2021 BMW X5 Review

The main problem with electric cars isn’t the range—it’s the wait.

Put another way, how far it goes is less of a problem than how long it takes to get going again. A gas-hog muscle that drains its tank dry in 200 miles or less can be back on the road in five minutes or less, which makes its short-range not much of a problem. But if you have to wait at least 30-45 minutes (this assumes a “fast” charger is available – and you’re not second in line), then you’ve got a problem.

BMW addresses this problem by eliminating the need to wait unless you want to recharge. The X5 gives you the option to drive as far as 31 miles without burning (or “emitting”) any gas.

What It Is

The X5 is BMW’s mid-sized crossover. It seats 5-7 in two rows or three rows, and, unlike the majority of crossovers, it is not based on an FWD car layout and does not come standard with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

It is based on BMW’s rear-drive luxury-sport sedan platform, raised up for crossover duty. Unlike others in the class (including its primary cross-shop, the Mercedes-Benz GLE), it comes standard with a six-cylinder engine.

And a 7,200 pound tow rating—competitive with many truck-based SUVs.

The xDrive45e version of this crossover comes with the six-plus plug-in hybrid drivetrain that allows full electric car operation without the wait and 54 more horsepower. Plus standard xDrive all-wheel-drive.

And a zero-to-60 time in the high fours.

It stickers for $65,400 vs. $61,700 for the xDrive40i without the plug-in hybrid drive or the extra 54 horsepower.

The X5 is also available with just the six and rear-wheel-drive in the base sDrive40i, which stickers for $59,400.

Unfortunately, it is no longer available with a V8.

What’s New

The xDrive45e is added to the lineup while the previously available V8-powered xDrive50i has been dropped.

What’s Good

  • The no-wait electric car.
  • More horsepower from the standard six. Plus, the song the six sings.
  • Unique features such as the two-piece/folding & raising (separately) liftgate/tailgate.

What’s Not So Good

  • No third-row option for the xDrive45e (the hybrid drive takes up space).
  • Pricier than the Benz GLE ($62,500 equipped with its optional six).
  • You might forget it’s on if the EV drive is on and leave it that way after you park it to go shopping.

Under The Hood

The X5 is the last of the mid-sized luxury crossovers to come still standard with a six-cylinder engine and one of just two powered by an inline six-cylinder engine, which is desirable vs. a V6 engine because it is naturally balanced and so naturally smoother. It also revs quicker because it doesn’t have to spin a heavy external balancer.

The 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six makes 335 horsepower unless you opt for the 45e, which adds an electric motor and a battery pack that can be plugged in for a charge or charged as you drive.

If you opt for this layout, you’ll get another 54 horsepower, 389 total, plus a swell of 443 ft.-lbs. of torque, sufficient to propel this crossover to 60 in 4.8 seconds while also being capable of going about 31 miles without burning any gasoline at all.

There’s no wait to recharge unless you have the time because this BMW can revert to burning gas when the charge runs low. And because it can operate on either electricity or gas, it has a range of more than 500 miles on the highway—much farther than any electric-only car.

It’s a neat solution to a big problem and a relatively cost-free one, too.

The xDrive45e’s asking price is only $3,700 higher than the non-hybrid X5 (with xDrive four-wheel-drive), and it includes the horsepower upgrade in addition to the range upgrade and the option to toggle from gas to electric without having to sweat the wait.

An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard and 8.3 inches of ground clearance and a very stout 7,200 pounds of standard towing capacity. Most front-wheel-drive car-based crossovers max out around 5,000 pounds, and some are only rated to pull a paltry 3,500 pounds.

The X5’s most immediate rival, the Benz GLE, used to come standard with a V6. It now comes standard with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four that makes a measly (for this kind of money) 255 horsepower and can only pull a comparatively puny 6,000 pounds.

You can, however, still get a six (inline, now, like the BMW’s) in the Benz and for a few thousand less ($62,500). But it comes with less horsepower (362); it’s not as quick (0-60 in about 5.3 seconds). Although it has an electric-assist in the form of a 48-volt generator/starter system, it cannot be driven for miles and at normal road speeds with the gas engine off, as the BMW is.

On The Road

M&Ms, the candy, were developed to solve the problem of chocolate rations melting in the hands of soldiers. This BMW’s electric-when-you-want-it, not-having-to-wait-for-electricity when you don’t want to amounts to the same idea.

If electric cars are necessary because of “greenhouse gas emissions,” then surely an electric car capable of handling most daily drives without burning any or very little gas is just what ought to be favored because it works.

Unlike the purely electric car, which may be very quick 0-60, it is also very slow to be zero to anything when its battery has wilted. This, extrapolated to possibly millions of EVs, will bring mobility to a halt in this country.

Very few people will willingly sign up for an all-electric not because they don’t like electric cars—because they cannot afford to wait.

This is why, despite the media selling a story of EV inevitability, EVs only amount to about 1 percent of the vehicles on the road. That number isn’t likely to increase unless the wait (and the cost) problems can be handled.

The BMW X5 does both.

Regarding the latter (cost), the $3,700 extra the 45e will set you back vs. the non-hybrid version of the X5 could be recovered within 2-3 years if you use this thing primarily for commuting during the week and operate mostly in electric mode. When you get home, plug it in, the battery is full again after about 5 hours (on 240 volts, a dryer-type outlet).

There is also a savings of the magnificent inline-six and engines like it, which are targeted for termination by government officials pushing the purely electric car.

This is grossly unnecessary as well as a kind of aesthetic crime.

No rational argument can be made that it is necessary to eliminate combustion engines that “emit” practically zero emissions when running and zero emissions, including those of carbon dioxide, when they are not running at all. Those who so argue are either operating from the standpoint of ignorance or malice.

Why would anyone who appreciates fine machinery want to get rid of engines like this BMW’s six that have an emotional appeal no electric motor will ever have? You can save your worries about the climate changing and salve your soul with your right foot. The electric motor’s instant torque plus the sound of that six, the engine, and the exhaust propel the X5 bullets forward at what is very much ludicrous speed, without the ludicrous wait.

It can also go seriously off-road and not just because it has 8.3 inches of clearance and a very stout AWD system. It won’t leave you waiting for someone to haul in a battery charger or haul you out if the electric range runs dry.

There is only one downside to this rig. If you aren’t paying attention, you might leave it on when you leave it parked. Everything is electronic, including the pushbutton for Park and the pushbutton to turn the engine off. But if it is already off because electric mode is on you might forget to push the button or think you did.

So, double-check.

This BMW has, of course, a bevy of “safety assistance” technology, including lane keep assist and automated emergency braking. But BMW has set them up to be much less needling than the case in many other current vehicles, which practically beat you over the head with a frying pan if you don’t immediately put on your seatbelt tire touches the painted line in the road.

Also, the hybrid drive setup eliminates the annoying automated stop-start engine cycling that almost all new vehicles are afflicted. This makes driving the X5 far less enervating, which makes it much more enjoyable.

At The Curb

The X5 has always looked more rugged (more like an SUV) than the typical crossover, which remains part of its appeal today.

Also appealing is the X5’s unique tailgate/liftgate combo.

The upper liftgate opens up like the typical crossover liftgate, but there is also a lower tailgate that folds down and provides both access and a ledge that can be used as a place to sit, if you like as for tailgate parties.

It also gives you more room to open the upper section to access the cargo area in a tight spot.

Less appealing if you need the extra seats is that the 45e doesn’t offer the third row available in other X5 trims. Space is taken up (under the floor) by the electric motor/battery pack.

But this won’t be an issue if you don’t need the extra seats. And you will probably find it very appealing that BMW doesn’t “bundle” desirable amenities with the optional xDrive AWD system or the 45e’s hybrid system.

Both the base Sdrive40 (rear-drive) and the xDrive40 (AWD) have the same standard amenities, including a full-roof panorama sunroof, an adaptive suspension, heated seats, wireless charger – and are eligible for the same options, including the available massaging seats, heated steering wheel, and armrests, M Sport trim (including 20-inch wheels) and upgraded brakes, an excellent 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio rig and a panorama roof with embedded LED mood lighting.

The 45e hybrid comes with all the same, with the main extra being the ability to roll without burning (or emitting) gas and the plug-in power cord to juice up whenever you can afford to wait.

Or just don’t mind the wait.

The Rest

Like many high-end cars, the X5 has some high-tech razzle-dazzle, including what BMW styles gesture control, which means you can use gestures (such as twirling your finger to the right) to increase the volume of the stereo and decrease it by twirling in the opposite direction.

This is amusing to razzle-dazzle your friends and family with, but the knob BMW provides to turn the radio volume up or down works faster.

If you have a radar detector, you will appreciate the 12V power point BMW includes and doesn’t hide in an awkward place, as is a problem in other vehicles, if they even have a 12V power point.

Many do not.

The Bottom Line

It is sad to see the V8-powered M50i sent off to the glue factory for the sin of using (and emitting) too much gas. But the xDrive45e almost replicates its performance, with a much greater range.

Without the wait and without sending the six to the glue factory.

Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!

Leave a Comment