If you hadn't noticed, BMW is already selling hybrid-powered cars in Thailand. The first model to get a semi-electric drivetrain is the 5 Series executive saloon badged as ActiveHybrid 5.
Forming the basis for AH5 is the 535i, whose 306hp 3.0 litre inline six-pot turbo petrol engine has been coupled to electric motors bringing the combined power output to 340hp.
The AH5 is deemed a full hybrid because the electric unit not only acts as a performance booster but can additionally run on its own for a claimed four kilometres at speeds of up to 60kph.
Moreover, the petrol engine can automatically turn off during coasting at speeds under 160kph. And, of course, there's the ability of the engine to automatically stop and restart at traffic lights _ if there's enough juice stored in the lithium-ion batteries.
But don't think for a moment that the AH5 is meant to be the most frugal 5 Series in the model's line-up. With an average economy rating of 15.6kpl, the AH5 still lags behind the diesel-powered 520d and 525d.
Worse, the AH5 retails at 5.39 million baht, some two million baht dearer than the diesel-burning Fives. If economy is all that matters to you, then the AH5 is not for you.
The AH5 only makes sense when you are looking for a performance version of the 5 Series. The AH5 is over two million baht cheaper than the petrol-powered 535i, yet it boasts more power, performance and frugality.
The ability for the AH5 to undercut the 535i in price comes courtesy of the 10% excise tax for hybrid-powered cars in Thailand. All of a sudden, the AH5 begins to look like good value for money.
occupants in the rear are treated to a DVD-based entertainment system.
If that's not enough, take a look at the AH5's only direct competitor in Thailand _ the Lexus GS450h _ which sports a similarly powered six-cylinder engine and similar performance and economy as the AH5, but costs 7.79 million baht.
Why? Because the Lexus has a 3.5 litre petrol engine and faces the maximum 50% tax rate. The 10% rate is only allowed for hybrid-powered cars whose capacity doesn't exceed three litres. Yup, Amazing Thailand, indeed.
That said, you get quite a lot of performance for the money in the AH5. As if the turbocharger isn't enough to propel the car to its maximum speed without fuss, the electric assistance makes it an even faster blast.
With maximum torque arriving at just 1,200rpm, the AH5 offers instantaneous acceleration thrills. You can feel how the car's front end pitches when you floor the accelerator.
And yes, you can also feel the sheer weight of the AH5, thanks to the electric components that add nearly 200kg to the 535i donor vehicle. Tipping the scales at just under two tones, the AH5 is a heavy car.
However, the suspension and brakes in the AH5 seem to cope effectively with the added weight. But only just, because the stoppers, for one, already seem to be working at their limit when slowing the AH5 down from high speed.
But once on the move, the AH5 performs effortlessly, redlines with ease and makes other people on the road wonder what kind of engine this 5 Series really has when you really push it.
Where AH5 buyers can start to make some savings in fuel bills is at city speeds, where electricity has a more prominent role. You can tootle around car parks or Siam Square in silence. There's also the feel-good factor because you know you aren't putting any carbon dioxide on the road from your car's exhaust (please don't start the debate on the environmental impact of batteries).
The transition between electric power to petrol engine while driving is barely perceptible. It's only at traffic lights or low speeds where you can feel, rather than hear, the engine firing up after the electricity is exhausted.
To make the AH5 as appealing as possible, BMW has equipped it with several features the mainstream models don't have, such as DVD entertainment for rear passengers, all-round view parking camera system, active cruise control, head-up display and sunroof. Too bad BMW hasn't gone flat out with gimmicks such as the soft-shut operation of the rear doors, something no other rivals in its class offer yet.
Who the AH5 would appeal to is the aficionado who appreciates sophisticated technology that combines the merits of eight-cylinder performance with the economy of a four-cylinder engine (if you make good use of the Eco Pro driving mode).
But as a range-topping model in the 5 Series line-up that costs more than five million baht, you still can't help wonder if the AH5 can really tempt potential customers away from the lower cost variants. After all, the AH5 is intended as a performance-oriented 5 Series saloon. And that's probably why many people will fail to notice BMW's first hybrid crusade into Thailand.
the fascia is familiar 5 Series fare.
MERCEDES-BENZ STEALS A MARCH
MERCEDES-BENZ STEALS A MARCH
Arch-rival Mercedes-Benz has an answer for the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 _ the E400 BlueTEC, combining V6 petrol power and electricity. But it isn't coming to Thailand because there are no right-hand-drive cars and the 3.5 litre engine falls foul of Thai hybrid taxes.
No problem, says Mercedes, because it is bringing the E300 BlueTEC instead this year. Okay, the E300 may not have performance in mind like the AH5, but it has a much bigger chance of chasing real sales. Set to cost around 4.5 million baht, the E300 will ask potential buyers to sacrifice a few hundred thousand baht for a diesel-electric hybrid that would pay off in the long run.
The E300 mates electric power to the 204hp 2.1 litre four-cylinder diesel-turbo used in the E250 CDI to help yield a class-leading economy figure of 23kpl. Now, that's what many may think a hybrid is supposed to do.
BMW doesn't make a four-pot hybrid yet for any country around the globe.
CLASS-LEADER: The E300 BlueTEC is capable of 23kpl.
About the author
- Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor