds through long bends, we did feel that this car is probably more at home covering long great sweeping distances than corner carving through the back-roads. Our backseat passengers certainly agreed. Perhaps a more exciting drive can be had if you specced your car with the optional dynamic dampers.
If all the hybrid tech packed into this car hasn’t convinced you to take a look at the 530e, here’s the biggest draw, the price. At the time of writing, the BMW 530e is priced at S$278,888, this puts it just slightly above the going price of a the petrol-only similarly trimmed variant, the 530i (S$275,888). For those looking out for a “mainstream” 530i, there really is no better time to explore an “alternative” slice of motoring life.