Test Drives | November 19th, 2015 by 17
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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.

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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?

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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.



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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.



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.


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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.

2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e First Drive

Exterior Appeal - 9
Interior Quality - 9
Steering Feedback - 9
Performance - 9
Handling - 8
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine - 8
Price Point - 7


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.

17 responses to “FIRST DRIVE: BMW X5 xDrive40e”

  1. lekkousa says:

    Don’t you mean , “accept”?

    The future of our automotive mobility lies in electricity, not fossil fuels, so they say. This is an unfortunate truth that we must all except

  2. Mike Vella says:

    You know, when you think about it, either this set up or the powerful diesel makes the most sense in a large, heavy luxury car like this. I know it’s an “SUV”, but these are all really big cars to me. I call my X3 a car, too.. They are sporty when it’s needed and handle well, thankfully.
    19MPG with your foot in it all the time isn’t bad given the size of this thing. My X3 has only the 2.0 turbo and my best combined MPG on a full tank is maybe 24 city/hwy miles. We’ll take it on a road trip shortly and it will do much better with the cruise on, though. I think last time we went back and forth to PHX, I got well over 30 on the hwy with the cruise set on 75 most of the time.
    As always, enjoyed the review.

    • Thanks! Yea, 19 mpg wasn’t too bad, especially for its size and how I drove it most of the time (I couldn’t help it). I just feel that the diesel variant is the better buy. Cheaper, even more economical and lighter so more fun to drive.

      • Marla Kingston Brown says:

        Thanks for the great overview. I think I’m a different type of driver (single mom without the need for speed lol but more after the luxury and an upgrade from the prius I’ve driven for 6 years). My question for you is I’ve heard with the federal tax credit…so does the “cheaper” part of your review become irrelevant? I see that as a way to start seeing gas savings right away. Esp since I have a short urban commute with a charging station at work. Without the cost difference concerns would that make the edrive a no brainer over diesel for you?

        • I don’t know exactly the ins and outs of the federal tax credits, as it’s been debated in our comments quite a bit and it gets confusing. However, just from a fuel savings standpoint, if you have a very short urban commute, the xDrive40 would be perfect for you. The diesel is better for just overall driving economy, but urban driving is perfectly suited for the xDrive40e. If you’re in the market, it really is an excellent choice and would be my recommendation. Though, the BMW 330e is on its way and could offer and even better value if you don’t need the extra space.

  3. Tum Tunthatakas says:

    Nico, I think you missed the point of the plugin hybrid completely. If you have a short commute, you will use almost no gas M-F, but have ability to haul stuff, people and tow things on the weekend. Used in this scenario real life owners are seeing 60-70 MPGe. It sounds like you would be a better match to a X5m.

    • That is something that the X5 40e can excel at, however, I did notice that it got nowhere near its claimed 19 miles on pure battery power under even careful driving. You have to absolutely hyper-mile it to get those 19 miles and it’s not worth it. It’s better to just drive normal, as it will manage the battery and engine as needed and it’s very clever at managing everything. Plus, the engine will slowly recharge the battery the more you use it, so you end up using less range that way and very little fuel.

      But to answer that last part, yes I’m be better suited for an X5 M :)

      • Tum Tunthatakas says:

        Well, my commute is 11 miles each way with a L2 plug available on both ends. We have two i3s now am considering something bigger so we can also take it on road trips. I had a 08′ ML63 AMG before the i3s so kind of like the idea of getting back into a SUV, but with far better economy. The ML in traffic I got as low as 5.4mpg, but averaged around 12, or at most 14 on the highway.

  4. New 40e Owner says:

    So, we’ve had one for two months. My first tank of gas lasted about 6 weeks (900 miles) and I’m averaging about 43 mpg. I plug in almost every night, I’d say my split between gas and electric was about 30/70 on that first tank. I drove to “electric empty” for my first gas fill up about 16 miles away from home (with one stop enroute). To test mpg without much benefit from electric, I drove back from the fill-up on the hwy in Save mode and the car said ~24mpg when I got home. Save mode does regenerate the battery which I used for the last 2 miles, so I can’t really evaluate the pure mpg on gas, but it appears to be relatively good. We went on a 200 mile excursion yesterday after having driven about 175 miles of my normal driving pattern. At the end, the trip computer said the car averaged 31.4 mpg. Not bad when compared with my old Highlander Hybrid, which got between 23 – 25mpg.

    Overall we’re pretty pleased with it’s “green-ness” for a larger SUV, though I get funny looks when I pull into public charging stations. I had one Nissan Leaf owner tell me I’d probably get ticketed if I parked there; when I mentioned it was a plug in, she was shocked.

    The family, which sports a bunch of 6’4″+ back seat riders, likes the comfort. We also have a 2010 X5 and the 40e feels more roomy. I think it floats a little in Comfort mode, so I prefer the Sport suspension mode with the accelerated shifting turned off. It is very configurable and the configurations are stored with the key so my husband has his own. All in all, it’s been a good choice for us.

  5. Radislav says:

    Nice pics.

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