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Lexus welcomes first BMW Oz hybrid

Active Five: BMW's 2010 5 Series ActiveHybrid concept will become reality here by mid-2012.

BMW 5 Series ActiveHybrid joins new Lexus GS450h in race for Australia by June

8 Dec 2011

LEXUS has welcomed BMW to the premium hybrid vehicle club in Australia, following confirmation the German brand will introduce its first petrol-electric model Down Under within six months.

However, the applause from the luxury hybrid leader for BMW’s new 5 Series ActiveHybrid - the global launch of which will take place by February before first local deliveries take place in June, the same month the new Lexus GS450h hybrid is due – comes with a sting in its tail.

“We'd like to extend a welcome to our competitors and congratulate them on their decision to finally join the hybrid club and we look forward to their endorsement of hybrid technology,” Lexus Australia’s corporate manager for marketing and aftersales Peter Evans told GoAuto.

“(But) Our competitor’s decision to launch their first hybrid model in line with the launch of our sixth, further vindicates our decision to pioneer and launch hybrid technology almost 10 years ago.

“The next-generation Lexus GS hybrid has benefited from almost a decade of real-world hybrid engineering, experience and continuous development - and that's something that has to be earned.”

Lexus pioneered the hybrid luxury vehicle and remains the global sales leader, including in Australia. However, it has no plans to follow Europe’s lead by becoming an all-hybrid brand here, where its entry-level CT200h is a dedicated hybrid hatch but the mid-size IS is a petrol-only model and the gas-guzzling LandCruiser-based LX570 large SUV is V8-only.

14 center imageIronically, Lexus’ parent company Toyota - which fathered the iconic Prius hybrid and has long highlighted the benefits of petrol-electric vehicles over ‘dirty’ diesels in terms of CO2 and NOx emissions - sells more diesel SUVs and utes than any other brand in Australia, and plans to enter the diesel passenger car market, potentially with BMW engines as part of a global industrial partnership announced last week by the two car-makers.

Meantime, more than half of all new BMWs sold in Australia – including passenger cars - are powered by efficient diesels, but the 5 Series ActiveHybrid will be the Bavarian brand’s first Australian hybrid, as well as it first right-hand drive hybrid and first six-cylinder hybrid.

The left-hand drive-only X6 and 7 Series hybrids have been available in the US and Europe for years, but BMW will still beat its German arch-rivals Mercedes-Benz and Audi to the Australian market with a hybrid model.

While the left-hand drive Q5 hybrid remains off-limits Down Under, Audi Australia will launch its first hybrid model - based on the new A6, making it a direct rival for the GS450h and 5 series hybrid – in 2013, followed soon after by the A8 hybrid limousine.

Mercedes-Benz, whose left-hand drive-only S400h limo has been available overseas for a year, is expected to reveal its new E-class hybrid at next month’s Detroit motor show, but is yet to commit to any hybrid model in Australia.

BMW Australia spokesman Piers Scott said the 5 Series ActiveHybrid was likely to be the first in a series of hybrid models from the company, potentially including right-hand drive petrol-electric versions of BMW’s upcoming 3 Series sedan (due here in February) and next year’s facelifted 7 Series, before the plug-in hybrid i3 city-car arrives here in 2014.

“We haven’t announced it yet because pricing, positioning and battery warranty are not yet finalised but I can confirm the 5 Series ActiveHybrid will be here in the second quarter of next year,” said Mr Scott at this week’s 6 Series Coupe launch, adding that BMW hoped to land the 5 Series hybrid here before the new Lexus GS450h.

“It’s going to be neck and neck, but there will certainly be more competition in that (large luxury hybrid) segment. If we can get access to a right-hand drive 3 Series ActiveHybrid then that (mid-size luxury sedan) segment will really hot up in Australia too.”

The 5 Series ActiveHybrid is likely to command a price premium over the model upon which it is based, the 535i sedan, which costs $115,600 and is powered by a 225kW/400Nm 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol six that consumes 8.4L/100km and accelerates the large sedan to 100km/h in a claimed 6.1 seconds.

Driving through the same eight-speed ZF automatic, the hybrid member of BMW’s latest 5 Series sedan range – which will be joined here by the bahnstorming 412kW 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8-powered M5 in February – adds a 40kW/210Nm electric motor to deliver a combined output of 250kW/450Nm.

Despite the fitment of a lithium-ion battery pack in its boot - reducing luggage capacity from 520 to 375 litres – the 535i hybrid is even quicker (0-100km: 5.9 seconds), making it almost as quick as the 535d diesel ($120,900, 0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds) and less than a second slower than the twin-turbo V8-powered 550i ($179,900, 0-100km/h in five seconds).

At the same time, the 5 Series ActiveHybrid returns fuel consumption of 6.4L/100km and CO2 emissions of 149g/km, making it almost as fuel-efficient but ‘cleaner’ than the 535d (6.1L/100km, 156g/km), and can also travel for 4km at speeds of up to 60km/h in zero-emissions all-electric mode.

Meantime, the petrol-electric GS450h, which runs a 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6 to provide a combined output of 252kW/345Nm, matches the BMW’s 0-100km/h sprint time (and should also match its eight-year battery warranty), but betters its efficiency by 1.0L/100km (6.3L/100km) and 3g/km (146g/km).

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