The plug-in hybrid is not short of naysayers, but the technology’s suitability for today’s climate is pretty clear. A PHEV offers its driver a quiet-running EV when it suits it and gasoline power for when it is preferable, and in a country where the public charging network is not yet bright, that duality has many advantages. Plus, let’s be honest: we’d probably all like to keep a gasoline engine whenever possible, which means what you really want is a PHEV built by a manufacturer renowned for both their combustion engines and EV technology.
Here we are, then, with a BMW 545e, a 5 Series G30 powered by a 286 hp 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine and a 108 hp 11.6 kWh electric motor. With the best part of 400 hp, xDrive all-wheel drive, and an eight-speed automatic transmission, here’s an unpretentious 5 Series with the performance of an E39 M5. Electric range is priced between 29 and 33 miles (depending on options) and overall fuel economy, officially, is 122mpg. If any plug-in hybrid can convince the naysayers, the 545e should be.
Hold that thought. Driving the 5 Series at a BMW range event means that others had a chance to do it first, and at the time of our trip, the battery was dead. Steel. Blood first for the naysayers, as this is their favorite trope, charging batteries and motors without actually using them. Hardly ideal for the eco-friendly credentials of the 5 Series, though useful for evaluating the 545 against its stable, conventional-powered peers like a gasoline car.
Given that Sport mode recharges the battery through the rain and aims to deliver the most dynamic ride, that seems like the logical place to start. Overall, the 545e feels like a 5 series, which is to say pretty hard to find – it’s capable, refined, safe, and luxurious. Only when driving a little stronger, in those situations where BMW saloons tend to distance themselves from their rivals, does the 545e begin to fall short. Some of that will depend on the specs of the test car, as the M Sport Pro package with larger wheels requires the installation of run-flat tires. And, as we already know, they screw things up – there’s a reason RFTs are never found in M cars. Here it means a less stable ride than we expect from this 5 Series (it’s worth looking for the more damper setting. soft buried in Sport Individual), as well as a relative lack of precision – this just doesn’t twist or grip like a 5 series should. As good as the car with bigger wheels looks, the dynamic penalty applied to skidding means it doesn’t seem like it’s worth it.
Other problems seem unique to the model. Throttle response is curious, very sharp at the top of the pedal and then hesitant lower down as the car seems unsafe to use the electric motor or not. Consequently, the roughness and cohesion of a BMW powertrain are not quite right. And while the manufacturer has done a good job of masking the added mass of the PHEV architecture, there is no escaping the fact that Autocar weighed this same series 5 at 2,046kg. Equitable weight distribution is great, but even more wheel weight to balance isn’t, and the 545e just doesn’t drive with the balance of something like a 540i. It also doesn’t feel as fast as you might expect from a £ 60k Series 5, as nice as having a large inline six is for the company. With so many hybrids using fairly common combustion engines, the allure of a 3.0-liter BMW engine is not to be taken lightly, especially with only the four-cylinder 30e models available at the moment. But you would expect more verve.
Of course, when you don’t want or need an inline six-cylinder engine, an electric 5-Series is predictably nice. Electric mode sits alongside Hybrid, Sports, and Adaptive, and keeps the car on battery power until the juice runs out or the driver calls on full throttle. Obviously, performance is lacking in a dedicated EV, though it will easily suffice for urban errands and can hit 87 mph. And don’t underestimate the appeal of such a refined car that runs on electrons – it’s extremely relaxing. Therefore, it is a pity that it cannot be used more frequently; EV range is rated at 30 miles on WLTP, so expect a little less in reality, especially in bad weather conditions. With the car already over two tons, it’s hard not to think that the benefits in the range of extra battery capacity could have been worth a few extra pounds.
It is significant that none of these technical shortcomings drastically limit the model’s likeability as a 5-series. The 545e can play the silent long-distance cruiser, the electric urban runaround, the 400hp BMW (once loaded) and the duty-free saloon of the company car. It packs many things under one roof and does many things with poise. The known problem is that because of its added weight, cost, and complexity, the electrification process is generally better at rewarding problems on paper than in the real world. Unless another fuel crisis strikes, no conventionally-powered 5 Series owner will be overwhelmed by jealousy. Which is understandable: BMW has been making very good executive gasoline and diesel saloons for decades, and has turned it into an art; Most of the time, the 545e feels more like a very convenient tax solution than a concerted effort to move the Series 5 forward. The M550i it has ten times the charm for much, much less than ten times the cost.
You probably guessed it. To be fair (and PHEVs in general) the usual conditions apply: presented with the correct use case, the 545e will almost certainly prove cheaper to run than the alternatives, assuming you can charge it at home and stay within its range. limited. And while anyone wanting the dynamic pleasure of an inline six-cylinder 5 Series will be best served by a battery-free one, business users will likely rejoice at BMW’s decision to merge the two. The size and purchasing power of that audience meant we expected a bit more than is obviously intended to please the public, but its downsides only serve to highlight just how powerfully good the current 5 Series really is. Which means it’s probably still the best six-cylinder plug-in hybrid executive saloon you can buy. Go figure.
SPECIFICATION | 2021 BMW 545E
Motor: 2,998 cc, six-cylinder in-line turbo plus 11.6kWh electric motor
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 394 @ 5,000-6,000rpm (286 hp motor + 108 hp electric motor)
Torque (lbft): 442 (332 at 1,600-3,500 rpm from engine)
0-62 mph: 4.6 seconds
Maximum speed: 155 mph
Weight: 2,020 kg (BMW ‘unloaded’ weight)
CO2: 41-51 g / km
Price: £ 60,260 (standard price; tested price £ 72,595, consisting of Technology Plus Pack (Driving Assistant Professional, Parking Assistant Plus, Head-up Display, Harmon / Kardon Surround Sound, BMW Drive Recorder, Enhanced Bluetooth with Wireless Charging, BMW Gesture) Control , WiFi hotspot preparation) for £ 4,995, Comfort Pack (steering wheel heating, electric boot lid, Comfort Access, Comfort front seats) for £ 2,495, M Sport Pro Pack (20-inch 846M-style wheels with runflat tires and adaptive suspension) for £ 2,495, M Sport red brake calipers for £ 300, power sunroof for £ 1,095, split folding rear seats for £ 395, BMW Individual trim in piano black for £ 560)