2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 5: The 2,000-Mile Road Trip – Review and Report

By Dan Collins on 5 September 2013
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Despite the fact that gas-electric hybrids having been around for more than a decade, and P1030733BMW has offered one for the better half of one, there remains a sense of novelty to driving a car without the gas engine running. Especially with the soaring cost of fuel, hybrids have been an easy and eco-fashionable way for drivers to go green.

Normally, the term “hybrid” would make me cringe. Clearly, I’ve been marred by my experiences with mostly Japanese-developed hybrids, which never seem to live up to the sky-high fuel economy estimates and exhibit performance reminiscent of that attainable from a worn out rubber band. Thus seeing the ActiveHybrid badging on the otherwise normal-looking 2013 5 Series machine made me apprehensive. But once I got in, selected sport mode, stepped on the accelerator, and was pressed back into the seat, my fears that BMW had thrown in the towel dissipated. As the car shifted through its Sport Automatic transmission’s eight gears, the roar of the engine made me downright happy.


In late July, while my colleagues were traveling across the P1030617far reaches of the globe and burnishing their diamond status, it was time to borrow the 5er, stretch its legs and see whether its status as a hybrid in any way betrayed its motoring heritage. Over the course of 2,026 miles (3,260 kilometers), the car saw the streets of Manhattan, rural Virginia highways, D.C.-area parkways, and the suburbs of Greenville, South Carolina. The initial impression was one of relief:  it being a hybrid didn’t spoil the car’s appeal.  Nonetheless, I still expected some of the 5er’s hybridness to follow, lurking in the car’s blind spot, and rear its head at every gas station and press of the accelerator.


Hybrids, by nature, are most at home in city driving. Long before automatic start/stop systems were introduced, hybrids would be sitting silently at stop lights and in gridlock, most of the time with their air conditioners still running.  IMG_0281Because it is a full hybrid (and not a mild, or assist hybrid), the ActiveHybrid 5 can drive solely on electric power, up to 37 mph (59.5 km/h) making it most capable in the city.

Of course, under hard acceleration, and any time that Sport Mode is selected, the electric motor will be quickly eclipsed by the 300 horsepower turbocharged six-cylinder engine that ensures getting ahead of whatever taxi or other obstacle in the way. The process of switching between the two powerplants is, however, seamless, unlike what I’ve experienced in many of the BMW’s competitors.

Driving the AH5 in New York and then Washington, D.C. was perhaps the most convincing experience in proving that all hybrids aren’t evil. The system couples the advantages of a hybrid with the authentic driving experience of the BMW 535i (on which the ActiveHybrid 5 is based), while avoiding the usual hybrid pitfalls such as Continuously Variable transmissions and a senses numbing drive dynamic.

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