Plug-in hybrid test: BMW 5 Series vs Volvo S90
With punchy performance and potentially low running costs, these plug-in hybrid saloons promise to let you have your cake and eat it...
BMW 5 Series 530e M Sport
- List price £50,000
- Target Price £45,737
On paper, this is the most efficient version of our favourite luxury car.
Volvo S90 T8 Inscription Pro
- List price £58,555
- Target Price £55,381
This top-spec S90 comes with plenty of toys and much more power than the 530e.
Cutting CO2 emissions to save the planet may be of utmost importance, but it can be a trifle dull, can’t it? Take cars, for instance: if you’re after good efficiency, most of the options are either sluggish hatchbacks or unfashionable diesels.
So, what do you do if you’re after a speedy saloon with petrol power? No, the answer isn’t to get a horse to tow it half the time; it’s to look at a plug-in hybrid. Unlike regular ‘self-charging’ hybrids, you can charge a plug-in hybrid’s battery from the mains, to give an official range on electric power alone of between 20 and 30 miles.
In the blue corner is the BMW 530e, the plug-in hybrid version of our reigning Luxury Car of the Year. In the not-quite-so-blue corner is the Volvo S90 T8, a car that may look quite sensible but, as you’ll find out, has a devastating sucker punch.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Both cars pack a 2.0-litre petrol engine that’s boosted by an electric motor, but their power outputs aren’t even close. While the turbocharged 530e has a total system output (engine and electric motor combined) of 249bhp, the S90 packs a whopping 385bhp, thanks its petrol engine being turbocharged and supercharged.
Being four-wheel drive rather than rear-wheel drive like the 530e, the S90 catapults you off the line, managing 0-60mph in a startling 4.8sec. The 530e is no slouch, though, taking a respectable 6.2sec to reach 60mph from rest. It’s a similar story on the move, with the S90 proving far quicker when you accelerate through the gears.
However, the 530e is better to drive in a number of key ways. Although these cars aren’t as agile as their conventionally powered counterparts, due to the extra weight of those batteries, the 530e is far better at hiding its extra flab. It feels keener to turn in to corners, its body leans less and it copes with mid-corner bumps in a much more composed fashion, giving you a greater sense of confidence.
With the S90 being softer and wallowing more in corners, you’d think it would have a more comfortable ride, right? Well, it does initially seem that way on roads that are free of challenging obstacles. However, all it takes is a pothole or expansion joint to send a sharp shock up through your seat and unsettle the car.
The 530e is certainly firmer, especially on optional 20in wheels, yet it has a consistency to its ride that makes it the more comfortable car for more of the time, and it’s even better when fitted with optional adaptive dampers (£985), which we recommend. The 530e is also noticeably quieter at 70mph, generating much less road noise. Put your foot down and its engine is more refined than the slightly coarse S90’s, too.
While both cars officially return well over 100mpg under the new and supposedly more realistic WLTP fuel economy tests, the way plug-in hybrids work means these figures are slightly misleading. Your actual economy will depend on factors such as how much charge you have in the battery and the length of your journey.
With the batteries fully charged and EV mode selected (preventing the engine from firing up except under hard acceleration), we covered 18.1 miles in the 530e and 20.7 miles in the S90 on electricity alone. But with the batteries depleted and the engines running, the 530e averaged a respectable 33.1mpg, whereas the S90 managed just 25.8mpg.
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