BMW has chosen a variant of its X5 SUV to be its first plug-in hybrid production car. Although this might seem a bit of an odd choice, the BMW X5 xDrive40e has lots of trick engineering slickly packaged in a vehicle that could bring plug-in hybrid technology to a wider potential audience than if it was used in a sedan or a sports car.
As the automotive world swings towards ever more fuel-efficient cars, everyone seems to be offering a hybrid. Now the next phase has started to hit, with more and more manufacturers offering plug-in hybrids. BMW, never a company to lag far behind, has just rolled out its first plug-in hybrid production car, but in the Bavarian's case, it's not a car, but instead is a Sports Activity Vehicle, which is BMW-speak for an SUV.
Christened with the uninspiring name of X5 xDrive40e, the latest from the well-regarded German marque is both efficient and powerful. The X5 hybrid cranks out a total system output of 230 kW (313 hp) produced by a four-banger petrol engine with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology and a synchronous electric motor. In other words, there's a turbo four cylinder mated to an electric drive system that allows a vehicle that is big, boxy and doesn't look to be all that efficient to be remarkably economical.
BMW says the X5 xDrive40e gets between 83.1 - 85.6 mpg (3.4 - 3.3 L/100km). Those are imperial gallons, by the way – the equivalent in US gallons is 69.2 - 71.3 mpg. Also of interest is BMW's stated electricity consumption, which the company says is 15.4 - 15.3 kWh over the same distance. Consumers will most likely have to start paying more and more attention to figures like electricity consumption, as hybrid technology becomes an ever-bigger part of our daily lives.
BMW says that the use of its eDrive technology on the established X5 platform is a direct transfer from the BMW i cars. We have covered BMW's very impressive i8 previously, but it's noteworthy that BMW chose to roll out that hybrid tech via a crossover SUV, rather than one of the company's mainstay lines of sedans.
But even if this more mainstream delivery of the i8's impressive technology is wrapped in a fairly plain box, that doesn't mean the technology has grown any more ordinary. For starters, the electric motor is integrated within the 8-speed Steptronic transmission and the electrical energy is drawn from a lithium-ion battery pack. This integrated electrical generation system also supplies power for the run-of-the-mill and well-known 12V electrical system via a voltage transformer. This lithium-ion battery pack can be recharged by connecting to any standard domestic power socket or by using what BMW calls the i Wallbox charger.
The high-voltage lithium-ion battery pack is housed underneath the luggage compartment floor. This helps both in terms of packaging, and saving space in the passenger and luggage compartments, but there are also safety benefits. Housing the battery pack in this location means it is also particularly well-protected in the event of a crash, says BMW.
Even though this is not only an SUV but also a hybrid on top of that, it's also a BMW, and a company with the performance heritage of BMW is not going to let anything roll out of its factory that is down on performance. BMW claims that driving the X5 xDrive40e is "characterized by versatile and effortless performance." The way the powertrain is controlled via the hybrid system ensures that the engine and electric motor act in harmony so that efficiency is optimized while also catering to the driver’s performance desires.
On the center console sits the eDrive button that allows the driver to adjust the hybrid operating mode. When the AUTO eDrivebasic setting is selected, the engine’s power is noticeably boosted when accelerating or during quick bursts of speed. This is due to biasing the power delivery from the electric portion of the hybrid drivetrain. The electric motor cranks out 184 lb-ft (250 Nm) of torque from a standstill for on-the-spot power delivery. BMW says the X5 xDrive40e sprints from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 6.8 seconds, which is plenty fast for a truck.
If you don't want to be all Mario Andretti when picking up the kids, there is also a much more eco-friendly approach available. The MAX eDrive mode enables the BMW X5 xDrive40e to run entirely on electric power. When fully charged, the high-voltage battery provides the Beemer with a range of up to 31 km (19 miles) in eDrive mode, although it does limit the maximum speed to 120 km/h (75 mph).
There is one other mode that can be called forth via the eDrive button: the SAVE Battery mode. When selected, this causes the high-voltage battery’s state of charge to be maintained, or it allows energy to be accumulated again. In other words, electrical energy can be intentionally conserved for all-electric driving later. No matter which mode is selected, power is delivered to the tarmac via the BMW's permanent all-wheel-drive system. You're putting power to the ground with all four wheels, all the time, rain or shine.
The BMW X5 xDrive40e has another neat little trick up its sleeve. An intelligent energy management function is available that can be used in conjunction with the navigation system. Data on the route profile is factored into powertrain control along with real-time traffic information. The system then ensures it's possible to drive purely on electric power on urban sections, and manages the high-voltage battery pack's energy needs accordingly.
There is also a hybrid-specific version of the BMW Remote app that makes it possible to check the state of charge, locate public charging stations or call up efficiency evaluations for the BMW X5 xDrive40e on your smartphone. The heating and ventilation functions can also be turned on remotely.
BMW has also finessed the plug-in portion of its plug-in hybrid. The new X5 hybrid comes with either i Wallbox Pure or i Wallbox Pro for home charging, offering customers a particularly fast and convenient means of recharging the high-voltage battery while parked. Installation service for the home charging unit is also available.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of all this is just how little the BMW X5 xDrive40e differs from the show car we covered last year. Normally show versions of production cars are full of fluff and gizmos that never see production, but not, it seems, in the case of the BMW X5 xDrive40e. This shows off a rather nice commitment on BMW's part to not only innovating, but also bringing those innovations to the road in a timely and realistic manner.
And really, even if you're not one of the initial purchasers of a BMW X5 xDrive40e, we all benefit. SUVs and crossovers are not going away any time soon, so the more efficient they can be made and used, the better for all of us, and the planet.