Test Drive: BMW 545 e XDrive: the absolute saloon!

The prospect of spending a week at the wheel of a « real » BMW, a saloon car with an in-line six-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet, could only bring a smile to my face… At a time when the European authorities seem to aim destroying the Old Continent car industry, this 545 e XDrive is a real technological jewel. It proves that it is quite possible to reconcile electricity power with driving pleasure.

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The 5 Series is the archetypal classic BMW saloon. Sober and elegant, it displays the traditionnal Hofmeister kink. It keeps its predecessors proportions, even if its current size brings it closer to a 7 Series of a few generations ago.

Code name : G30

The seventh generation 5 Series was launched in October 2016. It benefits from a new platform but, no carbon here, as on the 7 Series: it consists of high-strength steels, magnesium and, above all, a lot of aluminium. The complete bodywork is even made entirely of it. By the way, it’s 100 kg lighter than the previous generation. It’s a long time running BMW tradition:  a light restyling always takes place at midterm for each model. Therefore, the 5 Series has been updated for the 2021 model year. It remains a modern saloon par excellence: comfortable, fast, even more efficient and equipped with more features than before. Aesthetically, the evolution is measured. It benefits from revised laser headlights, tail lights and bumpers. Fortunately, it steered clear from the 4 Series grille, phew! It is also – and above all – on the side of the driving aids that the difference is significant. Although it is still available with petrol and diesel engines, BMW is banking heavily on a rechargeable hybrid range with no less than three levels of power: 204, 292 and even 394 bhp for the 545e. The torque value is a strong 600 Nm!

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The in-line six-cylinder petrol engine is smooth and flexible, likes to rev up and is as efficient as it is frugal… What more could you ask for? A more audible soundtrack, perhaps?

The 3-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine is mated to a 11.6 kWh battery. Of course, top speed speed is electronically monitored to 250 km/h and 0 to 100 km/h requires just… 4.6 seconds! All this is done with CO2 emissions below 50g/km, a real achievement… Only a few years ago, such performance would have been an M5 preserve, no less. It is obviously on the fuel consumption side that the 545 e makes its mark. With 1.6 to 2.2 l/100 km official values and approximately a 50 km autonomy in full electric mode. The advantage here : absolutely no risk of running out of juice because of a flat battery. The 545 e XDrive truly squares the circle, combining top performance and first class economy. It is very docile and pleasant to drive. Regardless of the battery’s charge level, it always starts in electric mode and is therefore completely silent at this stage.

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Weighing about two tonnes in running order, the 545 e XDrive is nevertheless a real pleasure to drive, its low fuel consumption reinforcing it. Obviously, it feels more at ease on motorways than on country roads, but it will hold its own on them nevertheless.

It is even possible to reach the legal motorway speed limit without cranking the petrol engine. It starts up without the slightest jolt or jerk. The integration of the in-line six, the ZF automatic gearbox and the electric motor is without doubt one of the greatest achievement in this field. The 545 e XDrive smoothness and refinement will find few equals in today’s car production. Of course, the inline six loves to rev and its silky smoothness encourages you to push things even further… at the expense of fuel consumption. However, things always remain within reasonable limits in terms of performance and comfort. During our test, we easlily reached 7,5 – 7,6 l/ 100 km without trying too hard.

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Located in the front left fender, the battery charging socket remains discreet. A full charge offers a good fifty km range, which is more than enough for most users.

Hybrid drive

It must be said that today’s cars are packed with technologies and that most are barely used by their owners. However, the 545 e XDrive’s intelligent navigation system deserves a special mention: it is precise and fast while allowing the optimised use of electric power on a predetermined route. The internal combustion engine is active on the motorway, for example, while in the event of traffic jams or when driving through town, electric power is preferred. The best part of it? All takes place without the user even noticing it ! Pushing the ‘Hybrid’ button on the left-hand side of the gear lever in the centre console being all that’s needed. The chassis is a delight: the suspension has a comfortable but rigorous damping. Pushing the ‘sport’ button changes the instrument cluster display and keeps you more securely in the sport seat, as well as firming up the suspension and steering. Of course, the 12.35″ central screen is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. In combination with it, using the i Drive is always a real pleasure : intuitive and easy-to-use menus, very fast loading and response times, high quality resolution speak volumes for it. The Harman Kardon Surround Sound System turns the car into a concert hall. However, we were less convinced by the climate control or the radio voice commands…it’s always quicker to adjust them using your hand.

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Without doubt the best car seats… electrically adjustable, these buckets will get you to your destination without fatigue, even if you drive to the North Cape in one go ! The interior atmosphere is very dark but, fortunately, the glass sunroof brings a welcome supplement of light inside.

I like it

If we were awarding 5-star trophies, the 545 e XDrive would get one hands down! Indeed, what more could you ask for?  A smooth and powerful inline six, truck-like torque (thanks to the hybrid system!), a perfectly matched 8-speed ZF gearbox, a rigorous and comfortable chassis, electrically adjustable in all directions sport seats with ideal support… not to mention the large sunroof!  This BMW is as comfortable in the city, at low speed, as it is on the motorway. Once behind the wheel, you can’t help  wondering what else would be needed to cope with all driving situations… the even more versatile Touring version, perhaps?

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Always discreet and elegant, no doubt the 545 e XDrive will age very well, keeping all its assets. A few years down the line, it will surely seduce some knowledgeable enthusiasts on the second hand market.

I don’t like it

The 545 e XDrive is unburstable and very safe. But we would have liked it to be a little more playful as well as being louder! Weighing a portly 2020 kg unladen, this is no Caterham and the kilos can really be felt. Compared to a 5 Series petrol or diesel, boot capacity is reduced from 530 to 410 litres, the battery taking up a good part of the space. Nevertheless, the boot shape is still quite regular and practical.

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The beautiful 20″ wheels do not affect comfort and balanced braking matches the performance… the 545 e XDrive can be a comfortable long-distance grand tourer or a sporty family saloon in a hurry.

Quite clever

High-tech on-board technology may be the order of the day but BMW integrates it in a subtle way that won’t frighten customers. The central touch screen is large but a (digital) instrument panel still faces the driver, another long BMW tradition. Ergonomics are perfect. This BMW is one of those cars where you will find all the controls exactly where you expect them. Exactly the sort of car where you feel at ease immediately. The interior is very « BMW » and certainly less flashy than the E-Class’, with its curves and ambient lighting. Various interior fittings are laser-cut, allowing a perfect fit between them.

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Our test car was fitted with laser headlights. Powerful and precise, without dazzling other road users, it adds a « technological » note that suits the car’s personality very well.

Why I buy it

This car is a real Swiss Army knife! It really feels at home everywhere. Alone or with the family onboard, it just works… faultlessly, in an atmosphere exuding quality and… ultimate comfort. As ever, this beng a BMW, the integration of the hybrid system is a real success and the available electric range is adequate for most situations. Just the sort of car you love to drive on long journeys, knowing every minute spent behind the steering wheel will be a real pleasure. The all-wheel drive system is very efficient and always unnoticeable, controlling the power surge so well that accelerations are silky smooth. The grip is perfect and the car is always safe with a reassuring behavior. The 545 e XDrive is not shouting about itself in anyway. We like it and think it’s one of the car’s assets.  It is gentle and discreet,  a real Q car disguised as an anodine rep one. Remove the monograms and people will think it’s just a lowly 520d…

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Materials, fit and finish are high quality and the ergonomics are flawless. The automatic gearbox is a delight and is very well suited to the character of the inline six in this plug-in hybrid version. The « Hybrid » button on the left-hand side of the gearshift lever optimises the use of electrical energy in combination with the navigation system.

Why I don’t buy it

Prices start from € 61,000; still rather considerate in relation with the performances on offer. Our test model adds a whopping € 26,053 for extras. Topping all that with VAT, we are not far from € 106,000. This is obviously something to think about twice. Apart from its high price  and likely depreciation (Nowadays, buyers are more tempted by SUVs than saloons), it is difficult not to succumb to so many qualities. The Integral Active Steering sometimes seemed to lack feel and was a little light… however, without being too insensitive when back in a straight line.  In the end, it became more consistent when cornering and, once you get over its slightly confusing « light » side, it will inspire confidence. With its 20″ wheels and the adaptive damping system included in the M pack, the car can sometimes be felt bouncing a little on very bad surfaces and pothole-filled roads.

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Rear space is not huge. However, with individual air conditioning, tinted windows, blinds… passengers are in a real cocoon.

In conclusion, the 545 e XDrive is a real high tech integration triumph and a perfect demonstration of the mastery of the Munich manufacturer in terms of hybrid engines. Driving it is a real pleasure and absolutely no guilty feelings here ! (Text: Dimitri Urbain, Pictures: Pierre Fontignies)

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