Photographer: Fabian Kirchbauer/BMW Group
Cars

BMW’s Hybrid SUV Has All the Power You Want, Plus a Conscience

The new X5 xDrive40e is just as good (and more earth-friendly) as the conventional model.

There are many roads to automotive sustainability: electrics, hybrids, hydrogen, turbo-boosting, and extremely lightweight materials in body shells and components. We can all end up at the same place, even if we don’t take the same route.

Which is why you can feel good about buying the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e. Sure, hybrid technology is more a Band-Aid than a solution to our reliance on fossil fuels. But, baby steps, right? It's the principle I respect.

Some advances in human civilization happen overnight. Some happen over years after incremental growth. The BMW X5 hybrid falls into the latter category.

Plug-In Priorities

The new BMW X5 hybrid is the dual-power version of the brand's popular large-SUV series. It's one of the many new cars the German automaker has implemented over the past year as part of its plan to make a plug-in hybrid version of each of its models.

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The BMW X5 xDrive 40e starts at $62,100; roughly $5,000 in federal tax credits are available. 

Photographer: Fabian Kirchbauer/BMW Group

I drove a silver one for a week in New York as part of my daily life—to and from the Bloomberg offices in Midtown, on Fort Greene flea-market excursions in Brooklyn, to deliver flowers and retrieve shoes from friends in the West Village.

It’s a big rig—and at 5,220 pounds, a heavy rig—but it’s still manageable as an urban conveyance. For instance, its “Driving Dynamics Control” (chassis control system that minimizes body roll), “Dynamic Damper Control” (intelligent suspension), and “Servotronic” (power-assisted) steering worked exceptionally well in tight traffic during morning rush hour. It also fit well into West Village parking spots, unlike what is often the case when I drive large SUVs. If you want to assuage your guilt at buying a luxury SUV and you prefer BMW styling, technology systems, and generally more rigid handling over Mercedes, Porsche, or Audi, this is the one for you.

I should add: Navigating this particular sector of the automotive market has more to do with determining personal preference than with ascertaining any supreme superiority of one product over another. I won’t say this BMW is abundantly better than, say, the Audi Q5 Hybrid ($52,500) or Mercedes GLE550e Plug-In Hybrid ($65,550), but at $62,100, minus roughly $5,000 in federal tax credits, it is priced fairly and more than equal to them as a choice for modern SUV drivers with a conscience.

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The X5 xDrive 40e can travel just under 20 miles on pure electric power. 

Photographer: Fabian Kirchbauer/BMW Group

If you need those signature kidney grills, a very tightly dialed xDrive all-wheel-drive system, the fat steering wheel feel, plenty of non-metallic paint options, and Xenon headlights with corona-like rings around them and LED fog lights, buy the X5 hybrid. They help make this car distinctive—and distinctively BMW.

The Same Strong Tank

Not too much on the outside distinguishes it from BMW’s regular X5, other than a few small badges and the small charging socket toward the front. As with every other BMW, you’re in good hands here: The company excels at making all its vehicles on the same level when it comes to design and offerings. The hybrid is no different.

Inside, I was pleased to find ample standard luxury accouterments: ambient lighting, well-bolstered and three-stage heated front seats, smooth poplar trim, and a fully finished (if diminished, so as to make room for the batteries) cargo area.

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The interior of the xDrive40e is virtually indistinguishable from the interior of its conventional cousin, with all the trappings of BMW's computer system. 

Photographer: Fabian Kirchbauer/BMW Group

Standard, too, is BMW Group’s excellent iDrive system (it’s so good they use it in Rolls-Royces), with park distance control, rain-sensing wipers, ambient lighting, and the BMW Navigation system, among other things, on a 10.2-inch high-resolution screen.

It all works with the efficiency, expediency, and engineering elegance that we admire in many German brands. If you’ve been in a BMW SUV in the past few years, you can imagine the interior of this one. Nothing new to see here here, move along.

Plenty of Pep

The X5 hybrid uses a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder engine and a lithium-ion powered motor—the same that is in the electric motor and power electronics in the excellent BMW i8. It’s very fast: The engine gets 308 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, which push it to 60 miles per hour in 6.5 seconds. The conventional X5 xDrive35i does it in as fast as 6.1 seconds. Not too shabby.

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The three modes of the SUV's platform allow you to determine how efficiently it runs. 

Photographer: Fabian Kirchbauer/BMW Group

All-wheel drive comes standard, and the eight-speed transmission is as flawless as the one on the 3-Series. Driving it feels much tighter in the steering and brakes and it feels more responsive to the accelerator, than, say, Tesla’s new $132,000 Model X SUV, which I just spent a week driving in California (full review forthcoming). Even though it’s a hybrid, this X5 is still blessedly analog to drive.

Under the hood, a full charge on the battery buys you nearly 20 miles; you will not notice when it switches to running on gas. In fact, if you drive the X5 Hybrid, you could very much be driving the X5 xDrive35i. There’s no discernible difference. Most people who jump in don’t ever realize it’s a hybrid.

The power train has three modes: Auto, for efficiency; Max, for electric only; and Save, for raising the battery charge. Fuel economy depends on how aggressively you drive and how high you crank the air conditioning, among other things. (Nearly 56 miles per gallon (e) in electric and gasoline driving combined and 24mpg on just gas are general estimates.) It’s also determined by how often you charge it. (More charging equals better economy.)

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The X5 xDrive40e is a good option for those who want to drive a luxury SUV but want to achieve better gas mileage than most. 

Photographer: Fabian Kirchbauer/BMW Group

Today’s relatively low gas prices don’t do quite as good a job justifying the inconvenience that a ton of electric-only driving would entail, and they don’t help justify the slight price premium of hybrids over conventional cars. That could change, and to my mind the BMW X5 xDrive40e is a fair proposition.

In fact, the best thing that I can say about the X5 xDrive40e is that it is virtually unremarkable when compared to other SUVs of its caliber. It well follows the “ultimate driving machine” mantra we hear so often from BMW. For the eco-conscious among us, it is a step in the right direction.

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