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First drive: BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.

First drive: BMW X5 xDrive40e
BMW's 'core' hybrid revolution starts with the X5 SUV.

 



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BMW X5 xDrive40e

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Following the success of the i3 and i8 models, BMW is now building plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) in what it calls its 'core brand'. The first to get this treatment is the X5 - 1.5 million of these things have been sold since it appeared in 1999, so it's the obvious candidate to be a PHEV guinea pig. As ever from Munich, the resulting vehicle is deeply impressive but there are one or two issues with the X5 xDrive40e.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW X5 xDrive40e
Pricing: expected to be around 51,000
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with synchronous electric motor
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body style: five-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 77g/km (VED Band A, 0)
Combined economy: 85.6mpg; 15.3kWh/100km battery
Top speed: 130mph
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Power: petrol 245hp at 5,000- to 6,500rpm; electric 113hp at 3,170rpm; combined peak output 313hp
Torque: petrol 350Nm at 1,250- to 4,800rpm; electric 250Nm at 0rpm; combined peak output 450Nm

What's this?

A BMW plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV. Which might not sound like news, if you keep well abreast of the company's i brand; the stunning i8 supercar is a PHEV, after all. However, this is not an i BMW, but just one of its 'regular' range, making it the first PHEV from Munich's core brand - the ActiveHybrid cars already in the line-up were much milder creations than this. The model chosen for such a signal honour is the X5, although we already know that 330e and 740e models are on the way, presumably using the same drivetrain as this SUV. Which is to say a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine up front, an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission with the synchronous electric motor coupled to it in the middle, four-wheel drive underneath and the lithium-ion battery under the boot floor. This PHEV's full name is the X5 xDrive40e.

It looks, to all intents and purposes, like a normal X5. Both outside and within, there is little mark it out as different from the rest. Externally, the 'eDrive' badging on the boot and 'xDrive40e' inscription on the base of the front doors are what you're looking for, although the extra filler flap on the nearside front wing is also a big clue. Trapezoidal tailpipes are the final signifier. Within, it's even harder to tell the difference, especially if the car is switched off. However, with power flowing through it, there are some hybrid-specific displays for both the iDrive screen and the instrument cluster, an illuminated blue line around the cabin's midriff and the eDrive button on the centre console. So let's focus on that...

How does it drive?

Said button controls an extra three modes for the hybrid drivetrain, over and above the familiar three (Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro) that are marshalled by the Driving Experience Control switch. So, the first eDrive setting is Auto eDrive, in which the car uses full electric, full petrol or hybrid running, according to driving conditions; the second is Max eDrive, locking the X5 (battery charge depending) into full electric mode where it has a range of 19 miles and a limited top speed of 75mph (unless you activate kickdown, which fires the petrol engine up as a safety precaution); and Save, which either maintains the battery at or charges it up to 50 per cent capacity, using the 2.0 petrol and brake recuperation as generators. Charging the battery by a 230-volt mains socket, by the way, takes around three hours. There's even a satnav-related function that means the car automatically chooses the best mode to be in once a destination has been set, so it knows when it's in a town and therefore switches to full electric, for example; all very clever, although it can be overridden by the driver pressing eDrive at any time.

All of this works beautifully, of course, making the 40e no more difficult to drive than any other X5. You simply slot it in D and away you go. If there's battery power, you'll step off the line smartly and near-silently, the X5 whirring into action at a decent lick. The petrol engine doesn't spoil things, though, as it's remarkably quiet for the majority of the rev range (it gets a bit vocal beyond 4,500rpm) and the way it seamlessly powers up or dies away as required in Auto eDrive mode is spooky. You have to be looking at the rev counter if you want to know when it's active or not, because you'll never feel it through the seat of your pants. Elsewhere, the handling seems as capable as ever, the steering is nice and direct and the X5 xDrive40e just generally feels a quality piece of kit, albeit not massively quick with the drivetrain giving you its full oomph. The cabin is a lovely space to spend time, naturally, but our first words of warning here: the X5 PHEV can only be specified as a five-seater, due to the battery placement. Other cars, notably the Volvo XC90 T8, can have hybrid powertrains and seven seats.

Which brings us on to some more pressing concerns. The first is the ride quality. Given our test route was a 90-mile mixed jaunt along Bavarian Autobahns, through the southern German countryside and then a potter into the suburbs of Munich, the roads were largely excellent. What a shame, then, that the secondary ride was not. Too often, minor surface imperfections made themselves felt through the base of the seat, which is odd given relatively high-profile 255/50 tyres at the corners and standard-fit self-levelling rear air suspension. The primary ride was better, although big compressions would lead to an odd moment of body float afterwards, as if the hefty body shell was getting away from the dampers. In no way would we say the X5 was pointedly uncomfortable, but if this was how it performed on German roads, on knackered British tarmac...? Well, we'll have to wait and see. Also oddly, while engine and wind noise were subdued, tyre roar was an ever-present background annoyance.

Neither the ride nor the road noise might be enough to prevent someone buying an X5 xDrive40e over a Volvo XC90 T8, which rides serenely and peacefully in all circumstances, but the real-world fuel economy of the BMW is another matter. To be fair to Munich (and any other PHEV manufacturer), it's the farce that is the NEDC consumption test that is to blame. It takes no account of zero-emissions running and as it's a short cycle, low-demand driving event, during which PHEVs will use up what battery range they've got before turning to their fossil fuel source, it wildly skews the economy and emissions figures that the manufacturer is forced to claim. Therefore, unless you're a purely urban dweller who has regular access to charging points and can thus run your X5 in Max eDrive for the vast majority of the time, you cannot hope to see anything like 85.6mpg. In fact, you'll be lucky to achieve half that. On said Bavarian test route - during which we'll concede we had the wipers, lights, heater and satnav on, as it was a miserable day in southern Germany - we saw 32.1mpg. And we were not driving the doors off the xDrive40e, either.

In absolute terms, an average 32.1mpg is on the one hand a decent figure for a 2.0-litre four-pot engine hauling 2.3 tonnes of SUV about at normal road speeds, but on the other it's also nothing to write home about in today's marketplace. An xDrive40d would probably have given us well in excess of 40mpg on the same route in the same conditions, while rival PHEVs - like the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine - quote much higher mpg/lower CO2 numbers; so even though, like the BMW, they won't hit the same lofty on-paper peaks, the reality is that they're more likely to achieve a genuine 40- to 50mpg. That's a big deficit for the BMW to overcome.

Verdict

Slight concerns about the ride and tyre noise aside, the BMW X5 xDrive40e is a lovely thing to cruise around in and it's an intriguing marker for future BMW PHEVs - we reckon this drivetrain in the significantly lighter 330e will be phenomenal. The bigger problems with this hybrid X5 are that it can only be had as a five-seater, and for anyone who uses the petrol engine regularly, 85.6mpg is going to be a pipe dream. Pricing is yet to be confirmed but expect it to be around the xDrive40d's 51,000 starting figure, plus a small premium; that makes it at least a useful 7,000 cheaper than the entry-level Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 22 Jun 2015









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2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.

2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.



2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.
 

2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Image by BMW.
 






 

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