2021 BMW 530e Review: A Persuasive Case for More Hybrid Sport Sedans

The latest iDrive system is also better than most on the market. Pairing your phone is a painless process, as is finding a place to charge the car if you’re a bit far from home. Some of the switchgear feels a bit cheap—somewhat of a trend on newer BMWs—but at least there’s great accent lighting. I wouldn’t recommend the white interior unless you only wear white, never eat in your car, and live in a color-matched, hermetically-sealed house, but to each their own. There are several other colors available that won’t make you feel like Oscar the Grouch after a few months of leaving your personal filth on the seats.

The driver-assist systems are also well-integrated into the interior, featuring lights on the steering wheel to get your attention if you get distracted, and interfaces on the dash and HUD to ensure you always know what the car is trying to do. That being said, while the radar cruise control part of this equation works as you would expect, the lane-keep and lane-centering systems aren’t perfect. 

The lane-keep system—if you decide to veer out of your bit of the road—will jolt you back the other direction, hard enough that you end up in the other lane if you don’t correct it. When lanes separate or merge together, the car gets “sketched out” and spooked,” for lack of better terms. When faced with the same situations, other systems can figure them out or shut off altogether so the driver gets back to steering by themselves. 

BMW’s system, on the other hand, will typically make an aggressive maneuver—steering very hard and very quickly—as it tries to pick a lane or not drive off the road. That won’t exactly make you comfortable in the hands of the car. I never let it get far enough to put anyone in danger, but you must be more vigilant of this system than others from the likes of Hyundai, Acura, or Cadillac.

Back to That Whole Smile Thing, Though

The interior and the driver-assist features aren’t the point of this car, however. The interior of any BMW is never going to be awful, and the driver-assist systems work fine in the vast majority of situations. The thing sets this machine apart is how a little bit of electric power lends to the driving experience.

Specifically, the 530e gives you as much as 37 mpg on the highway in Eco Pro mode; extremely impressive for a 4,200-pound sedan of this size. (I recorded that number on a 100-mile stretch of highway between upstate New York and New Jersey, too. Not an arrow-straight, flat-like-glass Kansas highway.) This puts it ahead of all of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Classes, with the most efficient ones returning 31 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA.

The 530e also—very refreshingly—gives you a little taste of the brand’s old sports sedans. Minus the M-Sport suspension, which isn’t available on the 530e, the chassis on this car was just a tad soft, but it felt extremely predictable. The drivetrain very nearly makes up for the numb steering, and the novelty of a performance-oriented hybrid system also made me not miss having a clutch pedal. Give me more control over how that electric power gets put to the wheels and I’ll forget about H-patterns altogether.

Heck, give this car the 248-hp engine from a regular 530i, add another 50 horses on from the electric motor, and you’ll have a no-nonsense, 400-hp hybrid that will spin the tires like an M car but use no gas when there’s neither a time nor a place for a spirited drive. Don’t get me wrong, the 530e is great as it sits, but hearts and minds are changed by tire smoke and zero-to-60 times. A future, higher-performance version of it from BMW would be a home run. Did somebody say 540e?

Even without 400 hp, though, this 5 Series hugged the inside line confidently even on winter tires, accelerated hard out of tight corners, and most importantly, put a smile on my face. It’s sharp, it’s precise, it’s a real fun-to-be-had driving machine. A lot less can be said of cars that claim to be a lot more.

But it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple. The real shortcoming of the 530e is the price. At $58,195, it’s both three grand more than the 530i and only $2,250 cheaper than a 540i; that car has a classic BMW inline-six, the same handling dynamics and a lot more power. There’s not much buyer incentive to go for the environmentally conscious 5 Series when the more powerful, more stereotypically fun one is basically within reach. The reality is that while batteries are getting cheaper, the nature of PHEVs means you’re paying for two separate drivetrains. As much as they clearly want to live together—and they make such a cute couplethey add up to an expensive proposition when bolted into the same car.

Is that enough to dissuade me from telling you to consider buying one of these things, though? No, it’s not. As much as any car enthusiast likes to harp on BMW for losing its way, the 530e is an appealing package even for the money. It just needs a bit more power for there to be no asterisk after that statement. This car is not just a good BMW, it’s a good sports sedan by any standard. More sports sedans ought to be hybrids, and we should make all their drivetrains more like this one.

Wanna talk some more about the 530e? Send me a message: [email protected]

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