Thursday, July 5, 2012


Launched in Mzansijust recently, the new BMW ActiveHybrid 5 represents the company’s first foray into hybrids in this country. Yes there are two other BMW hybrid models running around elsewhere in the world, but never before has South Africa enjoyed the blue and white flag powered by this mix of petrol and electric technology. And it’s not the last time either.

My main point of concern as I hurried along the curving esses of the Western Cape during the media launch, was why anyone would chose the hybrid over the more complete 535d, even though it costs about R20 000more. Consider for example, that said 535d is pusher of 630 Newtons in torque, compared to the ActiveHybrid 5’s 450Nm (with 250kW total system output), yet the diesel tends to visit the petrol pumps far less by averaging 5.6 litres per 100km, as opposed to the petrol’s 7 litres per 100km. more interestingly, the 535d will scatter off from standstill into 100km/h territory in just 5.5 seconds, while hybrid does same in a more serene 5.9 seconds, notwithstanding its 3.0-litre turbo straight six petrol side.

Most modern hybrids spread their lithium-ion batteries under the floor. However, BMW saw it fit to cut off part of the boot’s front end and partition it for the battery stack. So they reside upright in a space behind the rear seat and the boot. Net effect? About 145 litres less boot space.

Such thoughts would creep into my mind now and then as I negotiated tight corners and long endless sweeps in the green glorious Cape, navigating a route we seldom see on our frequent travels down there. “Tjo, this is a true Beemer”, I said to self. Handling is from the very top shelf of things. Of course it is, because it’s exactly based on the same class-leading 5 Series that was launched here in 2010. Even the interior equipment that makes traffic more bearable is the same. Here I mean things like climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation (standard), USB ports for your music and other pleasantries.

Hybrids, I’ve always maintained, are for people who live and work in places like Melrose Arch, where one steps out of bed and straight into the office, via a quick breakfast at Europa or Primi Piatti. See, hybrids run on both petrol (some on diesel too) and electric batteries, the latter operating best during peak start/stoptraffic situations. This car is also a full hybrid, meaning it can go for up to four kilometres on Eskom power alone, saving you something in the region of a round trip to the shops in used fuel. That’s a lot actually, if you consider that you could run out of fuel trying to go fill up.

Still, for what you pay, what you get and what you can get instead, none of this leaves me convinced that ActiveHybrid 5 is a better buy than its diesel brethren, especially the stonking 535d, or even the less powerful 530d with 190kW and 560Nm. Yet there is clearly a need for such a car, for people who want real tangible power to balance off their life-long addiction to petrol. I understand most South Africans still think diesel is a contagious plague, despite its proven advantages over the unleaded.

Until we can be able to drive from Jozi to Durban in full electric power, or at least have the option of charging up as quickly as those petrol attendants fill us up, hybrids will remain on the fringes for me. I’m not an American, and therefore aren’t swept off my feet by every latest fad.

Some motoring journalists reckon the BMW X6 is a pointless car. I totally disagree. I think the ActiveHybrid 5 is a pointless car. Yet, the so-called “greenies” will buy it, if only to ease their consciousness about killingthe planet. Diesel 535d will do what this car does even better, at a marginal list premium.

BMW 5 Series Selected Pricing
530d (R671 180)
ActiveHybrid 5 (R760 977)
535d (R780 394)

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//PART 2