Hybrids

2020 BMW X5 xDrive45e first drive review: A satisfying plug-in hybrid SUV

BMW's new plug-in hybrid SUV is great, but you'll have to wait a while to get behind the wheel.

BMW

Of the four new BMW plug-in hybrids I drove in Munich in January, the X5 xDrive45e was by far my favorite. With a bigger battery pack than the plug-in 7 Series, 3 Series and X3, as well as the well-mannered driving dynamics of the newest X5, the xDrive45e makes a strong case for optioning BMW's luxury hybrid SUV with a plug.

Lots of power and a big battery

The BMW X5 xDrive45e was announced last September and shares most of its powertrain with the 745e plug-in hybrid. A turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine is rated for 286 horsepower and works alongside a 112-hp electric motor, which is integrated into the car's eight-speed automatic transmission. Total system output is 394 hp and 443 pound-feet of torque.

Those are all European specifications, of course. US ratings should be largely the same, though BMW cautions there's still plenty of tweaking to be done as engineers make sure the SUV meets our emissions rules. (For instance, it'll have a different exhaust design than the Euro-market model.)

The X5's major advantage over the 745e is that it has a much larger battery pack: 24 kilowatt-hours, or twice the energy capacity of the one in the 7 Series. That's also a huge increase over the battery in the outgoing X5 plug-in hybrid, the xDrive40e, which had just 9.2-kWh of battery capacity and managed only 14 miles of all-electric driving in EPA testing.

A digital instrument cluster provides data on the battery state-of-charge, as well as other driving information.

BMW

Under European testing, the new X5 will be capable of all-electric ranges of up to 80 kilometers. That equates to 50 miles, but BMW cautions our EPA range figures likely won't match the European numbers. The reasons: different test cycles and, as mentioned before, there's still much tuning to be done before the car arrives here. Still, with more than double the battery capacity, we can expect a big increase in EV range for the newest X5 PHEV.

Efficient yet powerful

The X5 begins every journey in its Hybrid drive mode, where the on-board computers decide whether to use the electric motor, gas engine or both. But even in this mode, keeping the xDrive45e running only on electrons is easy. There's ample power for normal acceleration, all of which is accomplished smoothly and nearly silently. For maximum engine-off performance, I select the Electric drive mode, in which the X5 can travel at up to 84 miles per hour hour, and enjoy the wafting torque of the electric motor. For drivers who regularly recharge the car's battery, the X5 can even be configured to default to Electric mode every time you turn the car on.

The gas engine inevitably kicks in, whether because I used full throttle in Electric mode or switched to the more exciting Sport drive mode, but it makes very little fuss when doing so. The inline-six emits only modest amounts of noise and sends few vibrations through to the cabin. At maximum attack, BMW says the X5 will sprint to 62 miles per hour in just 5.6 seconds and go on to a limited top speed of 146 mph. With the big engine and torquey electric motor, in-gear acceleration is meaty and effortless, even when effecting passes at autobahn speeds.

Standard all-wheel drive will appeal to buyers who regularly drive in conditions like this.

BMW

After my brief test drive, the car's trip computer indicates that I managed 6.8 liters per 100 kilometers, equivalent to 34 mpg US. For reference, the US-market 2019 X5 xDrive40i is rated for 20 miles per gallon city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. Of course, BMW's recommended drive route was intended to highlight the vehicle's efficiency and I began my journey with a near-full battery, covering about two-thirds of the short loop on electrical power alone.

Under European testing regimens, taking into account a fully charged battery, BMW estimates an impressive combined fuel economy figure of 112 mpg. Ratings for the US market have yet to be confirmed and could be significantly different due to the different ways in which the EPA tests efficiency.

About the only downside to the X5 plug-in, then, is slightly reduced cargo space, with BMW saying that there's 5.3 fewer cubic feet of space for luggage. But given how capacious an X5's cargo hold is, that's probably not going to be a deal breaker for most customers.

Like the standard model, the inside of the X5 xDrive45e is trimmed in lovely materials.

BMW

A long wait

While the X5 xDrive45e launches in Europe at the end of this summer, we won't see it in the US until "late" in 2020 as a 2021 model. That's a long time for buyers interested in an electrified SUV to wait. Still, there will be plenty of reasons to consider the new model. With standard all-wheel drive, it'll be plenty useful for Snowbelt buyers, and with the car expected to reach one of California's coveted carpool-exemption stickers, it'll be handy for drivers out there, too. Most of all, the plug-in hybrid X5 will be a nice stepping stone for SUV shoppers who want a little more efficiency and short-distance emissions-free driving without taking the plunge -- and paying the extra cost -- into a full-electric model.


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