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The seventh-generation BMW 5 Series gets a few small changes for 2021, including tweaked style and better tech. You can buy the 5 Series with everything from a sensible four-cylinder turbocharged engine to a stonking V8, but for folks who want great power without totally destroying their efficiency cred, BMW continues to offer the plug-in hybrid 530e.
In the 530e, BMW pairs a four-cylinder gas engine with an electric motor for a total of 288 horsepower -- 40 more than last year -- and 310 pound-feet of torque. Power goes to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, but you can also get the 530e with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
I like plug-in hybrids for their ability to do double duty: I can cruise around town in EV mode but I still have the convenience of a gas engine for longer trips. The bummer here is that the 530e is only EPA-rated for 21 miles of all-electric range (the xDrive model lowers that rating to 18 miles). That's slightly less range than what you get in the smaller 330e, which uses the same powertrain. The larger X5 PHEV, meanwhile, offers more power and more EV driving range.
Electricity is stored in a 12-kilowatt-hour battery, fed by a 3.7-kW onboard charger. Don't expect super-quick charging times here, folks -- PHEVs are definitely meant to be plugged in overnight. On my Level 2 home charger it takes 3 hours to go from totally empty to full-on full. BMW says an 80% charge from 0% takes 2 hours.
The 530e isn't particularly quick but the instant electric torque makes the sedan scoot. There's an XtraBoost feature that delivers an additional 40 hp under full-throttle acceleration when the car is in Sport mode, but the difference isn't terribly noticeable. BMW estimates a 5.7-second 0-to-60-mph time for the rear-wheel-drive 530e.
As for on-road handling, the 530e is enjoyable but not what I'd call sporty. Plus, the plug-in hybrid drivetrain adds weight; this sedan tips the scales at over 4,200 pounds, and that's before you tack on an additional 100 pounds for all-wheel drive. My tester's M Sport package doesn't offer any real handling upgrades, though there's a lot of grip thanks to the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. Body roll is kept in check and the steering is nicely weighted but vague -- typical 5 Series attributes. Really, my only major complaint is that the M Sport brakes are a little squishy and hard to modulate.
Of course, the big reason to pick a plug-in hybrid is overall efficiency. After a week of spirited driving and regular charging, I'm seeing 37 miles per gallon. That's a great increase over the base 530i's 28 mpg combined.
The 530e's interior is largely the same as before, save for the addition of a now-standard 12.3-inch infotainment screen. This display runs BMW's iDrive 7 tech with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is great since I find the native system's menus and submenus a little tough to navigate. The 530e has one USB-A and a 12-volt outlet up front, and there's a USB-C port tucked away in the center console. Rear-seat passengers get two USB-Cs and a 12-volt outlet, as well. Wireless charging is available as part of the $1,850 Premium Package that also includes heated front seats, a head-up display and a Harman Kardon audio system.
I'm a big fan of BMW's optional Back-Up Assistant technology that records the last 50 yards of your drive (at speeds below 20 mph, like when you're parking) and can then steer the car along that same path in reverse. It's very useful for getting out of a tight parking space or navigating a tricky driveway.
However, the 530e's list of standard driving aids is minimal, which is sadly par for the course for most German luxury sedans. While blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert are standard, you'll need to pony up for the good stuff. Adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, front cross-traffic alert and an emergency stop assist are all part of the $1,700 Driving Assistance Plus Package.
On top of that, you can also add the Extended Traffic Jam Assist, which allows for limited hands-free driving in stop and go traffic. This system isn't nearly as robust as Cadillac's Super Cruise, which can operate at higher speeds and has lane-changing abilities. BMW's tech, meanwhile, only works below 37 mph. In my experience, the system doesn't react quick enough when someone cuts in front of me, and I find myself needing to take over a lot of the time. Best to just skip this one, I'm afraid.
The 530e starts at $58,195 including $995 for destination, but the test car seen here tops out above $70,000. Skipping superfluous upgrades like the $2,500 M Sport package can reduce that cost a bit, and poking around on the configurator, I can spec a nicely optioned 530e in the low $60,000s. Much better.
Still, I can't help but think I'd be better served by the BMW 330e or X5 xDrive45e. The 330e is a little smaller, but it's a lot less expensive and it adds a few miles of EV range. The X5 PHEV, meanwhile, starts a few thousand dollars above the 530e, but you get standard all-wheel drive, more space, more power and more range. Especially considering today's SUV-all-the-things trend, good as the 5 Series is, the X5 really seems like the best way to go.