The future of our automotive mobility lies in electricity, not fossil fuels, so they say. This is an unfortunate truth that we must all accept as automotive enthusiasts, as there’s simply no denying the crossover any longer. The world is changing and we need to change with it. So the electric vehicle must be embraced, despite our stubborn reluctance.
Despite this fact, however, it’s very difficult for us enthusiasts to make the jump from gasoline or diesel powered cars to electric ones. We gearheads will cling on to the internal combustion engine until the day we die. Thankfully, in the interim, before electric vehicles fully take over Skynet-style, hybrids will be a worthwhile stopgap.
UNDER THE HOOD
I present to you, the BMW X5 xDrive40e. This plug-in hybrid variant of the BMW X5 uses BMW’s now famous 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine which makes 240 hp in tandem with a 111 electric motor and a battery. This combines to give the BMW X5 xDrive40e 309 hp. The maths doesn’t add up, I know, but that’s the way it works. An eight-speed ZF automatic is used to shuffle gears and power all four wheels, via BMW’s xDrive system. A neat trick is that the electric motor is integrated into the transmission, so the X5 is all-wheel drive even under electric power only, with which it can go up to 19 miles or 75 mph. It’s all very clever stuff. But is it actually any good?
When testing a car, you must come to a conclusion about how you feel about the car overall. Normally, this is pretty easy, either you like a car despite its few faults or you don’t in spite of them. Choosing whether or not to like the X5 xDrive40 wasn’t as easy. In fact, I’ve come to two different conclusions about it.
The BMW X5 xDrive40e that we sampled was an example of many contradictions. Firstly, it’s a luxury SUV that weighs around 5,200 lbs, costs on the wrong side of $70,000 (our tester came in at around $75,000) and has enough cowhide on the inside to worry the world’s population of cattle, yet BMW’s made it a plug-in hybrid in the name of economy and efficiency. Words like “economy”, “efficiency” and “hybrid” don’t work to well with words like “luxury” and “SUV”. To make things even more strange, our tester was equipped with an M Sport package, optional 20″ wheels, an M-tuned sport suspension and rock-hard run-flat tires. So this wasn’t exactly the most sensible of hybrid vehicles.
It’s an engineering achievement that continued to baffle and impress me throughout my entire week with it.
So, philosophically, the BMW X5 xDrive40 is ridiculous. It’s a massively heavy plug-hybrid that isn’t very economical (I averaged 19.1 mpg, though in fairness I didn’t go very easy on it), not very fast, the batteries eat up the space for an optional third row and the added weight of them ruins the efficiency. In many ways, the X5 xDrive40e is the anti-BMW i3. But I do know why BMW must make it. All car companies have to raise their overall mpg ratings across their entire lineup and the easiest way to do that is to make hybrid versions of their most inefficient vehicles, thus increasing mpg ratings. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the X5 xDrive40e is not very good at being a hybrid and the hybrid gear inside of it makes it worse at being an SUV than the standard car.
WHAT IT’S LIKE TO DRIVE
However, having said all of that, as a standalone item without any of the stigma or contradiction, the BMW X5 xDrive40 is a pretty remarkable thing. It’s an engineering achievement that continued to baffle and impress me throughout my entire week with it. The hybrid powertrain is an example of engineering prowess seen by very few in the industry. When you first turn the xDrive40e on, it begins in pure EV mode, regardless of what mode you had in it when previously turning it off. In EV mode, the X5 xDrive40e is whisper quite, even on the rock-hard 20″ Dunlops, and remarkably quick. If you stay in the EV mode, the xDrive40e will only kick the engine on if either the battery goes flat, you go faster than 75 mph or you give it a decent boot-full of throttle and it realizes you need more power. This is where the plug-in X5 impressed the most. When the engine kicks in, it’s imperceptible. Without the rev-needle moving up from zero, there’s simply no way of knowing if it kicked in yet. It’s that smooth and quiet. However, when standing on the go-pedal, it actually makes a somewhat decent noise. My guess is that some speaker augmentation is at play there.
Slot the X5 xDrive40e into Sport Mode and it keeps the engine and electric motor working together full time. This was my favorite mode and how I drove the car about 80 percent of the time. The reason for that is that when the two are working together, the big brute of an SUV is actually quite fun to drive. Flip the adaptive dampers into sport mode and the whole car stiffens up just enough without being uncomfortable, the steering gets a bit heavier and more responsive and the whole X5 seems to just shrink around you. It was remarkable how small it felt on the road when hammering it. It seems counter-intuitive to really hammer a 5,200 lb hybrid SUV, but it was completely possibly and even a bit fun.
The engine kick on and off as needed, all under the veil of silence and luxury.
Yet, when you’ve had your fun and it’s time to go home, put everything back into Comfort Mode and relax as the hybrid powertrain wafts you along in smooth, silky silence. The engine kick on and off as needed, all under the veil of silence and luxury. The X5 xDrive40e is perfectly capable of managing everything for you, and managing it brilliantly, all while you enjoy the fantastically comfortable leather thrones and the beautiful ambient lighting.
There’s also quite a lot to say about the BMW X5’s chassis, as well. Many will criticize the X5 for being heavy, uncommunicative and not in keeping with the traditional BMW way. However, the chassis really is quite fantastic. It’s smooth and comfortable while still being responsive and even a bit tossable. But what’s most impressive is the way it shrugs off speed and quick flicks of the steering wheel with ease. Coming back from our photoshoot with the car, loaded with four adult males, I was driving at, let’s just say some illegal speeds, weaving in and out of traffic as if I were piloting an M3. Not only was the X5 able to handle this with ease, but it was so comfortable while doing it that my passengers had fallen asleep and not a single fast lane change or or full throttle upshift woke them. That’s luxurious motoring at its best.
So the BMW X5 xDrive40e is a conflicted vehicle, at least for me it is. My brain loves it. It’s a work of engineering brilliance and is calibrated with the utmost perfection. However, it lacks a bit of soul and a bit of emotion. Though, a two and a half ton hybrid SUV wasn’t designed to be, or meant to be, a soulful machine. It’s sole purpose is that of supreme luxury and brilliant engineering. It’s meant to tickle the technical parts of your brain at times and allow you to completely forget about them and enjoy the luxury at others. The BMW X5 xDrive40e excels at this.
If it were my money, I’d go with the lighter, cheaper, more efficient and more enjoyable diesel model that will come with all of the same wonderful driving characteristics native to the X5. However, if you’re the kind of person who needs a big family-hauling SUV and you must have a hybrid in your life, it’s almost impossible to pass up on the wonderful, yet philisophically flawed, BMW X5 xDrive40e. Hybrids aren’t so bad after all.