The most notable element of BMW’s first plug-in hybrid X5 SUV isn’t the fuel economy but the power.
The all-wheel drive X5 xDrive 40e uses the jolt of electrification as backup for the 240-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The engine is integrated with an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. The electric motor lays down instant launch force, and then the engine fires up at about 45 mph or sooner when full-on power is needed.
The 40e can be driven on battery power for about 14 miles at speeds to 75 mph. The EV range of 14 miles is not exciting, but it will allow for accomplishing much of the creep of the daily commute or a run for coffee without burning gasoline or creating engine heat or emissions.
The gasoline engine has strong torque (pulling power) of 260 foot-pounds from 1,250 to 4,800 rpm. With the immediate torque of the electric motor, this big rig moves out and stays on target in the daily rat race. The auto stop-start at idle function is quick to refire with no jerkiness or acceleration delay on takeoff. (Not all systems are this accommodating.)
The electric motor adds 111 horsepower with maximum torque of 184 foot-pounds. Together the duo of drive units has 308-horsepower and 332 foot-pounds of torque. But the performance is still tuned for fuel economy. Sport mode will spike it, but guilt prevented me from indulging.
The eight-speed automatic rolls fluidly through gear changes. But the hand-wringing safety aids take a blink to give an immediate power response in an emergency.
BMW claims zero to 60 mph acceleration in 6.5 seconds, which is exciting when you factor sending traction to four wheels under the X5’s curb weight of 5,220 pounds. And that weight is 485 pounds more than the six-cylinder X5 xDrive 35i.
The EPA fuel economy ratings are 56 mpg equivalent, or mpge, including electricity and gasoline, or 24 mpg combined city and highway, using the recommended premium fuel though midgrade is acceptable. I was averaging 21.5 to 22 mpg, but I was not able to plug in every night to take advantage of nongasoline driving from a full charge. The high-voltage battery pack can be topped up slowly with any 120-volt 15 amp household outlet, or topped much faster from level two or faster charging stations.
The X5 xDrive40e is a five-seat model (the battery pack is under the cargo floor) with a starting price of $63,095, including the $995 freight charge from Spartanburg, South Carolina. The tester sticker was $73,545 and included free scheduled maintenance for four years or 50,000 miles. Standard features include a panorama sunroof, 14-way power adjustable front seats that are heated and cooled, and xenon adaptive headlights (they turn) with auto leveling, cornering lights and LED fog lights. The Dynamic Dampers (shock absorbers) are electrically adjustable and include rear air suspension.
Other X5 models (with a seating option for seven) start at $56,495 for the entry rear-drive sDrive model with 3.0-liter six-cylinder and range to $73,295 for the V-8 powered xDrive50i. The xDrive35d diesel was delayed by EPA certification, but will be in dealerships soon.
Options on the tester included the Premium package, which costs $2,550, which adds smart-key locking and push-button ignition, four-zone control and satellite radio. Upgrading to leather from the standard Black SensaTec upholstery requires a combo of three packages for $5,950. A rearview camera costs $400.
The cabin is well-soundproofed, and the driver has command seating on firm seats. Sightlines are generally good but complex at the side mirrors. The turning circle is substantial at 41.7 feet.
The instrument panel layout is also complex. The controls for audio, air conditioning and fan are a barrage of buttons that are not easy to navigate at a glance. The console-mounted gear shift lever takes up valuable space in an area that lacks a suitable device-charging area. And I found just one USB hidden away in the driver’s armrest console.
Despite an electronic suspension, the ride quality is variable, feeling richly smooth at low speeds and then busy at higher speeds, as if trying to compensate for every road imperfection. The steering is a standout for its lightweight but precise response. But the 20-inch Dunlop runflats feel hard and noisy at interstate speeds.
In the second row, a low transmission hump and 36.6 inches of legroom give good three-across seating, but the bench seat is short for adult-class thigh support. The battery pack under the cargo floor takes away just 1.6 cubic feet, leaving 34.2 cubic feet behind the second row or 72.5 with the 40/20/40 back seat folded.
BMW is barreling into advanced technologies for the autonomous car — and motorcycle. The X5 40e is a demonstrator in this frontier, but it shows the challenges of adapting an existing gasoline model for electrified driving.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage