BMW Goes Hybrid Again

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2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5.

It’s no secret that the German automotive brands were late to the hybrid party. The Japanese and then American manufacturers got a pretty good head start on selling gasoline-electric vehicles that, generally speaking, save fuel.

But they’re catching up, and BMW now has a hybrid version of its popular 5-Series sedan called the ActiveHybrid 5. Why the strange name? Well, the folks at the Bayerische Motoren Werke want everyone to know that their hybrid vehicles are still performance-oriented, hence the “active” in the name.

The hybrid-ized 5-Series isn’t BMW’s first one, with the ActiveHybrid 7 and ActiveHybrid X6 having already graced showrooms and roads in recent years. Like this one, those two hybrid models were tailored to driving fun first, and fuel economy second.

Oh, fuel economy is definitely improved over the regular 5-Series, with the ActiveHybrid version returning estimates of 23 city and 30 highway. Not so great, you say? Well, those numbers are joined by a total horsepower rating of 335 (the engine plus electric motor combined) and an estimated 0-60 acceleration time of under six seconds. This is not a Prius, by any stretch.

Who, you might ask, would want a car that wears a hybrid badge but also can tear up the pavement when the mood strikes? Probably more than a few BMW enthusiasts, especially if they want to reduce their fuel consumption and carbon output a bit. But only if they can still have the virtues that BMW’s sporty luxury cars have always had.

Furthermore, every car company is looking ahead at looming fuel economy standards in the coming years. Even if you build cars for people who don’t necessarily care about the price of gasoline, theU.S.government says you still need to make cars more efficient.

As a hybrid, the ActiveHybrid 5 works very well. At low speeds, the car can glide along solely on electric power, up to 37 miles or up to a distance of 2.5 miles, according to BMW. I never really got a chance to confirm this during my time behind the wheel, as I prefer to just drive cars in a normal everyday manner, rather than trying to play with the throttle to see if I can keep the engine off. (I’ve been driving various hybrids for over 10 years, so it’s a sort of “been there, done that” for me.)

And as a sport sedan, the car does its job too. Acceleration is brisk, and there’s that famous growl from the BMW inline six cylinder engine when you mash the loud pedal to the floor. If you didn’t happen to see the tachometer drop down to 0 at various times when slowing or crawling through a parking lot, you’d almost never know it was a hybrid. (Though BMW was sure to put a badge on the console, just to remind you.)

Handling and braking are crisp and sure as well, as both are traditional BMW strong suits. My test car was loaded to the gills with every option available, and the seats seemed even more comfortable than I’d remembered from a non-hybrid 5-series I’d driven earlier this year.

There are a couple of downsides to choosing the hybrid version of this BMW body style over the conventional one. First up is price, with a base of $61,100 as compared to the 535i’s starting tab of $52,500. (There’s an even less expensive four cylinder 528i, but its performance is nowhere close to that of the ActiveHybrid, though its fuel economy is actually better.)

Secondly, you lose some trunk space to the hybrid’s high-voltage battery pack, as well as the ability to fold the rear seats forward to accommodate long pieces of cargo. As for the life of the battery itself, that’s pretty much become a non-issue, as battery management in hybrids mean that the unit should last essentially the life of the car.

A hybrid … from BMW? You bet. Because the hybrid party is getting larger every year, with new guests coming from places likeGermany.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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