• We sample BMW’s first ever hybrid
• 350bhp combined power output
• Vastly improved economy and emissions

The BMW ActiveHybrid5 has reached UK shores, and we’ve had a preview drive before the car’s star debut at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

BMW’s first attempt at a production hybrid is a refreshingly different take on the theme. Rather than mating the electric motor to a lowly four-cylinder engine in the quest for headline grabbing low emissions figures (step forward Toyota Prius and Honda Insight), the ActiveHybrid5 highlights the benefits of hybrid technology to larger, thirstier engines.

Using a BMW 535i as its base, complete with its silky smooth, 306bhp, 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine, the electric drivetrain has brought improvements to both power and economy.

The addition of the electric motor’s 44bhp makes the 350bhp ActiveHybrid5 the third most powerful model in the 5-series line-up, losing out only to the V8 powered 550i and the specialist (and insanely rapid) M5.

While it has an identical 0-62mph time to the 535i (5.9 seconds), the electric motor gives the straight-six engine a barrel-chested demeanour, with an accelerative shove more akin to a V8. Despite the increase in power, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions have plummeted, with the ActiveHybrid5 managing 44.1mpg (up 9.2mpg) on the combined cycle and emitting 149g/km of CO2, compared to the 535i’s 188g/km.

The improvements bring the running costs for this near two-ton executive sports saloon down to those expected for a middling Volkswagen Golf. Driven gently, the ActiveHybrid5 can run for up to 2.5 miles on electric power alone – outmatching most other commercially available hybrids in the zero emissions running stakes.

The ActiveHybrid5 doesn’t shout its talents either. Aside from the rather incongruous badges on the boot-lid and C-pillars, there is very little to distinguish it from a regular 5-series.

Inside, the menu system gains an extra section to allow the driver to view power flow diagrams and other hybrid associated information, but it’s otherwise unchanged. And that’s a good thing, as it remains as classy and cossetting as ever, with enough sporting undertones to keep things interesting.

The driving experience is remarkably similar also. The rear-wheel-drive balance BMW is famed for is present and correct, and the extra weight of the electric motor and batteries have done little to blunt the car’s dynamism in the corners. Compared to the vast majority of hybrids on the market, it is quite simply astonishing.

The ActiveHybrid5 shares its standard specification with the 535i, including standard fit BMW Professional Multimedia sat-nav and an eight-speed automatic transmission. It is differentiated by specially designed streamlined alloy wheels, and can be ordered in a unique paint scheme, Bluewater metallic.

The BMW ActiveHybrid5 is available to order now, priced at £46,885 on the road.

By Daljinder Nagra

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