Chicago Auto Show – BMW's Active Hybrid Is So Not Green

BMW Active Hybrid 5One of a number of shiny new hybrids populating the Chicago Auto Show was the 2012 BMW Active Hybrid 5. Considering how much I usually don’t like BMWs (unless we’re talking about their electric scooter), my initial impression of this one was actually pretty positive.

I mean, there are a number of points to be happy about – it’s well proportioned, it makes that pastel blue look like a sane color choice for a car (why, no, I do not like pastels), it looks like it’s got room in the trunk without the rear end being weirdly huge… And of course there’s that “active hybrid” thing.

An Electric Motor for Extra Juice

The Active Hybrid 5 then reminded me of Peugeot’s 508 RXH – the electric motor is supposed to help more with quick acceleration and the electric motor will drive the car on its own for about 2.5 miles at speeds of no faster than 37mph. “Which is reassuring, if you manage to run the tank dry,” I said to fellow Gas2 writer Jo Borras, referring to the same statement made when talking about the Peugeot. Jo gave me a sort of pitying look, as if to say “You would have to be a total idiot for that to happen.” Okay, but everyone’s an idiot once in a while. And I still say this is a an excellent point in favor of the hybrid – emergency trips to the gas station can be made on battery power instead of on foot. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

On the subject of speed and acceleration, the Active Hybrid 5 is supposed to go 0-60 in under 6 seconds, which is fairly respectable. This is because of its 3.0 liter 6-cylinder 24-valve 300 HP twin-turbo engine, helped by an additional 55 HP from the electric motor. With all that, it should be fairly quick. (They wouldn’t let us take it off the show floor for a test drive, which I suppose is perfectly reasonable.)

There Is A Downside

So far so good, right? But then it started going a little pear-shaped. The Active Hybrid 5 is pretty, and it’s quick, but despite the electric assist, it’s kind of low on the green scale. Carbon dioxide emissions are disappointing to say the least – between 149 and 163 g/km, depending on the wheels, well above the stated EU goal of below 120 g/km for all new cars – and mileage is quite frankly astonishing for a hybrid. And when I say astonishing, I mean 20mpg city and 29mpg highway. That’s comparable to, oh, the Dodge Challenger (which we hopped into for a ride – more on the ride-alongs later), known for its total non-greenness.

The other oh-so-minor issue I took with the BMW hybrid was the trunk. I couldn’t get the seats to fold down, but even if I could have, I suspect the battery has gotten in the way of the storage space. What you see is quite literally what you get – if you head to IKEA for a new coffee table, it’s not coming home with you in the Active Hybrid, unless you somehow manage to attach a trailer hitch and hook up a trailer to tow it back (not one of the options listed). There are automakers who have managed to properly place their hybrid batteries, but BMW is definitely not one of them. See for yourself:

Oh, and the base MSRP is over $60,000.

The final verdict on the Active Hybrid 5? If you’re looking for clean and green, this one is not for you. If you’re a BMW or performance enthusiast looking for something that performs well and is just green enough to assuage your conscience, then go for it.  Either way, scroll down to the gallery. It’s not cute, but it is super pretty and well worth a look.

Questions, opinions, impressions of your own? Let us know in the comments below the gallery.

Source | Photos: Chicago Auto Show.

Charis Michelsen

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.