Does a PHEV really make sense? We spend a week with the BMW 530e
What’s the benefit of an electric or hybrid car? Will I save money and what’s a PHEV like to live with? We spend a week with the BMW 530e to find out.
2017 BMW 530e
Pricing From $108,900+ORCWarranty three-years, unlimited kilometresSafety5-star ANCAPEngine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol and electricPower185kWTorque 420Nm Transmission eight-speed automatic Dimensions 4936mm (L); 1868mm (W); 1479mm (H) Boot Space410 litresWeight1770kgThirst2.3L/100km
PLUG-IN ELECTRIC HYBRID VEHICLES (PHEVs) position themselves as the perfect blend of a practical electric vehicle with no range anxiety. By contrast, electric-only cars provide some range anxiety and no end of issues if you run out of range halfway along the Hume Highway; while a plug-in lets you top up with petrol and motor on…
However, PHEVs don’t provide anywhere near the range of something like a Tesla – around 30-40km of electric-only range compared to 200-250km. But vehicles such as the BMW 530e ask if such a range really is necessary given most driving occurs during the week when commuting to work. And, according to the Government, on average Australian’s travel 15.6km one-way to work, or 31km a day.
So, will the 530e, with its claimed electric-only driving range of 43km that’s around 32km real-world, hit an average fuel consumption of 0.0L/100km during the week if you’re an average Australian? We put it to the test and calculate if it’s more beneficial (read: cheaper) to drive and just as convenient as a petrol counterpart.
Where does the BMW 530e sit in the range?
We’ve already reviewed the 5-Series range and the BMW 530e and our extended time with the 530e over the last week has only cemented our opinion of its value and, specifically, that the 530e should be higher on a shopper’s list than the price-parity 530i (1$108,900 +ORC).
Nose-to-nose both the 530i and 530e hit 0-100km/h in 6.2sec and so it’s the 530e’s impressive claimed 2.3L/100km and PHEV talking point that elevate it over its sibling. It’s even a nudge more powerful if you want to gloat, but it’s also a bit heavier. Visually there’s not much to set it apart, except for a charging-flap on the left, blue ringed wheel hub caps, blue highlighted kidney grill flaps, eDrive badges on the C-pillars and an eDrive button inside.
The boot is where some sacrifice is made due to the batteries. In the 530e there’s 410 litres on offer and it’s the squeezing of the inner aperture that will be most noticeable. It’s a little shallower (although the floor does pop-up for extra storage) and harder to fit items like a large pram in there.
Inside the cabin the touchpoints and materials are of a high quality and the position of rest points and controls feels well thought out. The seats are comfortable and offer good support from leather wrapped seats, however, the Nappa option leather provides a soft luxurious finish which heightens the feeling of luxury. A 10.25-inch touchscreen is centrally mounted and offers a sharp, glossy, high-resolution screen that doesn’t reflect much glare. The BMW digital ecosystem has evolved into a smart and intuitive solution which supports BMW’s opinion that features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t really required, although Apple CarPlay is available in the 5-Series. CarPlay also connects wirelessly, which is a first and proves a benefit when doing a short trip, or if there’s no compatible cable around.
What’s the BMW 530e like to drive?
The 530e is powered by a very similar 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine as the 530i, except it produces 185kW and 420Nm compared to the 530i’s 185kW and 350Nm. However, when combined with its electric motor, the 530 produces a gruntier 185kW and 420Nm total output. Either petrol engine only, electric motor only or a combination of both working together can be engaged using an eDrive mode button next to the 8-speed gearbox.
Although it might be tempting to engage electric-only for the entirety of a commute, there are situations where electric driving is efficient and also where it is not. On the freeway it’s not, and we were able to very quickly deplete the entire battery when cruising at higher speeds. If the commute was half freeway and half suburban streets/traffic, it would be prudent to use the petrol motor for when travelling at higher speeds. And thus it makes it a little more difficult to drive petrol free, but consumption over 5-10km of freeway is so slight it will barely make dent.
Alternatively the hybrid mode which uses both petrol and electric motors together provides the most power and remains frugal – we achieved an average across a week of varied driving (without taking into consideration our electric only runs) of 4.9L/100km.
An energy-saving mode helps to charge the battery back up, but this isn’t a practical solution for heaping on electric-only range which is best done by plugging into a quick charging station. More useful around town is the energy-saving mode, which keeps the battery at a predetermined capacity. This is particularly useful for mixed commuting on freeways and slower roads. For the nerd, one could figure out the minimum battery level required to commute on electric-only power once off the freeway and set it to such before hoping on.
Power points Vs bowsers
The 530e can be charged via three different connection points – a general house outlet, a specially installed BMW i-Wallbox or at one of (currently) 300 ChargeNow points around Australia.
For some, the appeal of a PHEV is charging from a renewable energy source such as solar. But if you’re charging from the grid, how does the cost compare to going to the petrol station? For this comparison we’ve taken the average cost per litre in Victoria across the past 30 days and the average off-peak cost per kW in Victoria – that means charging the car late at night rather than during the day when electricity costs almost double.
Current average prices:
Premium unleaded 95 – 133 cents
Electricity per Kw – 19.31 cents
Plugging in at home can be done at any socket, provided you can get an extension cord to the supplied 5-metre long charging cable. Connected to a house (or garage) socket the battery will charge to 80 per cent capacity within four hours – from fully depleted to fully charged we found it took, on average, about 7 hours.
An average home GPO (general power outlet) is 16amps and the 530e battery will draw 1.8kW per hour. So at seven hours to 100 per cent charge it’ll cost:
(4 x 1.8kW) x cost per kW = 7.2kW x 19.31
So 32km range will cost $1.39
During our time on longer trips we averaged 4.9L/100km, or, in dollars, 4.9 x $1.33 = $6.50 per 100km.
Extending the cost for 32km of range to 100km gives us 3.12 x $1.39 = $4.34 per 100km.
And if we take the BMW 530i on its claimed consumption of 5.8L/100km, the equivalent cost to drive 100km is $7.71.
So, comparing the cost over a hypothetical 100km trip:
530e electric only = $4.34
530e petrol/hybrid = $6.50
530i petrol = $7.71
Expanding the average commute of 32km a day over a year, an average of 8320km commuting kilometres are travelled. And the savings made by driving the 530e cover half a year’s registration:
Commuting range cost per year
530e electric-only: $361
530e petrol/hybrid = $541
530i petrol = $641
If you were running a solar system at home the monetary and environmental savings would be even better, but such systems are still costly to install. There’s also savings in driving electric only which include time spent lining up during the week at the bowser (and trying to find the best price).
Charging from the BMW i-Wallbox is quicker via a GPO but you’ll need to have one professionally installed at a cost of around $2150. It draws 3.7kW/h and charges to 80 per cent capacity in less than two hours.
The quickest charging method is the ChargeNow points located around Australia. With the ChargeNow card, charging at one of the 300 points is currently free.
Should I buy one?
We concluded the 530e offers the best bang-for-bucks in terms of standard equipment, comfort and drivability in the 5-Series line-up only just behind the 530d. But we wanted to verify our thoughts that it’s a better pick compared to the same-priced 530i, and our time testing its PHEV practicality this week confirms it. Whether you’re buying it for environmental or financial reasons (or just want to say you’ve got an electric car), the 530e caters for both, and although the savings in running EV-only across a year of commuting aren’t huge they do become more attractive if you’ve got a renewable energy source to tap into.