WHILE HYBRID VEHICLES, ESPECIALLY PLUG-IN HYBRIDS LIKE THE 2016 BMW X5 XDrive40e, ARE NOT YET MAINSTREAM, THERE’S NO DOUBT THEY’RE ON THE RISE.
In Australia, which lacks green-vehicle incentives, that uptake might be a little slower than other more enviro-conscious parts of the world. BMW, however, in offering the technology, hopes to make it a part of the new car conversation in Australia.
That’s why the brand’s most popular model here, the X5, is bringing a plug-in hybrid to the masses, and why it will be joined by the second-highest seller, a 3 Series hybrid, soon.
Vehicle Style: Large hybrid SUV
Price: $118,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 230kW/450Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol-electric hybrid | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 3.3 l/100km | tested: 4.9 l/100km
Launched as the first of BMW’s ‘iPerformance’ range, the X5 xDrive40e takes the plug-in hybrid technology used in the BMW i8 and deploys it in a more family-friendly package, but an expensive one.
That iPerformance tag will also appear on the coming BMW 330e and any other ‘mainstream’ BMW that offers a hybrid powertrain.
So, externally that makes this X5 the same as any other, with an interior that’s almost identical save for a slightly smaller boot and no spare wheel.
Unlike other X5 models however, the xDrive40e can travel up to 31km without producing tailpipe emissions, can be charged at home, or from one of Charge Point’s 256 free EV charging points, but can keep travelling on petrol power when you really want to get out of town.
- Standard equipment: Front and rear parking sensors, surround-view parking camera, active cruise control, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, power tailgate, keyless entry and ignition, bi-xenon headlamps, head-up display
- Infotainment: 10.25-inch colour display with iDrive Touch controller,16-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio with FM/DVD/DAB+/USB, Bluetooth phone/audio integration, Internet browser, BMW ConnectedDrive Services package, real-time traffic info, sat nav with eDrive services (charging station search, vehicle range indicator)
- Cargo volume: 500 litres minimum, 1720 litres maximum
There are no sweeping changes to the interior of the xDrive40e, making the plug-in hybrid every bit as user-friendly as the rest of the X5 range.
There are a few small detail changes - an eDrive switch near the gear selector to allow you to select which powertrain you’d like to draw from, and a boot floor that rises by 40mm and loses 150 litres of volume, thanks to the batteries stashed underneath.
Another casualty of the battery pack under the boot floor, is the seven-seat option, with the X5 xDrive40e available in five-seat configuration only.
Other than that, it’s business as usual. The current generation X5, having launched in Australia in late 2013, still looks modern and is as luxurious as it is functional.
The 40e shares its features with the 40d, meaning Dakota leather sports seats, a leather-trimmed dash-top, and keyless entry and start.
The 40e also offers the ability to be pre-conditioned - allowing the cabin to be cooled prior to entry either via a timer, or through the BMW remote app.
Other features standard across the range include dual-zone climate control, a powered tailgate, rain-sensing wipers, and cruise control with braking function.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 180kW/350Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol with 83kW/250Nm syncronous electric motor (230kW/450Nm combined)
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: Double wishbone front, multi-link rear with adaptive suspension and rear axle air suspension
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes
- Steering: Electric power steering
- Towing capacity: 2700kg braked
The X5 xDrive40e draws its combined 230kW of power and 450Nm of torque from a 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine (the same as you’ll find in a 528i), and a transmission mounted ‘electric machine’ (BMW's quaint engineering description).
A 9kWh lithium ion battery pack feeds the 83kW/250Nm “electric machine”, so called because it can operate as a motor, generator, and starter for the petrol engine.
The eDrive system offers three different driving modes to combine or exclude the two power sources in different ways. The default Auto eDrive mode combines the petrol engine and electric motor, relying on electric power alone at speeds of up to 70km/h.
The petrol engine also provides a boost for heavy throttle or if the battery is depleted, with the whole system working to be as efficient as possible.
“Max eDrive” is effectively the 40e’s EV-only mode, which can see the big SUV operating under electric power alone at speeds of up to 120 km/h for up to 31km, although BMW admits that realistically that’s probably more like 25-27km.
That might not sound like much, but, according to BMW, 50 percent of Aussies have a daily commute of less than 20km per day, while the average commute works out to 31.2km, meaning the petrol engine will barely be troubled - particularly if you can plug in at work.
The final drive setting is Save Battery, essentially pausing battery use until you reach an area where it's best used - like stop-start driving once you reach the city. The petrol engine fires up and takes over the bulk of the work in the Save Battery mode.
On top of the battery modes is the Driving Experience Control, a feature found across other members of BMW’s range, offering Comfort, Sport, and Eco Pro modes, affecting steering, suspension, and transmission.
So, how does it all come together? Pretty well actually.
There’s certainly something unusual about being able to pile on speed in a hulking SUV in near silence. For those moments where the petrol engine joins the party, it is introduced smoothly and quietly.
The brakes, starting as regenerative braking and moving into friction braking as more pedal pressure is applied, can feel a little wooden, but once you learn that transition-point the system feels more natural.
BMW claims that the xDrive40e can sprint from 0-100km/h in 6.8 seconds, the same as the X5 xDrive30d, and just 0.3 seconds slower than the six-cylinder, petrol-powered X5 xDrive35i.
On the flipside, official fuel consumption is rated at 3.3 l/100km - but driving the car different ways offers very different fuel figures.
By selecting Auto eDrive and driving 32km - just past the claimed electric range - at speeds between 60 and 80km/h (and remembering that the petrol engine chips in above 70km/h) we recorded 2.7 l/100km.
Selecting sport mode, which helps speed up battery recharge to a maximum of 80 percent, returned a less impressive 9.6 l/100km.
Going as far as we could on Max eDrive before flicking to Auto eDrive and travelling an equal distance on both, saw 4.9 l/100km.
As for charging, a BMW wall-charger will be able to recharge a depleted battery in 2.5 hours, and you can set it to take advantage of cheaper off-peak electricity. A regular wall plug is also included, with a full charge taking around five hours on a 10-amp outlet.
At the very worst case, a full charge should cost about $2 (worked out at around 40c/kWh) but cheaper electricity pricing, off-peak charging, or your own solar array will (naturally) bring that price down.
ANCAP rating: The BMW X5 has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, front side, and full-length curtain), electronic stability and traction control, front seatbelt pretensioners, ABS brakes, low-speed acoustic protection for pedestrians.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The X5 xDrive40e is a vehicle with very few competitors, in fact the only true plug-in competition comes from the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine, which offers a combined 298kW and 640Nm as well as offering seven seats.
Later in the year Mercedes-Benz will debut its own hybrid SUV, the GLE 500e. That car will compare very closely with the X5 xDrive40e.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
BMW freely admits that the X5 xDrive 40e won’t suit everyone, and that some customers may be better off looking at the diesel-powered X5 xDrive40d instead.
But once the plug-in version becomes better established here, the sales forecast will see those two variants selling in equal numbers.
Certainly, for city-bound drivers seeking genuine family space and premium luxury, but hoping to minimise their carbon footprint, the X5 xDrive40e seems like a viable option.
Unlike a fully-electric vehicle however, this one offers long-range adventures beyond the reach of a charging network. And, deceptively strong and swift, it has all those other BMW attributes of dynamism and on-road feel that we now expect from the Bavarian badge.
While the electric range isn’t the greatest out there, it offers the opportunity to get the school or work-run out of the way, without firing the petrol engine into life.
It also proves how serious BMW is about greening its image. In many parts of the world, with heavily polluted cities, there are buyer or registration incentives to support the purchase and ownership of vehicles of this type.
No such luck here. (But at least you can buy it at a price that matches it’s diesel counterpart.)