When: January 2012
Where: Lisbon, Portugal
What: 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5
Occasion: International first drive
Overall rating: 4/5
There's a hybrid bandwagon rolling around, and BMW isn't about to miss its chance to jump on. A mix of turbocharged petrol power and an electric motor has created what the firm terms a 'BMW amongst hybrids' - offering fun and frugality in equal measure.
Pricing: €71,730 on-the-road
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder petrol plus electric motor
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
Rivals: Audi A6 Hybrid, BMW 535d, Lexus GS 450h
CO2 emissions: 149g/km (Band C, €330 per annum)
Combined economy: 44.1mpg (6.4 litres/100km)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
0-100km/h: 5.9 seconds
Power: 340hp at 5,800rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 1,200rpm
EV range: 4.0 kilometres at up to 60km/h
In the Metal:
It looks just like a regular BMW 5 Series, which is a good thing. There are some matt chrome exhaust pipes and a galvanised finish for the double kidney grilles, as well as some alloy wheels that remind us of the old throwing star rims found on E34 M5s to help differentiate it. Only the chintzy ActiveHybrid badging on the C-pillar lets it down.
You'll find extra badging inside as well, and some new hybrid information on the iDrive controlled screen, but otherwise it's de facto 5 Series in there. The batteries are between the rear wheel arches though, so boot space tumbles from 520- to 375 litres.
The ActiveHybrid 5 is based on the talented BMW 535i, itself no slouch against the clock. There's another 140kg of weight to contend with though, so the extra 54hp from the electric motor (cleverly mounted within the eight-speed transmission itself) only serves to match that car's performance.
Still that means this 5 Series, which remember can achieve 44.1mpg (6.4 litres/100km) on the combined cycle while emitting only 149g/km of CO2, can sprint from 0-100km/h in less than six seconds. Like all BMWs with the necessary power the top speed is limited to 250km/h.
Put your foot down and the transition from purely petrol to combined electric and internal combustion power is seamless. A lift off the throttle to coast downhill sees the engine de-couple itself from the driveshafts and shut itself down (at speeds up to 160km/h) creating a fuel-saving free-wheel mode.
Despite the addition of heavy battery packs, weight distribution is closely matched to a conventional 5, and it proves to be a dynamic delight around the bends - only the squealing from the low rolling resistance rubber reminds you of its eco-intentions. The key is, this most environmentally friendly 5 Series drives just like a regular 5 Series, which can only be a good thing.
What you get for your Money:
The biggest problem for the ActiveHybrid 5, in this part of the world at least, is the completeness of the diesel 5 Series models. At €71,730 on-the-road the ActiveHybrid 5 is about €4,000 more than a 535d SE saloon, and you could have an M Sport 535d for only a little more. Consider that the 535d is quicker, more economical, less polluting and of course offers a full-size boot and it's a tempting choice - the ActiveHybrid 5 isn't available as a Touring model either.
Still, the ActiveHybrid 5 isn't without merit - standard specification is very good and includes BMW's Professional navigation system, four-zone climate control with stationary cooling, leather seats and 17-inch alloy wheels. It's also available in Bluewater metallic paint, a hue exclusive to the hybrid.
The ActiveHybrid 5 is the first production full-hybrid from BMW to come to Ireland, but it won't be the last. Expect to see the same technology beneath the bonnet of the forthcoming 3 Series sometime later this year. However, it can't be installed in Touring models as the batteries need to go between the rear wheel arches, and combining it with a four-wheel drive system is off the list also due to the extra weight.
It's an incredibly likeable thing the BMW ActiveHybrid 5, a window into the future of automotive propulsion, and in markets where diesel remains un-popular it's a shrewd choice. However, here in Ireland we can't help feel it's overshadowed by the faster, cleaner, more efficient and often cheaper diesel models.