2018 BMW 530i Gas vs. 530e Hybrid Electric Comparison
We test drive both the gasoline and hybrid-electric 530 models.
The seventh generation of BMW’s 5 series comes in two different powertrain choices in the United States. The first is the 530i, featuring a new turbocharged 2.0L gasoline engine. The second is the 530e, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) new for 2018. We recently got a chance to take both the gas and the PHEV models from the Colorado Mountains down to the open plains (and everywhere in-between) to see how comparably equipped cars would compare. The results are surprising.
Before we get into the powertrains, it is worth noting the new 5 series was redesigned for the 2017 model year. The noticeable changes are apparent mostly on the interior with a look that is more 7 series premium than a 5 series. Also, there is a smattering of technology everywhere you look with an impressive 10.3-inch center display operated by the carry-over rotary controller.
From the wood-trim accents, roomy rear seats, and front seats with built-in bolsters which hug the driver when cornering, there is a lot of comfort and luxury to enjoy.
Finally, there is the unusual optional gesture control to turn up or down the radio volume as well as navigate screens. This works literally by placing your hand under the rear-view mirror and twirling your finger in a circular motion to raise or lower the volume. Flipping through the menus is done with a swipe of the hand. While paging through the menu works well, the volume takes a bit more time to get accustomed to in our experience. Quite often our hand gestures resulted in the radio being either too loud or quiet. Depending on your geekiness, this is either an awesome or gimmicky feature.
Both of our models came in at roughly $70k with options making up the bulk of the $4k price difference between them. The 530i is priced at $72,135 and the 530e at $68,760.
New 2018 BMW 530 Powertrain Choices
The BMW 530i comes with a new 2.0L turbocharged engine producing 248 HP @ 6500 RPM and 258 lb-ft. of torque from 1450 RPM. Like the 530e, both engines are mated to a ZF 8-speed transmission. The gasoline version is rated at 24/34/27 city/highway/combined fuel economy.
New for the 2018 model year is the “e” part of the BMW 530e. It is a 4-cylinder engine (180 HP/255 lb-ft of torque) mated with an electric motor (111 HP and 184 lb-ft of torque) replacing the torque converter. This combined output raises EPA rated fuel economy to 67 MPG with a fully charged battery. The battery, located under the rear seat, takes around 2 hours with a 220-volt outlet and 5 hours on a more common 110-volt outlet.
According to BMW it will travel around 30 miles on electric power alone at speeds up to 87 mph.
If you lay into the throttle, the 2.0L joins in seamlessly to provide the power requested. At high speeds it is impossible to distinguish when this motor kicks in. Driving at lower speeds, you can hear a quiet hum when the engine kicks in.
Behind the wheel, it was clear to us there is a substantial difference between the two models at various times, however it is hard to distinguish at other times. Here’s what we mean.
At highway speeds, they mirror each other in providing plenty of power for passing and navigating the roadway. Also, the redesigned suspension is combined with a generous helping of aluminum, thereby reducing the overall weight of the car. This provides an even more dynamic driving ability. For example, we regularly pushed the car harder in the corners without any concern in exceeding the posted speed.
Driving at lower speeds and around town, the gasoline model was the clear winner for us. From dead stops to darting through traffic, the gasoline felt quicker off the line, and more powerful than the PHEV. While the notoriously questionable Start Stop function (equipped on both models) caused some delay for each, we found the gasoline model responded faster to throttle input with no lag. The PHEV version felt like it had to consider whether or not we wanted to go. Frankly this was really surprising since, in our experience, often the electric motor in many luxury vehicles is inherently quicker–electricity is power on demand.
However, this isn’t to say the 503e was all bad. Both models come with various drive modes to enhance the driving experience. The 503e in Sport Mode yielded a dramatically different response, and a different facial reaction. When the Sport Mode is engaged in PHEV, the gasoline engine always runs, which resulted in a much quicker off-the-line performance. However, the default drive mode comes with the caveat of losing fuel economy performance and should be used sparingly if MPGs are a concern.
For fuel economy-conscious consumers, the PHEV does come with an Eco Pro mode to really improve the MPGs by altering how the car performs.
Finally, there is a Max eDrive option which puts the car in full electric mode all the time unless you accelerate too quickly, at which point the engine turns on.
Another factor to consider with the PHEV model is a decrease in trunk cargo room. The battery pack reduces total storage space to 15 cubic feet (down from 19) which means carrying items, like multiple sets of golf clubs, gets a little dicey. One set of clubs fits just fine.
While the trunk space is reduced, so is the gas tank. The 530e holds 12 gallons of gas, while the 530i has an 18 gallon tank. This really isn’t an issue in everyday driving with a fully charged battery. It does make a difference when taking long road trips since the smaller tank and lack of time to charge the battery means more stops.
Without a doubt, we would declare the BMW 530i to be the clear winner in our comparison, if it wasn’t for the low price of entry. Incredibly, the PHEV 530e is only $200 more than the gasoline version. Considering the fuel economy benefits, this is one of the fastest returns on investment you will find in the automotive market.
This begs the question: Are the sluggishness and cramped trunk big enough factors to offset the fuel efficiency? Not for us. The improved fuel economy of the PHEV is hard to ignore, especially given that many owners are likely able to drive the vehicle solely on electric power for the average daily commute. Getting the driving performance of a 5 series without using as much gas is a win-win in our book.