Eco-friendly vehicles are the leather pants of the new-car world; it takes a lot of money to make them look good (but people who own them think they look fantastic regardless). If you don't have a gazillion dollars to drop on a Tesla, then it's a one-way ticket to Prius town. And really, who wants that?
Seemingly tired of waiting for the Australian Government to introduce any sort of meaningful subsidy for green cars, BMW has made the choice simple: you can have a petrol-powered 530i for $108,900, or opt for the plug-in hybrid 530e for... $108,900. This is truly revelatory thinking.
There's no specification penalty, either, and the hybrid will power to 100km/h in an identical 6.2 seconds, so you're not even any slower. But you are sipping less fuel, emitting less C02 and basking in the general smugness, and sweet silence, that comes with feeling like you're saving the world.
So what's the catch?
BMW 5 Series 2017: 520d Luxury Line
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
Crucially, there's nothing weird about the way the 530e looks. While some green cars look like they've been designed by one of the kids from 3rd Rock from the Sun, the 530e looks much the same as the rest of the range, save a few tiny but telltale giveaways - like the e-drive badging outside, and what looks like a bonus fuel flap tucked in behind a front wheel that houses the whole plug-in bit.
You'll find 19-inch alloy wheels as standard. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
And we really, really like it. It's elegant and statesman-like from every angle, and looked especially important in the deep-blue colour of our test vehicle. It's not over-designed, with body creases used sparingly, and the occasional glint of polished silver that rings the windows and the grille adds a final sense of shininess to an understated design.
Inside, there's more going on than you might normally find in a BMW. The hugely complicated digital display screen now includes everything from battery charge, power usage to the usual assortment of speedometers and petrol readouts.
It doesn't feel overdone or crazily festooned, but there's more at play here than in your usual BMW.
The dash is busy, too, with a wide screen emerging from a centre stack that also houses a CD player and a digital aircon setup, which in turn sits above a complex centre console from which you can alter driving settings, control the multimedia or cycle through electric modes. It doesn't feel overdone or crazily festooned, but there's more at play here than in your usual BMW.
Elsewhere inside, the seats are beautifully designed, with a quilted leather highlight through the middle, while the gloss-black strip that lines the dash hides a dual strip of ambient interior lights that also runs across all four doors.
It's elegant and statesman-like from every angle. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
The space in the 5 Series will have you questioning your downsizing ways. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
Upfront, there's plenty of room between front-seat riders, who will also share two smallish cup holders, along with room in each front door for bottles. There's also a dedicated wireless charge pad (which, because of its tight design, is crazy difficult to actually remove your phone from), but you'll also get two USB points and a power outlet that's hidden in the sizeable centre storage bin as standard fit.
Backseat riders get heaps of space, both in width and in leg room behind the front seats. And there's twin air-con temp controls and twin power outlets, too. But middle-seat passengers will be forced to sit with their legs on either side of the raised tunnel, which will definitely impact on comfort.
The boot's still sizeable, despite shrinking slightly to house the battery/fuel tank setup
Best to ditch the fifth passenger, then, and deploy the pull-down seat divider, which also houses two cup holders. Finally, there are three ISOFIX attachment points, one for each seat in the back.
The boot's still sizeable, despite shrinking slightly to house the battery/fuel tank setup (the tank has been moved further back to accomodate the batteries), and can be adjusted to be a flat load area if you'd like, offering up to 410 litres with the rear seats in place.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
The 530e commands a 530i-equalling $108,900 price tag, which is genuinely impressive when you consider all the extra bits and pieces that go into make a plug-in hybrid. That money buys you a well-equipped car, and only those allergic to money need reach for the options list.
The gloss-black strip that lines the dash hides a dual strip of ambient interior lights. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
As standard, you'll find leather-wrapped - and heated in the front - sports seats, 19-inch alloy wheels and a 10.25-inch touchscreen that pairs with a really very good 16-speaker Haman Kardon stereo. Wireless Apple CarPlay is available, but it'll cost you an extra $500. To be honest, though, we didn't miss it.
You'll also find adaptive LED headlights, a huge head-up display (so big, in fact, that it impedes vision when climbing steep hills), dynamic dampers, an auto opening/closing boot and a self-parking system, along with BMW's suite of self-driving tech - but we'll come back to that under the Safety sub-heading.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
Drift around in pure EV mode and you'll be relying on the 530e's 83kW and 250Nm electric motor, which will provide what BMW refers to as "between 28 and 32 real-world kilometres".
Run out of range and the 2.0-litre petrol engine comes into play, adding 135kW and 320Nm to the mix. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
Run out of range, or simply use too much throttle, and the 2.0-litre petrol engine comes into play, adding 135kW and 320Nm to the mix. All up, that's 185kW and 420Nm - respectable numbers by any measure, and enough to match the petrol-powered 530i's zero to 100km/h sprint of 6.2 seconds.
Like a Facebook relationship status, it's complicated. The 530e will sip a claimed combined 2.3 litres per hundred kilometres on the claimed/combined cycle, which is amazing for a car this size. Better still, it seems genuinely achievable - at the vehicle's launch, our own Richard Berry recorded a stunning 2.0 litres per hundred kilometres on a short test route.
The 530e looks much the same as the rest of the range, save a few tiny giveaways. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
But that's with a full load of battery charge on board. For our week with the 530e we were unable to actually plug it in (living in Sydney, I can't afford a garage), so once the initial battery charge had been used we were back to mostly petrol power. Unlike some other plug-in hybrids we've driven, we found it very difficult to recharge the battery to any meaningful level using regenerative braking, so once we were flat we stayed flat. If we had plugged it in, it would have been a two-hour recharge using a specialised wall unit, or about four hours using a normal plug.
As a result, though, our fuel use was closer to 7.0 litres per hundred kilometres after some considerable real-world testing.
What's it like to drive? 7/10
There's so much to like about the way the 530e sets about saving the world, and that's mostly because it doesn't shout about it, either to the driver or the outside world.
The occasional glint of polished silver that rings the windows adds a sense of shininess to an understated design. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
It's very much an underpants inside its pants superhero, which makes us like it even more. Set off in EV mode, and the 530e will drift silently away from the curb, burning battery power over fuel for as many as 30(ish) kilometres. But equally important, the shift from green to gas is largely imperceptible, with the petrol engine joining in willingly when you ask it to - usual via a prod of your right foot.
It is so effortlessly smooth that you need to really pay attention to notice the eight-speed 'box changing gears at city speeds, and it's commendably quiet, whichever drive mode you're in.
The boot's still sizeable, offering up 410 litres with the rear seats in place. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
Downsides? Well, it doesn't feel quite as sharp as it's conventional-engined siblings. The batteries add around 230kg in weight, which never helps, and it all feels a little softer and a little less dynamic, even with Sport mode engaged. BMW assures us the adaptive suspension setup and tune is identical, but the 530e feels noticeably softer when you tackle a twisting back road. And that encourages you to use your right foot a little more, which in turn negates the whole electric thing in the first place.
One of the great joys of BMWs has always been their ability to transform from cosseting comfort to rear-drive rocket when you want them to, and you can't help but notice the 530e isn't quite up to that challenge. But if your intentions are mostly city- and freeway-based, then this plug-in BMW is almost indiscernible from its petrol-powered sibling.
Warranty & Safety Rating
3 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 9/10
You'll want for little here, with front, front-side and full curtain airbags joining parking sensors, a surround-view camera and a self-parking system.
You can also expect active cruise control, lane control assist with lane keep assist (so it will stay between the lane markings for you), AEB and cross-traffic warning. And all of that means that, technically, the 530e can drive for you. That is, of course, if you don't mind driving like a dick - in full-autonomous mode it will swerve from lane marking to lane marking like it's playing bumper bowling.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
The batteries are covered by a separate warranty covering six years or 100,000km.
Not all superheroes wear capes, and we're proud to report the 530e does its bit for green motoring without feeling the need to shout about it. And with no price or specification penalty, it's easier being green than ever before, and the pricing of this BMW really puts the cat amongst the canaries.
If it's no slower, but much greener, and more economical, why wouldn't you have the e version of the 530 for the same price?