BMW isn't leading the way for electrification, but that doesn't mean the German manufacturer is soft-pedaling its battery-electric endeavors.
Recent test drives of the new BMW i5, i7, and Rolls-Royce Spectre reaffirm that BMW is on the right track with its electric models.
Maintaining powerful, luxurious, and nimble characteristics can be at odds with each other, yet BMW excels at creating these attributes in a way that other brands are not.
BMW hasn't been a front-runner in the EV race yet. With strong competition from runaway segment leader Tesla and a war for second between Hyundai and Ford or General Motors (depending on the month), the already expensive and mostly tax credit-ineligible BMW EVs haven't been strong contenders among the general EV buying public.
The unit numbers back this up, too. Ford managed a 14.8 % quarterly rise in EV sales through October, accounting for 20,962 electric vehicles, while GM sold 20,092 BEVs in the same timeframe. By comparison, BMW delivered 13,079 battery-electric vehicles last quarter, for a total of 31,043 EVs so far this year. Perhaps spurring along BMW is Stuttgart rival Mercedes-Benz, whose EVs are outselling BMW's offerings about two-to-one in the US.
But transparent sales volume is only one side of the story, particularly when it comes to the BMW Group. BMW recently set a new quarterly EV sales benchmark in the US, with EVs making up 12% of total sales volume year-to-date. According to Cox Automotive analysis, BMW was actually leading the way for all automakers in Q3, with a 15% rise in quarter-over-quarter EV sales share.
And the quality of BMW's new electrified products is a testament to this growth.
Take the new BMW i5, launched simultaneously with internal-combustion 5-Series sedans. It's not hard for the all-electric i5 to win approval when you put it on fun Portuguese roads and let a team of experts worry about the charging. But pitted head-to-head with its gasoline siblings in real-world Greenville, South Carolina, the electric 5 still endures.
Parallel testing of the 2024 BMW 530i xDrive and i5s such as the sporty i5 M60 xDrive showed that the new 5-Series platform covers all the bases. With any powertrain, the blend of a spacious, airy cabin, a new user-friendly infotainment system, and a solid but eager chassis is captivating.
And the gasoline-powered 530i wasn't uninspiring, either. The 255-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder provides ample power upon request but glides along smoothly in everyday operations. Paddle shifting through the ZF 8-speed automatic is fun for a pull or two but is similarly best left to its own devices.
The best attributes of the new 5-Series—especially the dynamic yet supple on-road behavior—are present regardless of engine choice. Positioned closer to a 3-Series than a 7-Series, the presence of light, responsive steering, and manageable body size make this generation better than nearly every one before it.
And that's without mentioning the transparent performance and silence of the electric versions. As our own Executive Editor Tom Murphy explained, the new 5-Series is Munich's best EV to date, and that's for a couple of reasons. Behind the wheel of the 2024 BMW i5 M60 xDrive, a stout 593 hp paired with 256 miles of range easily makes the case.
But it's more about the ethos of an electric BMW that makes it so effective, particularly its more luxurious nameplates.
Sitting in the back of BMW's premier executive sedan, the i7, I toggle through a screen on my oversized armrest. Just as requested, a massive movie screen descends in front of me from the headliner, along with shades to the side, blocking out the dreary grays descending upon Monticello Raceway in upstate New York. You see, at the private, pay-to-play racetrack that is Monticello, they use i7s to transport distinguished guests around.
In this capacity, the EV 7-series is nearly perfect, providing a stable, smooth, and silent ride for my (momentary) luxury aspirations. Similarly, the power delivery from the 105.7-kWh lithium-ion battery and dual electric motors is silky during acceleration and deceleration, making my backseat movie time even more enjoyable.
The price tag for this privilege starts at $169,495 for the 2024 BMW i7 M70 xDrive, but it definitely doesn't end there. Move on up in the BMW Group lineup and you'll find the newest electric edition in a surprising place: the West Sussex Rolls-Royce facility.
It's not exactly news, as the 2024 Rolls-Royce Spectre was revealed to the affluent public in 2022, but deliveries are set to start, well, now. We got seat time in the $422,750 electric beast just last week, further cementing our belief that BMW may be best electrified.
Weighing in at 6559 pounds, the Chartreuse coupe retains Rolls' portly nature, but the EV drivetrain does something magical for the brand's first venture into electric vehicles. Featuring a 102.0-kWh battery pack and two electric motors generating 577 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque, the Spectre is mighty quick, despite its proportions.
Outright speed has never defined the legacy of Rolls-Royce. On the contrary, it's all about just how relaxed you can get inside its cabin. The lack of drivetrain noise from the Spectre allows for whisper-level conversations at 80 mph, all while the massaging seats and plush carpeting ease you into a trance.
If you do decide to goose the throttle, however, a resonant wail emerges from under the Spirit of Ecstasy, lifting the front end and propelling the car forward with a better response time than any gasoline engine available today. At least for consumer use, that is.
Additionally, the Spectre revels in its road presence and lane-splitting width. The extra weight is only noticeable through the adaptive suspension in the way it soaks up large undulations and bumps, planting the nearly three-ton coupe firmly against the pavement.
Is it worth over $400,000? That's between you and your bank, ultimately, but the Spectre certainly doesn't feel like a half-baked run at electrifying the 117-year-old brand. It's as nice to drive as it is to ride in and that's the mark of an effective luxury product, offering the best of both worlds—much like BMW's electrified sedans, I should add.
While we haven't got the chance to drive one just yet, a whole new series of electrified Minis is set to hit dealerships next year, boasting a competitive range and improved power figures. If they're anything like the current electric products from BMW, then we're certainly excited to see how they drive. Oh, and there's some hydrogen drivetrains in the mix, too.
Are there any other automakers that are prime candidates for increased electrification? Which one, and why? Please share your thoughts below.