The time will come for a younger enthusiast like myself to require an SUV.
I am not an SUV guy in the slightest; I’m an enthusiast who prefers sport sedans and hot hatchbacks. However, my job requires me to test literally everything available to Canadians, and crossover/SUV sales are stronger than ever. There are some SUVs that definitely appeal to me for various reasons, and BMW’s X5 is one of them. To mark the German automaker’s first plug-in hybrid in North America that isn’t branded under the “i” moniker, I was offered a week with the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Amidst a month-long spell of testing the latest luxury SUV offerings, I was happy to oblige.
The reasons that attract me to the BMW X5 revolve around its aesthetics, driving dynamics, and overall luxurious demeanour without even slightly compromising luxury. Advertised as a “Sports Activity Vehicle”, the X5 is in the same segment as the Mercedes-Benz GLE and Audi Q7, and styled similarly. It’s immediately identifiable as a BMW, with striking bodylines throughout. This model was also equipped with beautiful LED lighting front and rear to go with the rest of the theme, though the optional 20” wheels were replaced with a smaller setup to accommodate winter tires.
Using the “xDrive40e” terminology, we initially assumed that the plug-in X5’s internal-combustion motor would be related to the “40i” series, partially sharing the potent powertrain in the new 340i (reviewed here). We were wrong – the greenest X5 packs the N20, which is the 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder also seen in the X1 (reviewed here). This torquey little beast is paired to a 111-horsepower electric motor, making for combined system output of 308 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. This may sound slow, but the instant torque of the electric motor helps haul the 5,200lb X5 to 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds flat.
The straight-line performance is great and all, but the vast majority of buyers want to know about the green capabilities of the plug-in X5. The EV-only range of the car is rated at about 28km, but we actually saw almost 40km in one cycle without the gasoline engine having to kick in. Buyers who take shorter trips or have very short commutes (such as to the train station) will likely appreciate this X5 more than the diesel equivalent. Also, it’s worth mentioning that unlike some EVs that are limited to lower speeds, the X5 can operate at speeds up to 120km/h in EV mode.
There isn’t much to differentiate the plug-in X5 from the standard model. Keen observers will note the “eDrive” badge on the rear decklid, as well as the door for the charge port on the front driver’s side fender. The interior is virtually identical too, save for a dedicated eDrive button that toggles between the various drive modes. On startup, the X5 automatically engages “Max eDrive”, to maximize range in solely EV mode before kicking in the combustion engine. “Auto eDrive” was my personal favourite, which allows the system to monitor driving habits and adapt accordingly. Lastly, there is also a “Save” function which allows you to save the battery power for later use.
Even though urban centers are slowly becoming more EV-friendly, the vast majority of Canadians still rely on 110V outlets in their garages, clearly not meant for high-speed charging of electric vehicles. BMW understands this, and as such the X5 xDrive40e is able to recharge the battery fully in just seven hours. The charger is also water-resistant if you must charge outdoors and it happens to rain, but we wouldn’t recommend dunking the apparatus in the lake. Those without charging infrastructure can use the “Sport” mode of the car to enable more aggressive regenerative braking, which can also charge the battery (albeit slowly).
Driving around every day both on the highway as well as within Toronto’s urban core led me to arrive at one conclusion – this hybrid system is impeccably smooth. The transition between EV mode and the gasoline engine kicking in is virtually unnoticeable, with the only hint being the tachometer bouncing up as the gas engine engages. The X5 is insulated beautifully and is extremely quiet, though the ride is on the firm side. The rear air suspension setup helps, but even on the smaller wheel setup the ride is choppy and not nearly as smooth as the Volvo XC90 (reviewed here). The Drive Dynamics Control (DDC) defaults to the “Comfort” setting, which helps smooth things out a bit, but the Sport setting is on the harsher side of firm.
Being a BMW, the X5 xDrive40e does handle sharply, but it becomes obvious that it is a heavier car than its regular gasoline counterpart. The xDrive40e’s hybrid-electric magic is a seamless setup, but adds over 400lbs to the crossover when compared to a similarly-optioned xDrive35i model. The added weight is noticeable when cornering at higher speeds, though it doesn’t handle particularly poorly. In reality, the vast majority of buyers will never be able to tell, because they weren’t cross-shopping the X5 M anyhow. It would be nice to see BMW incorporate a full air suspension setup though, despite the weight addition that would entail.
For obvious reasons, fuel economy is the strongest point of this X5. Even operating on solely the gasoline engine, we discovered the four-cylinder to deliver no worse than 8.5L/100km on the highway. I recall the last X5 xDrive35i I tested averaging 12.5L/100km in a combined cycle. Despite not having the ability to charge the car every night, my test still returned a remarkable average of 8.5L/100km on premium fuel – that’s almost unheard of for a non-diesel SUV of this size. Additionally, the massive 85L fuel tank means this X5 could theoretically pull off almost 1,000km of range on a single tank.
Climbing into the cabin, it becomes immediately obvious that this isn’t an entry-level BMW. The extended leather seats are incredibly soft with airplane-style butterfly headrests, and the two-part center armrest is supple to the touch. The headliner is lined in black Alcantara, and every single surface you can see and feel is incredibly high quality. Much like the brand’s latest 7-series (reviewed here), our X5 tester was equipped with ceramic controls. This may seem like a small detail, but once you’ve experienced them, you will not be able to see a BMW dashboard the same way again. Rear accommodations are equally generous, and thanks to the four-zone automatic climate control, nobody will be complaining about the temperature.
The X5 xDrive40e starts at $74,000, almost $8,000 more than the base gasoline model. The Premium Seating Package at $2,900 adds Ivory Extended Nappa Leather and front 18-way adjustable ventilated seats – a must have. Most Canadians will opt for the $6,300 Premium Package, which adds ambient lighting, heated rear seats, side window sunshades, surround view camera, heads-up display, blind spot detection, collision warning, soft-close doors, Comfort Access, Harman/Kardon sound, four-zone climate control, and satellite radio. Our car also had alumimum running boards, BMW Night Vision with pedestrian detection, headlight washers, and a few BMW Individual trim bits that brought the total to just under $98,000.
There’s one significant argument to be made against the new xDrive40e, and that’s the xDrive35d diesel model that also resides within the X5 lineup. It all boils down to the needs of the consumer – autobahn-storming buyers with loads of highway driving would see great benefits to the diesel, at the expense of overall emissions. Those with short, urban commutes will find the plug-in hybrid beneficial, for its ease of operation and fuel savings within the urban core. The four-cylinder gasoline powertrain in this model is also good enough to advocate toward BMW to build an X5 xDrive28i, thus lowering the overall base price to get into the lineup as well.
Someday, the time will come for a younger enthusiast like myself to require an SUV. When it does, I hope that vehicles like the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e are still around with all of their character. This is a Sports Activity Vehicle that’s ready for almost any activity thrown at it, along with xDrive all-wheel-drive for those weekend trips to the ski resort, and boasts enough space for a growing family. The slick powertrain provides enough versatility for almost any type of commute, ample overall fuel range for the lengthiest of road trips, and the involving driving dynamics that make the BMW brand so iconic. What could possibly go wrong?