The 2021 BMW 530e is part plug-in hybrid, part luxury car, and part sports sedan. If that seems like a restaurant menu item that’s attempting to marry too many styles of cuisine into one dish, know this: The 530e blends its trio of disparate elements into a capable and tasty whole. It’s even fun to drive, which is not something we’ve said often about BMW’s non-M-badged sedans in recent years.
As with the rest of the updated 5-series line, the 530e receives a freshening for the 2021 model year. Updates include minor tweaks to the exterior, an improved infotainment system, and additional muscle from the hybrid powertrain. Whether it’s the more aggressive grille treatment or the infotainment touchscreen that grows from 10.3 to 12.3 inches, the visible changes are small enough that only dedicated 5-series spotters will likely notice them.
More significant is the extra power from the hybrid system. The capacity of the battery housed beneath the 530e’s rear seat has been increased by 25 percent, to 9.1 kWh. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and the system’s single electric motor—located where the torque converter normally lives between the engine and the standard eight-speed automatic transmission—have both been retuned for slightly more grunt. In terms of combined system output, torque remains the same as last year, at 310 pound-feet, but horsepower is up 40 ponies to 288, thanks to a feature called XtraBoost.
While that name might sound a little contrived, the feature does work as advertised. Floor the 530e’s accelerator—you’ll notice a little click in the last few millimeters of travel when you hit the kickdown switch—and the battery sends a burst of energy to the electric motor that adds 40 horsepower for up to 10 seconds at a time. Briefly back off the go pedal, and XtraBoost is ready to go again.
Our test equipment confirmed XtraBoost’s, um, extra boost. The rear-wheel-drive model we drove—BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system is available for $2300—zipped to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, clipping 0.8 second from the time of a 2018 530e xDrive we tested. The 2021 car’s 13.8-second quarter-mile run at 100 mph beat the previous 530e’s pass by 0.6 second and 3 mph. It also got to 120 mph 1.3 seconds sooner. Just don’t drag race a Volvo S60 T8 AWD like our long-term test car. That 400-hp, plug-in-hybrid Swede hauls to 60 mph in a scant 4.3 seconds and covers the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds at 109 mph.
Although the 5-series hybrid is quicker than before, BMW’s mid-size lineup of plug-ins also includes the X5 45e, which gets a more powerful, six-cylinder hybrid powertrain. In addition to singing that sweet BMW inline-six music, the plug-in SUV is both quicker and goes farther on electric-only power (30 miles vs. 21) as it gets nearly double the battery capacity (17.1 kWh).
The 530e is nonetheless quick enough to be interesting, and it even has a sporty side—at least when equipped with our test car’s M Sport package ($2500), M Sport brakes ($650), and no-cost 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 ZP summer tires, sized 245/40R-19 in front and 275/35R-19 at the rear. (All-season 18-inch tires are standard.) The M Sport package’s stiffer suspension also lowers the car by 10 millimeters and delivers the clipped ride motions you’d expect from a sports sedan. As a precautionary measure in a frigid Michigan January, we swapped out the summer Michelins after testing for OE-size winter tires for driving on the street. But even on the less-aggressive tires the 530e’s steering cuts sharply, though without so much as a whisper of feedback. The current 5-series simply doesn’t deliver the sublime steering feel and brilliant ride-and-handling balance of previous versions. But it is taut, agile, and engaging in its own right.
As a plug-in hybrid, the 530e does a respectable job. The gas engine and electric motor combine their efforts seamlessly. The car’s regenerative braking feel blends smoothly with that of the conventional friction stoppers. Its 21 miles of EPA-rated electric-only range is midpack among plug-ins, but it is reasonably attainable. We left our office on one jaunt with a full charge, and when we shut it down 57 aggressively driven miles later, we’d covered 20 of those miles on electricity. In about 250 miles of daily driving, we averaged only 27 MPGe against an EPA estimate of 64 MPGe—which is not surprising given that charging limitations resigned us to driving most of those miles with the battery depleted. On our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test, the fully charged 530e ran for 17 miles on battery power and delivered 64 MPGe.
The BMW 530e starts at $58,195—$3000 more than the non-hybrid 530i—but it also earns a $5836 federal tax credit, which means it’s less expensive to buy. That leaves you with plenty of money to install 240-volt charging equipment in your garage. Whether its price advantage makes the electrified 530e a smarter choice than the regular 530i largely depends on how regularly you plan to plug it in. We have yet to sample the updated standard car, but we can say that the 530e blends its three primary ingredients—hybrid tech, luxury, and sportiness—into an unexpectedly well-balanced and tasteful main course.
Director, Buyer’s Guide
Rich Ceppos has evaluated automobiles and automotive technology during a career that has encompassed 10 years at General Motors, two stints at Car and Driver totaling 19 years, and thousands of miles logged in racing cars. He was in music school when he realized what he really wanted to do in life and, somehow, it’s worked out. In between his two C/D postings he served as executive editor of Automobile Magazine; was an executive vice president at Campbell Marketing & Communications; worked in GM’s product-development area; and became publisher of Autoweek. He has raced continuously since college, held SCCA and IMSA pro racing licenses, and has competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona. He currently ministers to a 1999 Miata and a 1965 Corvette convertible and appreciates that none of his younger colleagues have yet uttered “Okay, Boomer” when he tells one of his stories about the crazy old days at C/D.