Is The 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 Really Green, Or Not?

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BMW ActiveHybrid 5 Concept

BMW ActiveHybrid 5 Concept

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Just ten years ago, cars like the 2002 Toyota Prius traded performance for unbelievably-high gas mileage, bringing the concept of eco-friendly gasoline electric hybrid cars to the masses. 

Recently however, automakers like BMW have used full hybrid technology to give high performance luxury cars like the 5-Series a gas mileage boost without compromising on performance. 

But with an expected gas mileage of around 31 mpg combined -- and some reports citing it as low as 26 mpg at best -- is the ActiveHybrid 5 really a green car, or is it time that we realized that Hybrid drivetrains aren’t necessarily always green? 

Yes, It Really Is A Hybrid

While 36 mpg might sound low when compared to the gas mileage of cars like the 2012 Toyota Prius and 2012 Honda Insight, both the Prius and the Insight make some significant sacrifices in performance at the altar of fuel efficiency. 

Take acceleration. Both the 2012 Toyota Prius and 2012 Honda Insight take around 10 seconds to hit  60 mph. The ActiveHybrid 5 does it in 5.7. 

But while the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 is both faster and less fuel efficient than either of the two kings of gas mileage, it is also a real hybrid. 

2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5

2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5

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Let us explain. Unlike previous generation 5-series hybrids -- whose mild-hybrid drivetrains could not provide electric only operation -- the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 can travel on electric only power at speeds of up to 37 mph. For city driving, BMW claims electric-only mode will carry you as far as 2.5 miles, provided you keep an average speed of 22mph. 

A Different Market

On paper, the BMW ActiveHybrid 5’s gas mileage looks mediocre, especially when there are so many compact and sub-compact non-hybrid cars on the market that can get a gas mileage of more than 40 mpg. 

But the ActiveHybrid 5 isn’t meant as a car for eco-minded consumers who want the greenest possible car available. 

Instead, the ActiveHybrid 5 is BMW’s latest entry into the luxury hybrid market, currently dominated by cars like the 2012 Infiniti M35h and the 2012 Lexus GS 450h. At a stretch, BMW buyers might even look at the  2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.

Just like you wouldn't compare apples with oranges, you can't compare the BMW AcitveHybrid 5 to subcompact high gas mileage cars or eco-minded hybrids: instead, you have to compare it to similar cars. 

Have Your Cake, Eat It Too?

2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5

2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5

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From the perspective of a long-standing BMW driver, the ActiveHybrid 5 offers the best of both worlds -- a car that they know will give great performance and quality while simultaneously saving them money at the gas station.

More importantly, it helps introduce buyers who traditionally wouldn’t entertain buying a car like the 2012 Toyota Prius to the concept of owning a hybrid car. 

While it may not get anywhere near the gas mileage of a car like the 2012 Toyota Prius,  the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 will help get luxury car buyers out of high-performance, low gas mileage cars into something that is familiar, but also greener. 

There’s more. With the BMW i3 electric and BMW i8 plug-in hybrid due to launch in a few years’ time, the ActiveHybrid 5 could be the stepping stone for many luxury car buyers towards an even more environmentally-friendly car.

But Is It A Green Car? 

On paper, the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 doesn’t look all that green, but compare it to other similarly-sized, similarly-priced luxury cars, and it becomes apparent that it is a lot greener than some of its competitors. 

Ultimately, an improvement in gas mileage of even a few miles per gallon is a good thing, especially when it introduces car drivers to a technology that could lead to even greener cars. 

For that reason alone, we think it is fair to call the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 a green car when comparing it with other luxury segment cars. Beyond that however, it starts to lose its green credentials. 

What do you think? Let us know in the Comments below. 


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Comments (10)
  1. The problem here is people look at the gas mileage of a Prius and they instantly set their expectations to high. You hear the word "hybrid" and instantly expect 40 to 50 miles per gallon. 31mpg in a mid-sized sport sedan that still has some performance is awesome, it doesn't make it less green because it's gas milage isn't comparable to a compact 5-door hatch back who's driving performance is only good when it's going down hill. As for attracting people to even greener cars, yes I do think hybrids lead to interest in electric cars. Why buy a hybrid when you could buy an electric car and get rid of gasoline all together. An i3 is no substitute for a 5-series so your only real option is going to be a Tesla Model S.

  2. Firstly, I need some help understanding the 5-series. Looking around I see the current offerings
    BMW 528 27 mpg
    BMW 535 25 mpg
    BMW 550 18 mpg
    What is a 550 and why is its mpg so bad. Which model BMW should the ActiveHybrid 5 be compared to.

    Comparing the ActiveHybrid 5 to the existing 528, there would seem to be little, if any, improvement in mpg.

  3. The BMW 550i is the V8 model, I'd say that the hybrid-5 is comparable to the 535i. Both the 535i and hybrid-5 accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds. And your right the difference between the 528i and the hybrid makes the hybrid look pointless, why pay more for the hybrid if the base model is almost identical.

  4. @John, people can correct me if I'm wrong, but the first BMW digit is the series, then the next two are the engine size, I believe. So the 528i is a 5-series with a 2.8 Liter engine. Only 240 HP. The 535 is a 3.5L with 300 HP & the 550i, is the monster with a V8 and 400 HP. Hence the much reduced mileage. Even worse, in reality, since few buy a 550i to drive conservatively...

    And I agree with CDspeed. compared to what? It's not meant to compete with a Prius. Not for me, but even incremental progress is still progress.

  5. well you're right except about the engine sizing. thats what it used to be if i remember correctly. since i think 2006, the numbering has been slightly different. the 528 has a 2.0 liter inline-4 engine with 240 hp. the 535 has a 3.0 liter inline-6 engine with 300 hp. the 550 has a 4.0 liter V8 engine with 400 hp. they all have twin turbos or twin screw superchargers. whatever BMW uses cause they call it a "twin power turbo"

  6. Kyle, thanks. I knew about the 2.0 but wasn't sure about the 535i. The twin turbos have been what have been killing the 5-series in some dependability studies and I knew they wouldn't have a 5.5 Liter... I actually learned something today, LOL.

  7. Let's try a different argument. How well have other manufacturers done in improving their vehicles when making them hybrids. Setting aside the contentious Prius, two other vehicles might make good benchmarks, 2012 Honda Civic, and 2012 Ford Fusion.
    Future-more, let's not judge them on absolute mpg, but in terms of improvement. Also, let's use the 335 non-hybrid as the base and optimistically use 31 mpg for the bmw hybrid. Here is what we have

    non-hybrid hybrid improvement
    Honda Civic 32 44 38%
    Ford Fusion 25 39 56%
    BMW 335 25 31 24%

    So at best, there is a 24% improvement for BMW which is far worse than for the other vehicles. Add to that the absolute consideration of 31 mpg, and we have an un-green car.

  8. John, if the only consideration is emissions/mileage, then you're correct. But, who compares a BMW 3-series to a Civic or Fusion? Just about nobody. The driving dynamics and bigger, faster engine in the 335i compared to the other two are major factors you continue to ignore no matter the subject. While Honda and Ford sell mid-range cars where mileage is a major factor, BMW aims for good mileage but it isn't the main factor.

    So, are we supposed to be surprised that a car with a much bigger engine and more HP gets worse mileage? A comparison that would be more valid IMHO would be a comparison between this 335i and the one 3-4 years ago.

    Not particularly green, but better than in the past, I guess...?

  9. I did NOT compare a bmw to a Ford or a Honda.

    I compared the BMW hybrid to BMW ICE car and it only improved by 24% which is not very impressive.

    The Civic was compared to itself, 38% gain
    The Fusion was compared to itself, 56% gain.

    It is comparing like to like.

    If you were not so hyper sensitive about BMW being something "special" you might have been able to see what I was saying.

  10. Here is something that I think is comparable to the BMW hybrid situation, it is the 2010 Toyota Camry.

    In 2010 you could get a 34 mpg hybrid Camry rather than a 26 mpg ICE Camry. This represents a 31% improvement due to the hybrid.

    However, this is a lousy hybrid. How do I know that, the proof is in the 2012 Camry.

    The hybrid 2012 Camry gets 41 mpg rather than the 28 mpg of the ICE Camry. That is 46% better on top of the 7% that the ICE improved compared to 2010 (totaling 58% improvement from 2010 ICE to 2012 hybrid)

    We will see the same thing from BMW in a couple of years. We will know the ActiveHybrid5 is poor when BMW delivers something much better in a couple of years. But no need to wait, ActiveHybrid5 is not very green.

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