BMW 545e hybrid prototype review

A more powerful plug-in hybrid BMW 5 Series saloon is launching soon – and we've driven the prototype. Is it worth the extra over the 530e?

BMW 545e
£54,945 - £58,445
Plug-in hybrid

Pros

  • Very strong performance
  • Low company-car costs
  • Great to drive

Cons

  • High list price
  • Saloon only
  • Quite heavy
Car type Electric range Fuel economy CO2 emissions
Plug-in hybrid 33 miles 166mpg 38-54mpg

The new BMW 545e plug-in hybrid is a faster (and more expensive) counterpart to the familiar 530e model. The latter was recently updated, and is now offered with a choice of rear or four-wheel-drive and in four-door saloon or five-door 'Touring' estate bodystyles, but the 545e is a four-wheel-drive, four-door saloon only. Our early drive of a near-production prototype gives us a good idea of how the production car will stack up. 

It's both powerful and pricey, putting out 389bhp from its combination of a six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and electric motor; prices will start at a shade under £55,000 in entry-level SE trim, rising to just less than £58,500 in M Sport form. Of course, like the 530e, the 545e is marketed primarily as a company car, with its intended audience being far more concerned about monthly tax costs than list price.

CO2 emissions for the entry-level 545e SE stand at 38g/km (compared to 30g/km for the less powerful 530e) and the 545e can travel for up to 33 miles on electric power alone (compared to a maximum of 38 miles for the 530e). But those differences don't actually matter in the eyes of the government, as all cars capable of between 30 and 39 miles zero-emissions running, with overall CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km, fall into the same 10% company-car tax band during the 2020/21 financial year.

As long as the company can swallow the increased leasing costs of a 545e compared to a 530e, the end user won't pay any more to enjoy its additional power. That power sees the 545e getting almost as much grunt as BMW's flagship M5 performance saloon had not that long ago, so it goes almost without saying that this car is fast in a straight line. It'll do 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and can cruise on the unrestricted German autobahn at up to 155mph. In pure-electric mode, maximum speed is 87mph. A smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox is the only transmission option.

As with any plug-in hybrid, many daily local journeys can be completed entirely in electric mode, but the system can also come into play on longer journeys, where it's more than just a case of driving in electric mode until the battery is depleted and then switching to the engine. The car's hybrid driving mode instead deploys the battery's power intelligently in the most efficient way over the course of a journey, using data from the sat-nav system, in order to deliver the best possible overall miles-per-gallon figure.

On our initial test drive of a near-production prototype, we saw up to 150mpg on the dashboard readout – less than the official number, but highly impressive for a 1,945kg car with this much power. Diesel-like returns of 50-60mpg should be easily achievable in everyday driving.

BMW's long-established handling expertise means that extra weight – due to the presence of the batteries and electric motor – doesn't unduly affect the trademark sporty handling common to all variants of the 5 Series. So are there any downsides? Well, the 545e upholds the plug-in hybrid tradition of not offering rapid charging, so you need to allow about three and a half hours for a top-up if you want to keep seeing the best possible fuel-economy from the car. And there's a penalty to be paid in terms of boot space compared to a petrol or diesel-engined 5 Series saloon: the hybrid can hold 410 litres of luggage, compared to the non-hybrids' 530.

But as long as you're not too bothered by those factors, there's little to be said against the 545e. It adds something different to BMW's plug-in hybrid line-up, creating its own mini-category of high-performance large plug-in executive saloon that neither the Mercedes E-Class or Audi A6 ranges have an answer for just yet (although a six-cylinder A6 plug-in is in the pipeline). The Volvo S90 Recharge comes close for outright power output and speed, but is a more comfort-orientated option that can't match the BMW's agility in corners.