BMW ActiveHybrid 5 Driven

BMW's ActiveHybrid 5 saloon is an interesting curtain-raiser to the company's eagerly awaited i8 and i3 range-extenders, and contributes to a fast-growing range of 'performance hybrids'.

The same, but different

Aesthetically, the F10 5-Series is already a well-resolved design; the dominant features being the hard boneline running from the front wheel-arch into the rear lights and the 'V'-shaped feature lines in the bonnet. Additional features include “Activehybrid 5” lettering on the boot lid and C-pillars (an acquired taste), and a silver paint job for the kidney grille at the front. Perhaps the most obvious pointer that this is not a normal 5-Series are the aerodynamically efficient two-tone wheels, with built-in slats.

Inside, the Activehybrid 5 is unusually modest, the only model designations being on the cover of the front cup-holder and within the wonderfully clear instrument binnacle itself. Aside from these deviations, the Activehybrid's interior is exactly as you would expect – ergonomically impeccable and a genuinely reassuring place to be.

BMW have tried to give the ActiveHybrid a sporty yet composed attitude, and despite forgoing the usual M-Sport additions, the ActiveHybrid looks sharp.

A performance hybrid

How much difference can a 40kW electric motor make to car powered by a turbocharged six-cylinder engine?

Quite a lot, depending on how you look at it. From a performance perspective, the Activehybrid utilises power from both the petrol engine and electric motor when in Sport mode, developing a combined output of 340bhp – enough for the car to hit 60mph from rest in just 5.9 seconds. The only compromise to performance is the weight of the electric running gear, but that aside, the Activehybrid 5 is surprsingly good driver's car, holding on to each gear up to 7000rpm in Sport mode and exhibiting poise and excellent body control even under erratic steering inputs.

The flip side is that at speeds of up to 37mph the Activehybrid is capable of traveling nearly two-and-a-half miles under the power of its lithium-ion battery and electric motor alone. On paper, this may seem akin to a gimmick, but pulling away silently for the first time in a 1850kg saloon is a surprisingly edifying experience, particularly in the city where the Activehybrid comes into its own.

In ECO PRO mode the 5 also makes use of stop/start technology and a regenerative braking system – both work well, especially as the regenerative brakes are mercifully unobtrusive. Like many modern cars, the Activehybrid can also 'decouple' the engine from the gearbox whilst coasting, which allows revs to drop to zero and reduce fuel wasted. It's during coasting and braking that the battery is charged.

On paper, at least, Activehybrid offers a not insignificant improvement in fuel economy over the car it's based on, the 535i, returning around 44mpg on the European combined test cycle. Day-to-day, figures of around 30mpg are more achievable (we managed 37.4 on a long motorway journey), which compares poorly to the diesel 535d – arguably the Activehybrid's greatest caveat. Where the hybrid 5 excels though is in the emissions stakes, emitting just 149g/km CO2.

BMW's Activehybrid models - the 7, 5, and most recently the 3 - are but an early indication of things to comes from Munich. BMW have the resources and the desire to lead the way in the production of mass-market hybrid and electric vehicles, something evidenced in their commitment to the i8 and i3, which will shortly go on sale. The Activehybrid 5, however, will almost certainly remain something of a curiosity in the UK at least, but the depth of engineering and the car's retention of driving characteristics are more than encouraging.

Engine: 2979cc 6-cyl petrol/40kW electric motor Power: 340bhp combined 0-62mph: 5.9 seconds Top speed: 155mph CO2 emissions: 149g/km Economy: 44.1mpg Price: £46,860 


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