In 2013, BMW announced plans to offer a plug-in hybrid vehicle “in each and every model series.” The 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e is the carmaker’s first full-production plug-in hybrid (if you exclude the exotic i8). And it could be considered BMW’s first step toward the electrification of every major model in its lineup.
The X5 plug-in has an athletic, aerodynamic profile with a tapered roofline and sculpted flanks that help pass air around the vehicle for lower drag. On the outside, the X5 xDrive40e doesn’t distinguish itself from its gas or diesel siblings—save for its badging and plug socket, which is located just past the front driver side door.
The X5’s styling is relatively young—it last received a full redesign in 2014—and its form is reflective of a massive shift in the approach carmakers are taking toward SUV design. Gone are the boxy, imposing military-inspired behemoths that once dominated the market. Today’s midsize SUVs aspire to be fuel-efficient and sporty, while maximizing passenger comfort and cargo storage with smarter interior design.
To that end, the X5 is everything you’d expect from a BMW. High quality materials abound inside the vehicle’s elegant and refined cabin. There isn’t a hard right angle to be found on the dashboard or center console. The dramatic modern curves found throughout the X5’s interior are about as far from traditional luxury as you can get, instead reflecting a youthful energy that managed not to cheapen the car’s aesthetic.
The instrument cluster and center console touchscreen are sleek and well-positioned, and the beautifully rendered graphic interface of BMW’s iDrive system adds to the car’s modern, high-tech feel. In terms of operability, the system allows for button or touchscreen control, but critics and customers alike have complained for years that important functions are buried too deep in menu, and that the user interaction is a generation or two behind consumer electronic products.
The X5 xDrive40e is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and 111-horsepower electric motor, controlled by an 8-speed automatic transmission. Combined, the configuration provides a solid 308 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque—not segment-leading by any stretch but sufficient to qualify the car alongside its luxury peers. The X5 40e accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which is as fast or faster than any other X5 model except for the V8-powered 50i.
Top speed in battery-only operation is governed to 75 mph, but the car can accelerate in hybrid mode up to 130 mph.
Under BMW’s naming convention, “xDrive” signifies that the car is all-wheel drive, and this case, that means all of the wheels may be engaged in different ways at any time—even when the X5 is operating in EV mode (which BMW calls Max eDrive). “Auto eDrive” mode balances engine and motor output to provide peak efficiency based on how much power is needed at a given moment. “Save Battery” mode drives the car on gasoline alone, allowing the battery to add charge as the regenerative brakes are engaged for use later in “Max eDrive” mode. The chassis can also be adjusted to Comfort, Sport, and Eco Pro modes.
While the X5 xDrive40e provides drivers with several options for prioritizing performance or efficiency, the overall approach here is balance. The 40e isn’t the most powerful or fuel-efficient vehicle in its segment, but it’s plenty capable in both areas. BMW calls the models in its X Series “Sport Activity Vehicles” because they’re designed to best meet the demands of everyday use rather than excel in the fantastical realm of SUV ads from the early 2000s, where well-to-do soccer moms always negotiate mudslides and random piles of rocks on their way home from carpool duties.
The xDrive40e will get you up a mountain with minimal expense at the pump, and greatly reduced emissions. For luxury buyers wanting green cred, that should be a far more attractive selling point than driving over imaginary boulders.
Efficiency and Range
The xDrive40e has received an official EPA rating of 59 MPGe, which is better than projected when first announced. The X5 gets an EPA-estimated 13 miles in electric-only mode, and 24 mpg strictly from the gas engine.
As with all plug-in hybrids, the X5’s true efficiency is only possible to calculate if you have an idea of how it will typically be used. For a short-distance commuter who doesn’t have to spend much time on the highway, the X5 will spend much of its time in EV-mode, and trips to the gas station will be infrequent. For a those who regularly travel 50 or more highway-intense miles, the X5 will still be more efficient than most SUVs but maybe not the best value compared to its more efficient gas and hybrid competitors.
One exciting feature in the X5 is that its satellite navigation system is capable of plotting the best combination of electric, gasoline and hybrid driving to get you where you need to go as efficiently as possible. By routing and predicting speed and driving conditions along the way, the X5 can essentially do its own “hypermiling”— pretty cool for those of us who don’t relish detailed strategizing a route every time we drive. Monitoring of hybrid and battery functioning is available via the car’s touchscreen interface.
Charging for the X5 comes via a 3.5 kW (16A/220V) onboard charger. Using a standard 120V outlet the X5’s 9-kWh lithium ion battery pack can charge to capacity in roughly 3 hours and 45 minutes. With a Level 2 charger, charge time drops to 2 hours and 45 minutes (or better). The X5 isn’t capable of taking advantage of the limited fast-charging infrastructure currently available to the public, but that’s really not a tragedy considering the relatively small size of the SUV’s battery pack.
Further consideration should be given to whether or not it even makes sense to install a Level 2 home charger for the X5. How much fuel will you really save over the years to charge to capacity in three hours versus four hours? The answer for most drivers is “not a whole lot.”
BMW offers an attractive 7.4 kW smart home charger, but with the X5’s max charge rate of 3.5 kW, spending almost $1,100 for the i Wallbox station (before installation) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For those who do want to upgrade to 220V Level 2 charger, several inexpensive units from companies like Bosch and Clipper Creek are available in the $350-$500 range.
Passenger and Cargo Room
The BMW X5 comes with SensaTec synthetic leatherette seats, upgradable to Ivory or Black Nappa leather. Fourteen-way adjustable power front buckets are standard but can be upgraded to 20-way power multi-contoured seats, which critics find to be on par with the best found in any luxury car.
While other models of the X5 give buyers the option of a third row of seats, the xDrive40e’s seating is limited to five people. This isn’t a huge loss considering that the optional third row in the gas-powered X5 is barely suitable for two large children. In exchange, the 40e gets about six extra cubic feet of total cargo storage, which may actually be preferable to an extra row of seats for some consumers.
The X5’s second row is comfortable and roomy, and the backseat folds down three ways for optimal passenger/cargo flexibility. With all of the back seats up, the SUV boasts 34.2 cubic feet of storage, which is ample for most luggage or grocery needs. With all of the back seats folded down, the X5 offers a total of 72.5 cubic feet of cargo space, which is slightly less than the mid-size luxury SUV leaders but better than some other hybrids or plug-ins in the segment. A power liftgate is standard, which helps to ease loading and unloading.
The BMW X5 has thus far received top ratings in nearly every evaluation by nearly every safety test group. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the X5 an overall five-star rating as well as top marks in every individual category but rollover, for which it received four stars. The New Car Assessment Program gave the X5 five stars in every category. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn’t yet completed testing on the X5 but has thus far given it a top rating for overall and side crashes as well as a “superior” rating for front crash protection.
Standard and available safety features for the X5 include lane departure warning, auto-leveling headlights, electronic stability control, blind spot monitoring, night vision and collision-alert assistance. The X5’s optional surround-view cameras make operating in tight spaces a lot easier, and the optional Parking Assistant feature easily guides the car into a tight parallel space at the push of a button. Also available is adaptive cruise control and Traffic Jam Assistant, which provides automatic steering capabilities in certain situations.
The X5 plug-in starts at $63,095 including destination charge, less the $4,585 federal tax credit for a plug-in hybrid with a 9-kWh battery. At roughly $58,500 after tax incentives, the X5 plug-in starts only $3,100 higher than the baseline X5 and $700 less than the diesel version. The EPA estimates that opting for plug-in capability on the X5 will save the average driver $500 per year compared to the cheapest gas-only model, but in the hands of the right buyer, savvy driving and charging habits could reap much higher cost savings.
Comparison to Similar Models
A few months ago, if you were looking for a plug-in SUV your choices would have been limited to the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid and… well, that’s it. Toyota sold a limited number of RAV4 EVs but it was never a full-market release and has since been taken off the market. Thankfully, the 2016 model year sees the release of not one but three plug-in SUVs, all aimed at the luxury market.
The most celebrated of the three is Tesla Model X, a 250-mile, all-electric super-SUV that boasts so many high-tech bells and whistles even Tesla CEO Elon Musk admits the company may have gotten a bit carried away its attempt to build the best SUV ever made. The Model X Signature Series—which are currently the only models available to buy—start near $132,000, putting them among the most expensive ultra-luxury SUVs in the world. Tesla promises to offer a more affordable version of the Model X next year, but details are sparse and buyers holding out for one could be waiting well into 2017 before they receive delivery of a vehicle whose price, range and features are still unknown.
If $132,000 is too rich for your blood—or if you simply prefer hitting gas station along the fastest route for a quick fill-up on a long road trip, rather than locating a charger out of the way—the X5 xDrive40e is one of three luxury plug-in hybrid midsize SUVs starting in the $60,000 to $80,000 range.
The aforementioned Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid was first to market in late 2014. The Cayenne sports a 10.8-kWh battery pack that provides an estimated all-electric range of 14 miles and can charge to capacity in as little as 90 minutes. Impressively, the crossover outputs up to 416 horsepower and 435 pound-feet of torque, but offers a paltry 59.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down and less storage than a large trunk behind when they’re up. Starting at $78,000 before federal incentives, the Cayenne packs plenty of driving excitement and luxury frills but may not be the best choice for a family in need of a hauler.
The brand new Volvo XC90 T8 is the closest true competitor to the X5 plug-in. Starting at $69,000, the XC90 is positioned towards the higher end of the same price range as the X5, and Volvo designed it to embody its current focus on luxury. Performance-wise, the XC90 blows BMW’s offering out of the water in several categories. Its 400 total horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque are massive by comparison, and its 17-mile all electric range is 30 percent larger than that of the X5. The Volvo accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in just 5.9 seconds, 0.6 seconds faster than the X5.
Moreover, the XC90 transports up to seven adults, with a surprisingly comfortable third row of seats. With all of its seats folded down, the XC90 handily beats the X5 in total cargo space (85.7 cubic feet) and it does the same with two rows in use (41.8 cubic feet).
The X5 does offer several advantages over XC90 though. The Volvo gets slightly worse fuel economy with its battery depleted (22 mpg compared to 25 mpg in the X5) and critics find its handling to be less inspired than its German luxury counterparts. The X5 also starts $5,900 cheaper than the XC90, a significant difference even in the luxury SUV market.
The 2016 BMW X5 eDrive40e is available to test drive at select BMW dealerships nationwide and buyers can visit BMW’s website to get a price quote and find their nearest dealership. Lease deals are available starting at around $700 per month.