What's New for 2012
The 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is the newest member of the 5 Series family. As its name suggests, it features a gasoline-electric powertrain.
How much are you willing to pay for the word "hybrid" on the back of your car? If $6,000 seems a bit steep, then we'd suggest considering something other than the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5. That may seem harsh, but when you compare this new hybrid version of the 5 Series to a regular 535i, you'll see that you're paying extra for the hybrid name and technology, but not reaping any appreciable benefits.
Of course, almost every hybrid on the road could be considered a dubious financial decision, especially those that are based on non-hybrid vehicles like the ActiveHybrid 5. Quite simply, the added price for electric motors, batteries and the high-tech control systems remains very high. As a result, it takes years or even decades to recoup the hybrid price premium through simple savings at the pump. With this BMW, however, it could take centuries to recoup the $6,000 price difference between it and a similarly equipped 535i.
The ActiveHybrid's city fuel economy may be 2 mpg better than the 535i (the two share a turbocharged six-cylinder engine), but highway fuel economy is actually worse by 1 mpg. Some hybrids do a different tack, improving performance while standing pat on fuel economy. The ActiveHybrid should indeed be quicker than the 535i, but we're not sure shaving a few tenths of a second from 0-60 mph is really worth it.
We're guessing most people considering an ActiveHybrid 5 are doing so for fuel economy rather than performance, and for them, we would suggest checking out the BMW 528i. Its turbocharged four-cylinder returns better fuel economy and it delivers 0-60 acceleration that's within 1 second of the more powerful ActiveHybrid. Comparably equipped, a 528i would be about $10,000 cheaper.
Another alternative would be the 2012 Infiniti M35h. This, too, has the word "hybrid" on its trunk, but it actually delivers superior fuel economy to V6-powered luxury sedans while matching the acceleration talents of V8-powered ones. It's also about $5,000 cheaper than its BMW rival. So no matter how you cut it, buying a 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 just doesn't make sense.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is a midsize luxury sedan available in a single trim level. The regular 5 Series is addressed in a separate review.
Standard equipment includes 18-inch wheels, automatic and adaptive bi-xenon headlights with auto-leveling and LED halo running lights, foglights, automatic wipers, power-folding and auto-dimming heated mirrors, a sunroof and keyless ignition. Inside you get cruise control, four-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power front seats with four-way lumbar adjustments, front seat memory functions, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and leather upholstery. Electronic features include the iDrive interface, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a navigation system, voice controls, real-time traffic information, BMW Assist emergency communications and a 10-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The Premium package adds front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, a power trunk lid and keyless ignition/entry. The Cold Weather package includes headlight washers, heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel. The Luxury Seating package adds ventilated and massaging front seats, a power rear sunshade and manual side sunshades. The Sport package adds automatically adjustable suspension damping, an increased top speed, special interior and exterior trim, a sport steering wheel and multicontour 14-way power front seats with four-way lumbar. The Premium sound package adds a 16-speaker surround-sound audio system and satellite radio. The Driver Assistance package adds automatic high beams, a lane-departure warning system and a blind-spot warning system.
Stand-alone options include an automatic parking system, side- and top-view parking cameras, front and rear parking sensors, keyless ignition/entry, a night vision display system, a head-up display, the multicontour front seats, heated front seats, the power rear and manual side rear sunshades, a dual-screen rear seat entertainment system, the BMW Apps suite of Internet-based smartphone features, satellite radio and ceramic-trimmed interior switchgear.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 features a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 paired to an electric motor, an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. Total combined output is 335 horsepower, and the ActiveHybrid 5 can theoretically travel on electric power alone up to 37 mph or for 2.5 miles at 25 mph. That power comes from a lithium-ion battery that is located in the trunk and recharged through regenerative braking. An automatic stop/start system shuts off the engine when stopped to conserve fuel.
BMW estimates the ActiveHybrid 5 will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, which is a little quicker than the 535i. BMW-estimated fuel economy is 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway, which is essentially the same as the 535i and actually worse than the 528i.
Standard safety equipment for the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 includes stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, automatic brake drying (useful in rainy weather), front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and adaptive taillights. The latter flash the taillights under sudden extreme braking as a warning to trailing motorists. Also standard is the BMW Assist emergency communications system, which provides automatic crash notification, stolen vehicle recovery and on-demand roadside assistance.
In government crash tests, the 5 Series earned a top five-star rating for overall performance, with four out of five stars given for overall front-impact protection and five stars for overall side-impact protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the 5 Series earned a top rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Both driver and passengers will be quite pleased with the 5 Series' cabin. There's nothing particularly fancy going on, but the overall look of the dash is clean thanks to the standard iDrive interface that eliminates the need for a gaggle of buttons. The layout features a center display screen and a configurable display in the gauge cluster. The iDrive controller remains complicated and isn't as easy to use as rival systems, but it does provide a large amount of customization of the car's features.
The front seats are quite comfortable, with the optional multicontour seats in particular providing an unmatched degree of adjustability. In back, there's enough room for a pair of 6-foot adults to be comfortable, and the backseat is nicely contoured and padded. The 13.4-cubic-foot trunk is smaller than average for this segment, but it's barely smaller than that of the regular 5 Series, which is rare for a hybrid.
Despite being a dubious on-paper proposition, the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is nevertheless an excellent car to drive. It's still a 5 Series after all, and that means an excellent balance between driver control and comfort. True, the current 5 lacks the agility and communication of its predecessors, with a general feel of isolation that didn't exist before, but it remains one of the more enjoyable sedans to drive.
Although the ActiveHybrid 5 isn't considerably quicker than a 535i, it's still plenty quick. The turbocharged inline-6 provides plenty of punch down low and the electric motor adds even more. If you're looking to charge away from a stop light or pull past a dawdling RV on a two-lane road, this is a great car in which to do it. The thing is, though, a 535i is a similarly great choice and the Infiniti M35h hybrid is even better.