Used 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5
Edmunds' Expert Review
The 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 offers no significant fuel economy or acceleration benefit versus a 535i and costs significantly more. You'd be better off gluing a "Hybrid" badge onto a regular 5 Series.
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.
Trim levels & features
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.
Performance & mpg
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.
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.
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.
Features & Specs
More About This Model
We are in a nondescript office in Munich. It's 2008 and talk turns to the development of the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5. They're speaking German, but we have a translator on hand. "Toyota has achieved cult status with the Prius by combining an electric motor with a gasoline engine," says Luther. "We could team a four-cylinder turbo with our own motor and build the world's most efficient executive sedan."
"That is true," Wolfgang interjects, "or we could pair an electric motor with a 300-horsepower, six-cylinder turbo and make it bloody fast." Both men smile as one. They know only too well that in the market of the future, customers won't want a hair-shirted alternative; they'll want a high-performance sedan with a feel-good badge. "We'll call it Efficient Dynamics," says Wolfgang, "but with the focus on the Dynamics."
And thus, from a gray office in Bavaria, the ActiveHybrid 5 was born. Allegedly.
Fast-forward four years and on a chilly day in Lisbon, Portugal, we're confronted with the reality of the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5. BMW knows that hybrid buyers like to shout about their purchase, even if it's only used as a shuttle to a private airport. That's why there are giant "look at me" ActiveHybrid badges on the C-pillars, and more on the trunk. There's a revised kidney grille with "galvanized slats" and the option of some proprietary 18-inch wheels which, according to BMW, "display exceptional aerodynamic efficiency." Most customers are also likely to opt for a Bluewater Metallic paint job, which is unique to BMW's hybrid range. Combine all this and no one will doubt that you genuinely care and are nothing like those socially irresponsible types in the 550i.
Slide a sandal inside and you'll be greeted by more conscience-pleasing paraphernalia. This includes "ActiveHybrid 5" door sill strips and a little aluminum plaque on the center console. The 9.2-inch color display system also boasts a few new functions. There's a neat graphic that tells you how the energy's being distributed and a bar chart that tracks your fuel consumption over time. The latter offers the opportunity for a bit of sport, although we also found it inspired a masochistic tendency to score as poorly as possible.
The rest of the cabin is classic 5 Series, which is no bad thing. It's true that the 5 looks like a scaled-down facsimile of a 7 Series, but that's more likely to worry owners of the top-line model. The quality is tremendous, with the exception of some nasty plastic on the internal B-pillar, and the driving position is made perfect by a steering wheel that offers an exceptionally long range of telescopic adjustment. This means you can adapt the NASCAR position, even if you're long of leg.
As with nearly every contemporary BMW, a drive of the ActiveHybrid 5 cannot be undertaken without first engaging in a little computer science. The default setting for the Driving Dynamics Control is Comfort, in which mode the hybrid is almost indistinguishable from the mainstream models. If you want to experience the full benefits of gas-electric propulsion, you need to activate Eco Pro mode. Only now will you feel like you're driving a hybrid.
In essence, the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is a 535i with an electric motor assistant. The motor is integrated into the transmission, while the lithium-ion battery pack is housed in the trunk, just behind the rear seats. It pinches a not inconsiderable 5.1 cubic feet of space, which leaves 13.2 cubic feet. The system weighs 309 pounds, which partly negates the benefit of electric propulsion.
On its own, the electric motor serves up 54 horsepower and 155 pound-feet of torque, while the 2,979cc turbo inline-6 offers 306 hp and 295 lb-ft. Put the two together and transmission losses reduce the combined sum to 335 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque in a vehicle that tips the scales at 4,079 pounds (EU measure). The weight-to-power of 12.2 pounds per horsepower is better than a 535i, but not by much.
Assuming there's power in the battery and you've bothered to select Eco Pro mode, the ActiveHybrid can be driven at speeds up to 37 mph on electric power alone. But not very far: BMW reckons you can drive 2.5 miles at an average of 22 mph before the gasoline engine must intervene. Keeping it in electric mode also means playing footsie with the throttle or you'll inadvertently kick-start the engine. If you're dawdling in L.A. rush-hour traffic, then the system has an important role to play, but if you're a country boy, it's hard to see the benefit.
The car's eco-credentials may at times feel a little tenuous, but there's no denying its rapidity. A big dollop of instantaneous torque from the electric motor helps propel the 5 from zero to 62 mph in just 5.9 seconds, according to BMW's own figures. In the midrange it's properly quick and a genuine sleeper. The near-silent operation of the electric motor, coupled with the refinement of the engine lends the car a stealthlike quality. You tend to be traveling faster than you think, a phenomenon it shares with the ActiveHybrid 7.
The eight-speed ZF gearbox also has little trouble marrying the power sources. Whether in full auto or when using the sequential paddle shifters, it's unerringly smooth. Indeed, the downchanges are some of the best we've experienced from any type of 'box. The reengagement of the engine is similarly impressive. The starts and stops are almost imperceptible from the cabin.
The rest of the driving experience is familiar 5 Series. The ride is excellent and there's no denying its ability to cover ground at high speed in supreme comfort, but some of the sporting edge that characterized 5 Series of old is missing. The steering is the biggest culprit. Not even BMW has come close to developing an electrically assisted system that matches the feel and sensitivity of the old hydraulic setup. As we've found with our long-term 528i, the modern 5 Series is a brilliant everyday tool, but the days when a base model could also pose as a weekend plaything are over for now.
The role of the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5, of course, is to combine the performance of a V8 with the economy of a six, and it's packed with fuel-saving tech. A start-stop function automatically shuts down the engine when the car is at rest. There's also a coasting function, which decouples and shuts down the gasoline engine at speeds up to 100 mph in Eco Pro mode, or 50 mph in all other modes. This is increasingly common — Porsche, for example, already offers a similar system in the Panamera and new 911 — and is designed to make the best use of "free" kinetic energy already available.
More unusual is BMW's use of the standard navigation system. Assuming it has sufficient data, the system can analyze the terrain and set the car up accordingly. For example, if it identifies that a sharp uphill is followed by a long descent, it will happily use all the battery power on the way up, knowing that it will be replenished. It's clever, but its success depends on the quality and quantity of the navigation data, which is far from consistent.
There are no EPA figures yet for the ActiveHybrid 5, but one can learn something about its efficiency by studying the European figures. These reveal an average (using EU regulation but U.S. gallons) of 36.7 mpg for the hybrid, compared with 29 mpg for a 535i and 22.7 mpg for a 550i. It also produces 149 g/km of carbon dioxide, which is 36 g/km or 19 percent less than the 535i. How these figures will translate to EPA ratings remains to be seen, but our experience suggests the real-world benefits of hybridization rarely match the benefits described on paper.
It should also be noted that these figures are for an ActiveHybrid on 17-inch rims. Opt for 18-, 19- or 20-inch alloys as most owners surely will and the combined consumption figures drops to 33.6 mpg.
The ActiveHybrid's real role in life is to serve as a poster boy for BMW's EfficientDynamics program, at least until the i3 and i8 arrive. BMW admits that it's likely to account for less than 5 percent of 5 Series sales in the U.S. and that many customers will choose it as much for what it says as what it does.
Those who look beyond the marketing bluster, though, will find a highly capable and extremely rapid executive express. It's a fine car, but whether the marginal economy and performance benefits over a 330-hp 535i can justify a hefty price premium is open to debate. At $61,845 the ActiveHybrid costs almost $10K more than a 535i and about a grand less than a 400-hp 550i.
This remains the great conundrum of hybrid ownership. The 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 may be an important pointer to the future, but right now we struggle to recommend it over a regular 535i.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.
Used 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 Overview
The Used 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is offered in the following submodels: ActiveHybrid 5 Sedan. Available styles include 4dr Sedan (3.0L 6cyl Turbo gas/electric hybrid 8A).
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Should I lease or buy a 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.