2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5: Motoramic Drives
My fellow automotive journalists tend to treat hybrid test drives with about as much enthusiasm as a trip to the eye doctor, or visiting their grandmother in the hospital. They understand their duty, and know it's the right thing to do, but they're always keeping an eye on the next, hopefully sweeter, gig. "Hybrids take all the joy out of driving," one of them once told me. That reflects the majority opinion.
But I like hybrids. I drive one as my daily bread. Few things give me more joy than saving money, particularly on gas, that most wasteful commodity. So when I heard that I was going to get to test-drive the new BMW ActiveHybrid 5, in Portugal no less, I got really excited. Even from my enthusiast's point of view, I'll admit that most hybrid cars, fuel-efficiency aside, have about as much pickup as a Segway-riding cop giving parking tickets. Somehow, though, I guessed that the Bavarian Motor Works wasn't going to mess around with a weak hybrid drivetrain.
I guessed correctly. The ActiveHybrid 5 is essentially the BMW 535i with an electric drive system added. BMWs first two hybrid cars used a V8 engine, but this one has a three-liter inline six-cylinder job, plus a 54 hp electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. It goes from 0 to 60 in the exact same amount of time, and actually has slightly more horsepower and more torque. The rest of the car, other than a few incidental design tweaks, is almost exactly the same.
And so I drove it, along the highways, coastal roads, and hills surrounding Lisbon. Let's quote from my notebook here: "Seamless toggle between electric and gas engine"; "Beautiful lines, elegant interior, comfortable seating"; "it hums like a hive": "if I had to drive my kid to school in the suburbs of Lisbon, now I would know all the routes"; "the H5 handles fabulously."
If I had any complaints, it was that the steering was something less than fully intuitive for me. The car felt a little unwieldy on narrow roads. But that's standard fare for four-door luxury machines, and no one else I talked to seemed to have that problem. In a blind taste test between this and a non-hybrid, it would be pretty much impossible to tell the difference. In every aspect — braking, acceleration, overall handling, and torque — this baby was every bit the equivalent of its non-hybrid brother.