BMW is going electric in a big way. The company honchos say so, openly. They see the IC engine as doomed — not because of scarce gas but omnipresent Uncle. Emissions and fuel-efficiency fatwas are becoming literally impossible to comply with.
Think I’m exaggerating?
In Europe, they consider (and regulate) carbon dioxide as an “emission.” It is not possible to eliminate this “emission” without eliminating internal combustion — and the only way to reduce it is by reducing the size and output of the engine, if it internally combusts. It is very possible Uncle will decide to regulate C02 as an ”emission” here as well and — trust me — the car companies are freaked out about it because that’s something you can’t fix with catalytic converters and direct injection.
If that doesn’t seal the deal, there’s CAFE — Uncle’s fuel efficiency fatwa — which is set to JATO to the impossible-to-meet (without a wholesale change in the way cars are made and what they cost) mandatory minimum of 54.5 MPG.
There isn’t a single car currently on the market that can do it — not even a Prius.
And forget big SUVs like this BMW X5.
Enter the X5 eDrive.
It’s still a big SUV. But it has a small gas engine.
And a plug.
Does it make sense?
Economically, probably not.
But in a world run by — and for — Uncle, I guess maybe it does.
WHAT IT IS
The X5 is BMW’s largest “Sport Activity Vehicle”… BMW-speak for SUV.
It’s based on a rear-drive layout (with all-wheel-drive available) which is both heavier duty and preferable if you wants something that feels and corners more like a sport sedan than a minivan.
This review will focus on the new plug-in hybrid version of the X5, which only has one same concept (and same sized) rival — the plug-in version of the Porsche Cayenne.
Both are capable of moving on electric power alone — and moving at more than just a crawl. The X5 eDrive can go as fast as 75 MPH on the batteries. And both can replenish their batteries from a household outlet. Other hybrids without the ability to plug in (like the Lexus RX450h and the Audi Q5 hybrid) recharge their batteries by running their gas engines. Which burns gas. They also rely mostly on their gas engines for propulsion — and can only go a mile or so (at a crawl) on just the batteries.
The X5 eDrive comes in just one trim — which includes xDrive all-wheel-drive but without the option to buy a third row. The sticker price is $63,095 — vs. $57,000 for an otherwise similar but non-hybrid X5 xDrive 35i (which can be ordered with third row seating).
Its main rival, the plug-in Cayenne, stickers for $77,200.
Being “green” has more than just one meaning.
The eDrive version of the X5 is new. It joins other eDrive variants of existing BMW models (like the eDrive version of the 3 Series sport sedan, reviewed here) as part of BMW’s shift away from the IC engine and toward electric drive.
The system works. You can run around for about 15 miles — at normal road speeds — on just the batteries.
It works seamlessly. No abrupt transitions between electric mode and gas mode (and in between).
It’s powerful (308 hp and 332 ft.-lbs. of torque on tap; zero to 60 in the mid-sixes).
xDrive AWD is part of the deal.
Cargo room not problemed by battery pack.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
The system is expensive — $6k bump over otherwise comparable X5 35i with xDrive ($57,000).
Mileage difference when not in “e” electric mode is modest.
Added weight clunks up the X5’s otherwise excellent handling.
Battery pack takes up the space that would otherwise be available for third-row seating; the eDrive X5 comes only with two rows and room for five.
UNDER THE HOOD
IC engines are doing a slow-motion fade-away… getting smaller and smaller in order to make Uncle happier.
The math — and mandates — are inexorable.
With federal CAFE mandatory minimums set to almost double (to 54.5 MPG on average) within product planning range (less than 10 model years from now, come 2025) the pressure to lower fuel consumption across the board is becoming enormous. Add to this the fact that in Europe they also regulate C02 and are very likely to do so here as well.
Which is why you end up with a huge SUV (whoops, SAV) that weighs 5,200 lbs. empty with an economy car-sized 2.0 liter four cylinder engine under its hood. (Meanwhile, economy car engines descend to sub-two-liter sizes.)
It’s like a battleship with 8 inch guns…
In this case, the “artillery” is buttressed by an electric motor worth about 75 hp — bringing the total output to 308 hp, slightly more total hp than the 3.0 liter six (300 hp) that’s standard equipment in the non-hybrid X5.
The electric motor is integrated with an eight-speed automatic — a different drummer approach (most hybrids use continuously variable or CVT automatics; more on this below).
Oddly — because of the nature of this particular beast — xDrive all-wheel-drive is standard.
Because it adds weight, which increases the load on both the gas engine and the electric batteries/motor — reducing the MPGs (and the range). This vehicle is after all fundamentally about efficiency (supposedly) and (you’d think) it would make more sense to offer this in a lighter, more potentially efficient, rear-drive configuration.
The regular (non-hybrid) X5 is available in rear-drive form. It carries an EPA MPG rating of 19 city, 27 highway — vs. 23 city, 25 highway for the eDrive X5. Note that the hybrid-drive’s highway mileage is lower than the regular X5’s.
Probably because the eDrive is heavier (5,220 pounds vs. 4,790 lbs.) and it takes more energy to heave all that weight through the air. The eDrive does better in city driving because it has a smaller engine and that smaller engine turns itself off often, letting the batteries take over.
Which it can do more frequently — and for longer — because of the plug-in layout. Fully charged up via the external power cord (which plugs into any household outlet) the eDrive can go about 15 miles without running the gas engine at all.
Thus the also-advertised “56 MPGe” — the mileage achievable (says EPA) if you make full use of the plug-in capability, to reduce the percentage of your drive that depends on internal combustion.
ON THE ROAD
Plug-in technology has — as they say — matured.
The first run of these things could just barely creep froward really slowly (and for a little while) not unlike a kid learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels.
They were expensive toys, really.
Now they’re just expensive.
The function part is hard to fault.
Leave the eDrive X5 plugged in for about four hours and the batteries are ready to haul it (and you) about 15 miles, pretty much as fast as you want to get there. So long as you don’t need to go faster than 75 MPH — after which the gas engine will fire (unnoticeably, you have to eye the tach to know when it’s running) to provide assist.
And if you happen to have some downhill stretches along the way — as I do — you can extend the electric range by several miles.
I begin my trip “down the mountain” on US 221 in Virginia, which is a 55 MPH secondary highway. I’m usually running 65-ish, my V1 vigilantly sussing out the swine.
I go about 15 miles — right on the edge of the BMW’s electric-only range — to the edge of Bent Mountain, where it’s all downhill (9 percent grade) for a couple miles — which feeds electricity back to the by-now flagging batteries, pumping some life back into them. At the bottom of the mountain, it’s a gentle coast (slight grade but morsel flat) the rest of the way into town.
I can make the trip — the Getting There — leg on the batteries, or mostly so.
Getting Back requires gas (unless I stop for several hours to recharge, which I won’t) because the batteries no longer have much range left in them and because now I’m going uphill — which in a 5,200 pound SUV (er, SAV) takes energy.
Still, on balance, it uses less gas overall than a six-cylinder X5.
But unless your trips are fairly short — and you have the luxury of time to wait for a recharge before heading back to where you came from — the eDrive will probably not save you much money vs. a regular X5 and the math becomes even more questionable vs. a diesel-powered X5. More on that below.
Still, it functions superbly.
I gave several people rides and they couldn’t tell when the BMW was on the batteries or internally combusting. I’d tell them to have a look at the tach needle — 0 RPM at 60-something MPH — and the stone cold temp gauge, notwithstanding we’d been driving for miles.
A key to the eDrive’s excellent road manners is the integration of the electric side of the powertrain with the eight-speed automatic transmission. Hybrids usually use a CVT, which is a very efficient type of transmission but has the downside of (usually) being noticeably noisy. The BMW is as quiet as the slumber room of a funeral parlor.
No revs — much less high RPM revving (and holding) as is usual with CVTs.
Which, by the way, is pretty good — though not as good as the Porsche Cayenne’s.
Or the gas-engined X5’s.
It is slightly quicker than the diesel X5, though.
But not noticeably so (there’s about 2-3 tenths of a second difference between the two) and the diesel (with its stout low-end torque) mimics the right-now thrust of the electric motor-enhanced eDrive.
Still, it’s not slow — something hybrids usually are.
And it’s fast.
Amuse your friends by taking them on electric-only drives well in excess of most posted speed limits anywhere except Texas.
I did notice some impairment of the X5’s otherwise outstanding (for an SUV… uh.. SAV) handling.
It feels less… balanced.
Which, as it turns out, it is.
The weight of the regular X5 is literally almost perfectly distributed, front (49.5 percent) to rear (50.5 percent). In the X5 eDrive, the ratio is less ideally distributed; 45.8 percent (front) and 54.2 percent (rear).
There is also much more weight.
Much of which — as mentioned earlier — is not due to the eDrive stuff but to the xDrive stuff. Had I been the Decider over at BMW engineering, I’d have decided to leave xDrive off the roster. Doing so would have curbed some of the beef which would have been a help as far as the handling and also as far as the mileage (as well as lowered the price — one assumes).
AT THE CURB
Like other eDrive versions of BMW vehicles, not much clues you in to the hybridness of the thing unless you happen to notice the extra “fuel” door cut into the driver’s side front quarter panel. Behind this is the receptacle for the plug-in pigtail, which is actually designed to look like a gas pump handle — familiarity helping to ease transitions to New Ways of doing things.
Other than this, it is hard to tell.
There isn’t even a “hybrid” gauge cluster — as is usual in other hybrids.
You have to look for the Hybrid Clues.
Like the little bar graph battery charge indicator built into the tachometer. And (when in eDrive) the lack of tachometer needle movement.
You will also notice something missing from the options roster: The otherwise available third row. This option (for other X5s) isn’t one here. The eDrive X5 is a two row/five-passenger-only deal. This may put it at something of a disadvantage as a family vehicle vs. rivals like the Acura MDX and Infiniti QX, both of which offer the third row (but not a plug-in option). And in the BMW’s defense, the only other same-size plug-in hybrid SUV/SAV — the Porsche Cayenne hybrid — also seats five only.
It also has a lot less cargo room than the BMW — just 20.5 cubic feet behind its second row and 59.7 with the second row folded flat vs. 34.2 for the BMW (with seats up) and 72.5 with the second row folded. The BMW also has a very cool two-piece tailgate, with a lower section that folds down and which you can sit on or put things on.
Apples-oranges-wise, the BMW is much more practical than the Porsche — which is much quicker but smaller and also much more expensive.
Most likely BMW buyers probably own a house — and have a garage or at least their own private driveway. This is relevant because without at least one of the latter (a garage or a driveway) plugging in could be a problem. How do you do this if you have to park curbside? On public roads?
I guess you could run an extension cord from your townhouse/apartment or whatever — assuming this is allowed. But it’s awkward at the least and might simply not be possible, logistically.
So, be sure you can plug in (without hassles) before you buy a plug-in.
On the Economics:
A diesel-powered X5 gets 24 city, 31 highway — better mileage (internally combusting) than the eDrive X5 (23 city/25 highway). It also costs $5,395 less to buy ($57,700 vs. $63,095). If you do a lot of long/distance/highway driving — or you can’t plug in frequently — it is hard to see how the eDrive will save you money vs. the diesel.
I just wonder how much longer BMW will be allowed to offer the diesel…
The eDrive exists not primarily Because Economy but Because Uncle. There are no-go zones (for IC engines) in Europe and — probably — will be here as well.
The CAFE regs are already here and — in theory — the eDrive X5 makes the CAFE cut. Remember the “56 MPGe” rating? It just happens to be — just barely — a little better than the pending 54.5 MPG mandatory minimum that goes into effect nine model years from now, in 2025.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is the Future.
And it will not be Cheap.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos