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First Drive Review: 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 +VIDEO

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2012 BMW 5 Series ActiveHybrid


By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

• SEE ALSO: Intelligence Breeds Efficiency: The BMW ActiveHybrid 5

LISBON, Portugal - January 28, 2012: Hybrids are hot, especially in the US and Japan. In Europe however, the situation is quite different: Because of the high popularity and wide availability of diesel engines, half of all new cars registered there are diesels.

But BMW and its German peers, who recently announced plans to more actively promote their diesel models on the North-American market, realize that it may take some time before Americans will truly embrace diesel engines, if they will do so at all.

In 2009, BMW came up with its first hybrid, the ActiveHybrid X6. It was the result of a joint development with Daimler, GM and Chrysler, which not only proved to be outdated upon its introduction, but it was also too expensive and did not offer a big advantage in mileage. The model was discontinued last year. In the meantime, BMW introduced their in-house developed mild hybrid variant of the full-size luxury 7 Series.

Watch the original promo video for the BMW 5 Series ActiveHybrid concept

With the launch of the hybrid variant of the luxury 5 Series, BMW takes the next step as a serious contender in the hybrid segment in the US and Japan. The engineers may have liked to develop a separate platform for such a hybrid, but that is something we will see in the near future when BMW comes up with its new i-brand models, the electric i3 and the plug-in hybrid i8.

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2012 Bmw 5 Series ActiveHybrid

In the 5 Series, the lithium-ion battery pack of 96 cells had to be placed in a special housing behind the rear seats in the luggage compartment, reducing its capacity by 145 liters to 375 liters. According the Alfred Dick, project leader of the ActiveHybrid5, some 45 kg of a total of 140 kg extra weight compared to the 535i model is for the account of the battery. Weight could be reduced by using aluminum for the hood, front side panels, doors and front spring struts. Using aluminum for the doors alone resulted in a weight saving of some 23 kg compared to steel doors.

The new generation ActivHybrid system consists of the familiar turbocharged 6-cylinder in-line 535i, producing 225 kW/306 hp and 295 lb-ft. The power plant is assisted by a 40 kW/55 hp synchronous electric motor that has taken the place of the torque converter in the front section of the housing of the 8-speed ZF automatic transmission. Together they produce 340 hp and 322 ft-lb of torque.

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2012 Bmw 5 Series ActiveHybrid

The energy management is intelligent and the Navigation Professional system is linked to the electronics, so that the driver – or the passenger – can see in the display what is happening under the skin of the ‘5.’ To complete the data: BMW claims that the ActiveHybrid 5 accelerates in 5.9 seconds from 0-62 mph and reaches a top speed of 155 mph, purely on electric power the top is 37 mph. Average fuel consumption according to the EU test cycle is 6.4-7.0 liter/100 km which could be translated into 40-44 mpg. CO2-emission is 149-163 g/km.

Watch the introduction of the 5 Series Active Hybrid at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show

Forget the figures, it’s time to drive

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2012 Bmw 5 Series ActiveHybrid
We started our journey with the ActiveHybrid 5 from the hotel in Sintra and drove to the coast through the mountains. Not the ideal route for exclusively going on electric power. As soon as there is a slight incline, or if you push the throttle a tiny little bit the 6-cylinder takes over. But on the flat road along the coast, we were able to drive all electric for a mile or so at some 30 mph. BMW says we should be able to do that for 2.5 miles but then the average speed should be just over 20 mph.

Later we pick up our route through the mountains again and hit a gorgeous little road, winding and very narrow past the Castello de Mouro. You can only drive slow but the advantage is that there is time to look for the state of the hybrid system at the display in the dashboard.

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2012 Bmw 5 Series ActiveHybrid int

On the motorway, of course, we consume some gas and you can push - push to feel how fast this ‘green‘ 5 Series really is. The Bimmer behaves as you will expect: active and with a sophisticated notch of comfort. The 8-speed transmission shifts quickly and unnoticeable. Going downhill, the 5 Series will ‘sail’, as the Germans call it. We would say the car goes in the coasting mode, which means that the combustion engine is shut off and disconnected from the drive shaft. This happens when driving in town, and also while cruising at speeds up to 100 mph. Of course when you are waiting at a traffic light the start-stop system comes into action, but you are not aware of it, unless you think about it and look at the rpm gauge.

An interesting issue is that the power electronics are linked to the (standard) Professional navigation system, allowing the electronics to analyze data indicating changes in road conditions based on the route ahead. That way energy can be used as needed or stored in preparation for upcoming use.

You cannot say it often of a hybrid, but the ActiveHybrid 5 is an absolute joy to drive. Stable on the motorway, quiet, comfortable during cruising, and most of all eager to address corners of winding mountain roads.

The ActiveHybrid 5 is a worthy representative of BMW’s the “Freude am Fahren’, fun-to-drive, philosophy. It has a price though: $ 61,845 including $ 895 destination and handling. People who want to make a statement and rabid technology fans will probably get over the extra amount of $8,450 dollars. One part is for the hybrid system and the other part for the extra standard equipment that automatically comes with this model, such as the 8-speed transmission and Navi Professional. If you look at the finances through the eye of an accountant, you may realize that you’ll have to drive many, many miles more before the lower mileage makes up for the extra investment. And then we are talking only about the 535i and not the 3-liter diesel.

But driving a nice car does not always come down to clever investments. And that will be in the advantage of the excellent and entertaining ActiveHybrid 5. The vehicle is scheduled to arrive in the US showrooms in April 2012.