Yes, it's an SUV with a plug. No, it's not a Tesla killer. Yes, it has a goofy shift lever. We spent a week in the BMW X5 sport utility in its plug-in hybrid format, and were suitably impressed by its high-tech nonchalance and drag strip-sized tires.

The X5 was BMW's first crossover-SUV, introduced in 2000, and now enters its third generation as a midsize crossover and one of the German automaker's most popular models in North America. Rather than doing the usual mid-cycle refresh halfway through the current generation's lifespan, though, Bimmer decided to get fancy and introduced a production plug-in hybrid variant for the X5, the xDrive40e.

As with all of BMW's crossovers, the X in the model name means "crossover," the "xDrive" means all-wheel drive, and the new "40e" moniker means PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). The X5 now becomes part of the larger iPerformance family in the BMW workshop. The X5 xDrive40e was introduced as a production concept in 2015 before entering the market as a 2016 model.

There are several things of note about the BMW X5. First, it's a very large sport utility for a midsize offering. Secondly, it's also very heavy. And third, it has some of the widest tires we've ever seen on any vehicle outside of a drag strip. So wide, in fact, that the X5 could not be taken into our favorite automated car wash because the tires were too fat for the wheel tracks in the wash. The X5 40e model comes standard with 19-inch alloy wheels onto which huge 255/50 tires are mounted. What we learned is that these run-flat all-season tires are a part of the BMW X5's secret to excellent road handling and stability. In heavy rain, the X5 barely noticed the sloshed pavement and threw water aside in torrents with nary a slip.

Normally, a heavy vehicle with lot of rubber on the road translates into low fuel economy. With the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e, though, the hybrid drivetrain still achieves 56 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe), per the EPA. In the real world, we saw surprisingly efficient numbers that were close to that, with a total return of over 54 mpg (4.4 l/100km) all told. With a full tank of gasoline (22.4 gallons, 84.8 liters) and a full charge of its lithium-ion batteries, the X5 plug-in has a total range of over 500 miles (804 km).

This high fuel economy is a result of the plug-in hybrid powertrain BMW debuted in the X5 40e. A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission which has an integrated electric motor. The engine outputs 240 horsepower (179 kW) and with the motor achieves a total system output of 308 horsepower (230 kW) and 332 pound-feet (450 Nm) of torque. The 9 kWh lithium battery pack charges to full in about three hours at 240 volts through the 3.6kW onboard charger, or in about seven to eight hours with a 120-volt standard wall outlet. With batteries at full, the X5 xDrive40e has about 13 miles (21 km) of total all-electric driving range.

Another surprise about the X5 is its strong performance. The plug-in handily does 0-60 mph (96 km/h) sprints in under seven seconds without much expertise required. The X5 is also true to the BMW reputation for excellent road handling, driving more like a large sedan than a sport utility. As mentioned earlier, it was confident and stable in all sorts of inclement driving conditions as well as poised on the highway and during long trips. Yet around town and on the twisted roads of the back country here in Wyoming, it was amazingly agile and fun.

This doesn't mean that the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e doesn't have its drawbacks, of course. The X5 is already one of the more expensive luxury crossover-SUVs on the market with its standard gasoline options, but adding on the plug means that price gets much higher. The gasoline-powered X5 has a starting price of about US$55,500 and the plug-in jumps to $62,100. Though there are significant amenities upgrades in the 40e package, that's still a steep price for the segment, hybrid notwithstanding.

Another complaint would be the third row seating, which is optional in the X5. These seats are adequate for small children in safety seats, but even teenagers will be cramped back there. The midsize luxury SUV market is often hit-and-miss with the third row option and we'd definitely score the X5 as a miss there. Otherwise, the interior of the X5 40e is a fine example of German excellence.

Quality materials and well-wrought Teutonic workmanship are found throughout the X5's cabin, and we thoroughly enjoyed the upgraded leather option for the plug-in model. The goofy BMW shift lever is at the center console where it belongs, and the latest iDrive infotainment is offered on the central screen. We like the iDrive interface for the most part, but the command knob interface is often slow and can become tedious. The addition of the touchpad on the top of the knob, which allows entry of letters and numbers through finger drawing, does greatly speed up some of the clunkier aspects of the infotainment.

In the second row, all but the tallest of passengers will find themselves in a roomy, well-designed back seat. This is especially true if the second-row comfort seating package is added. We did note, however, that the addition of the optional second-row entertainment system with its large screens did create cramping for entry and egress from the X5.

As for cargo, the BMW X5 has an average amount of available space for the segment, at 66 cubic feet (1,869 liters) with the second and third rows down. We did like the two-part liftgate, however, which allows the upper portion to be opened and the "tailgate" to be left up, making loading groceries and the like easy as they can be stacked against that. When a flat loading area is needed, the tailgate drops quickly.

Our overall impression of BMW's first production plug-in SUV was good. Though there are some trade-offs to consider for owning this crossover-SUV, the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e is a beautiful example of efficiency without compromise in a luxury sport utility. It's a joy to drive, highly efficient, and equally luxurious.

Product Page: BMW X5

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