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3,000 reasons to consider a plug-in BMW

It is a shade cheaper than its petrol-only equivalent, and owners with access to regular charging need only to stop for petrol every six weeks or so.

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The 530e is nicer to drive than an ordinary BMW, especially if you like the refinement of silent, electric propulsion.

BT_20170923_BMW2_3097839.jpg
The 530e is nicer to drive than an ordinary BMW, especially if you like the refinement of silent, electric propulsion.

Sydney, Australia

WOULD you pay less for a superior car? Some BMW customers are about to ponder that question.

Next Friday, the brand will launch five models from its iPerformance range here, and thanks to tax rebates for low-emissions cars, some are cheaper than their petrol-only equivalents.

The BMW 530e iPerformance, for example, is priced at S$277,800 (inclusive of Certificate of Entitlement) after a S$15,000 rebate under the ongoing Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS). A similarly equipped, but petrol-only, 530i actually costs S$3,000 more.

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The iPerformance cars combine electric drive with normal petrol propulsion but place more emphasis on the former than the latter, compared to more common hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius.

Powered by batteries that can deliver nearly a day's driving after being charged by a wallbox at home or a public charging station, the BMWs also have petrol engines for longer journeys.

Such Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are seen as a bridge to a post-fossil fuel era.

In a sense, you can think of a PHEV as two cars for the price of one.

Of the two, the electric one is eerily mute. Press the ignition button and the BMW is good to go, but the only indication that it has come to life is that the dashboard displays have come on. Move off, and it rolls into action as if a wizard has animated the car by waving a wand.

A brief drive through downtown Sydney revealed a few things about the 530e. It's nicer to drive than an ordinary BMW, especially if you welcome the refinement of silent, electric propulsion.

It's also a lively car, and it accelerates smartly enough for you to hold your own in the cut-and-thrust of urban traffic. Unlike petrol engines, electric motors don't need to be revved hard to deliver their best, which is why the 530e feels so energetic.

Outside of town is where petrol plays a greater role. The 530e's 2.0-litre turbo engine can fire up to provide a boost for maximum acceleration, or take you further than the car's batteries can manage. On pure electric drive, the iPerformance cars have a range of around 30km.

But an "Auto eDrive" setting allows the cars to determine the mix between petrol and electric power automatically. Using that mode, we travelled a little over 30km in the 530e and used petrol at the rate of 2.8L/100km. The car had 15km left in the battery.

In that scenario, the 530e could have covered 45km in total, about a typical day's distance in Singapore, with less than a litre of petrol.

It means that iPerformance owners with access to regular charging would only need to stop for petrol every six weeks or so. That might be the true wizardry of PHEV technology.

But even if having two power sources to propel it means the 530e is far more efficient than a normal BMW, it is the CEVS rebate that could really give it a push here.

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