BMW's X5 gets the plug-in hybrid treatment with the 313PS xDrive40e. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Once in a while BMW manages to make all of its rivals look like a bunch of hacks. The X5 xDrive40e plug-in hybrid is one such instance. Yes, the range you can travel on electric power is only 13 miles, but that still means that the car will average about 85mpg for a typical UK commute if you can charge it between both legs of the journey. Oh, and it has 313PS worth of grunt.
Think plug-in hybrids and you're probably imagining some joyless citycar, a box on wheels that's designed to schlep noiselessly along in stop-start traffic, while you remain transfixed by your power usage meter and quietly sweat because you've realised that running the air conditioning drains the battery. In other words, they haven't exactly been that big on desirability to date.
BMW hopes to change that with its X5 xDrive40e, a plug-in hybrid with big power, big presence but a surprisingly petite environmental footprint. The Munich company has dabbled in the past with ways of squeezing more economy out of its cars, the i3 and i8 models showing that it knows a thing or two about both hybrid and pure electric power, but the X5 xDrive40e brings those lessons to a package more people can identify with.
The engine in this one probably isn't what you expect. It's a two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol unit that makes 245PS and 350Nm of peak torque. It's backed up by an electric motor that's good for 113PS, with instantly-on torque of 250Nm. When combined, these two units will punt the all-wheel drive X5 to 62mph in just 6.8 seconds and on to 130mph. Yes, you can drive in purely electric mode, but here the top speed is limited to 75mph, and short, everyday journeys in urban areas can easily be completed with zero tailpipe emissions. The combined power of the two drive units is deployed by an 8-speed Steptronic transmission with shift paddles on the steering wheel available as an option.
An eDrive button on the centre console lets drivers tailor the powertrain according to their own preferences and situation. When the vehicle is first started, the default AUTO eDrive setting is activated, with both engine and electric motor working efficiently together. The electric motor alone is used for setting off with normal power requirements, while the engine cuts in at around 44mph or when the driver wishes to accelerate a bit more sharply. In this mode, the intelligent operating strategy determines the most efficient drive combination at all times and switches to it automatically. The driver can also switch to the all-electric drive mode setting MAX eDrive, or there's also a SAVE Battery setting, which allows the driver to conserve or build up the high-voltage battery's reserves for later on. There's also a Driving Experience Control switch, which changes between Comfort, Sport and Eco Pro modes. These each have the effect of altering the throttle mapping, the steering characteristics and the responses of the 8-speed Steptronic transmission, as well as the characteristics of the Dynamic Damper Control included as standard.
Design and Build
Badging aside, there are a few things that identify this as not your garden-variety X5. The most noticeable feature is the charging connection for the high-voltage battery located in the left front wing. Blue light effects also appear here at the start of the charging process to indicate the flow of energy, while the exhaust system has a twin-tailpipe design with trapezoidal tips.
You'll notice more differences inside. The BMW X5 xDrive40e features hybrid-specific functions added to its readouts. The drive readiness display positioned in the lower part of the engine rev counter switches from "OFF" to "READY" when the start/stop button is pressed. There's a battery symbol below the gear display. The Driving Experience Control switch setting is also indicated, as is the operating mode selected with the eDrive button. Model-specific menu options and readouts are also available in the iDrive operating system's Control Display. An energy flow display can be called up while on the move, illustrating in graphical form the interaction between combustion engine and electric motor as well as how energy is being fed to the high-voltage battery. Charging of the battery from the mains power supply can also be controlled from the iDrive menu. A timer function is available for this purpose, which can factor in a planned departure time as entered by the driver. In addition to this, preconditioning of both the interior and the battery can be programmed in the iDrive menu as well.
Market and Model
Equipment levels are generous, with Dynamic Damper Control, self-levelling rear air suspension and a custom climate control system that preconditions the car prior to driving. Other standard features include Xenon headlights, LED fog lights, an automatic tailgate, leather upholstery, heated front seats and 40:20:40 split folding rear seats. You can't specify a third row of seats, but you can option in 'Design Pure Experience', 'Design Pure Excellence' or 'M Sport' packages.
Fortunately, you really don't need to tick too many other boxes on a car that already comes with sat nav, a DAB radio, a cruise control system with braking function and BMW ConnectedDrive services, such as eDrive Services providing the driver with charging stations details, BMW Online Services and Real Time Traffic Information. I would be tempted to put my hand in my pocket for the Head-Up Display but I could probably manage without Parking Assistant, Night Vision, or either 19 or 20-inch alloy wheels. The eighteen-inchers that are supplied as standard with the car look just fine.
Cost of Ownership
How economical is the X5 xDrive40e? To be honest, we're not quite sure. That's because the NEDC economy test that normal cars undertake is completely hopeless when it comes to plug-in hybrids. BMW themselves hint at this when stating that undertaking short, urban drives of around 15 miles will see an average fuel economy figure of 94mpg, while long motorway journeys will see that consumption fall to just 25.4mpg. The first figure is largely due to the car being on electric power most of the time: the latter due to it running almost exclusively on petrol power. With that in mind, the official combined figure of 85.6mpg seems faintly ludicrous. The same goes for the carbon dioxide emissions rating of 77g/km, though that will certainly catch the eye of business users with a decent car budget. In comparison, the volume diesel X5 model, the xDrive30d variant, manages a combined cycle fuel return of 47.9mpg and 156g/km of CO2.
The X5 xDrive40e's high-voltage battery offers a gross energy capacity of 9.0 kWh and can be topped up with energy from any domestic power socket, from a wall box that has been designed for higher currents, or of course from public charging stations. When hooked up to a conventional domestic power socket, the high-voltage battery can be fully recharged from flat in around 3 hours and 50 minutes. Get yourself the optional 'BMW i Wallbox Pure' home charging set-up and you'll be able to replenish this car's high-voltage battery at a charging rate of 3.5 kW (16 A/230 V). As a result, it'll take just 2 hours and 45 minutes to fully recharge an empty battery pack. Charging progress can be checked on a graphic displayed in the vehicle's instrument cluster or on a smartphone using the BMW Remote app.
The days when people got a bit testy at your planet-destroying SUV are, to be honest, long gone. Modern diesel-engined and hybrid-motored sports utes have seen to that. While BMW has been good at developing the former, it has lagged with the latter until now. The X5 xDrive40e does all it can. We'd need to get our hands on one for a while to see what sort of 'real world' fuel economy figures it could generate, but the omens look cautiously promising.
Will it ever stack up on the balance sheet better than a diesel X5? That's another question that only real world usage is going to answer. Until we get definitive answers, we'd be wary of ordering this plug-in hybrid. It's clearly going to work really, really well for some buyers while others may find themselves disappointed. Until then we'll just have to dream of a 313PS BMW SUV that really can average 85mpg.