The straightforward method of describing a car is to define it with cold hard figures. If that is the case, let these headlining figures of the 2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e sink in for a moment. With a combined NEDC fuel consumption figure of 3.3L/100km and 77g/km, this rather grand and rather opulent, petrol-drinking 2,305kg heavy, 1,762mm tall leviathan has a rated fuel consumption and emission figure to match a tiny modern diesel hatchback with a ratty little engine.
Such figures are thanks in no small part to the xDrive40e being a plug-in hybrid, the first such variant for a BMW core model in fact. Armed with an electric battery that is capable of supplying enough charge to propel the X5 for a range of up to 31km on electric power alone, it is little wonder the X5 xDrive40e was able to achieve such amazing consumption figures in the standardised driving conditions used for the New European Driving Cycle.
But as we all know, the NEDC is merely a standard for consumers to compare the fuel efficiency of different cars, with little bearing on its actual fuel efficiency in real world conditions where hard acceleration, sustained speeds above 100km/h, and erratic traffic conditions are the norm. To see what the X5 xDrive40e is capable of, we are in Munich to put it through a balanced mix of city roads, highways, and country roads to see if its plug-in hybrid drivetrain does bring a significant difference.
SPECS: 2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder, turbocharged direct-injection
Transmission: 8-speed torque converter automatic, four-wheel drive
Max Power: 245hp @ 5,000-6,000rpm (engine)/ 83kW @ 3,170rpm (electric motor)
Max Torque: 350Nm @ 1,250-4,800rpm (engine)/ 250Nm @ 0rpm (electric motor)
Total Power Output: 313hp
All-Electric Range: up to 31km
0 to 100km/h: 6.8 seconds
Top speed: 210km/h (limited), 120km/h in electric
Fuel Consumption: 3.3L/100km
The SUV with an Electric Heart
Unlike normal series-parallel hybrids such as the Toyota Prius or Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTec Hybrid, which are basically normal cars with a small electric motor wedged in to assist the engine in propulsion, a plug-in hybrid is more of an electric car that happens to have an internal combustion engine to help in driving the wheels when the battery runs out of charge or goes beyond the electric motor’s operating envelope, and recharge the battery along the way.
In the X5 xDrive40e’s case, it has a rather sizable lithium-ion battery packed beneath the luggage compartment, taking up the space that would be used to house the third row of seats. Thus leaving the luggage compartment untouched, though you won’t be able to spec it with the seven seat option. With a charge capacity of 9kWh, the lithium-ion battery has enough juice to power the X5 xDrive40e’s 83kW electric motor for a range of up to 31km.
Though I’m accustomed to driving hybrids and the odd all-electric car, the feeling of having a 2,305kg heavy SUV take off and power its way through the heart of Munich without any signs of activity from the engine is to put, simply surreal. I’d expect the engine to kick in at any moment during my jaunt through the city. But even after covering more than 15km of stop-go traffic, the battery charge indicator showed only two out of its five bars being used.
Even if I give it a fast start from the traffic lights, the X5 picks up speed without hesitation thanks to the motor’s immediate torque, with only a hum to be heard. The engine is ever ready to step in at speeds of 70km/h and above, but this being the eDrive system’s ‘MAX eDrive’ setting, the drivetrain will continue operating in all-electric mode for as long the battery has a sustainable charge and you don’t exceed its limited top speed of 120km/h.
Sure enough, even as the route led me onto the Autobahn, I was expecting the engine to rumble into life at any moment, but as the speedometer climbed past the 100km/h mark, the engine still kept silent. It is weird to see the speedometer climb while the needle of the rev counter has barely twitched since leaving Garching. It was only when we really pushed past 120km/h, that the engine erupted into life, and used good old petrol combustion to surge past 150km/h on the limitless sections of the Autobahn.
Out on the highway the 2-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged engine balanced sending drive to the xDrive four-wheel drive system and recharging the batteries, as shown on the iDrive’s Control Display. Should the driver need the extra burst of torque for the odd overtaking manoeuvre, the hybrid drivetrain is ever ready to divert power from both electric motor and engine to all four-wheels.
It might sound counterintuitive that a fuel efficiency-minded model like the X5 xDrive40e should have four-wheel drive i instead of adopting a lighter and more efficient two-wheel drive setup similar to the X5 sDrive25d, but according to Wolfgang Dieminger, the project leader for the X5 xDrive40e, they wanted to keep the plug-in hybrid version of the X5 as a four-wheel drive model, as a way to establish it as a proper X-model. With the electric motor placed before the transmission and transfer case, the X5 xDrive40e, could in essence, go off-road on all-electric power alone. Not that we were given the opportunity to ascertain its off-road capabilities on the route. And in order to build up the charge for sections of the route that snaked its way through the countryside ahead, I left the eDrive system in ‘SAVE Battery’ mode on the Autobahn to maximise the system’s energy regeneration.
Turning off the Autobahn, the route led us deep into the Bavarian countryside on a nice summer day, with plenty of motorists already out on the road and kicking off their weekend. For such mixed conditions of country roads, which interconnected several small townships, we left the eDrive system in ‘AUTO eDrive’, leaving the on-board electronics to decide on using the electric motor, engine, or both in delivering the desired thrust. And over such varying conditions, the transition between all three methods was seamless. That being said, when traffic did pull to a stop and the engine was busy recharging the batteries, the noise of it idling at 2,000rpm while being stationary feels odd, almost felt as though the throttle got stuck.
Ride and Handling
Though the brief says efficiency, and its description has the ‘hybrid’ word stamped on it, the X5 xDrive40e isn’t found lacking in power or driver engagement. With or without the hybrid bits underneath, this X5 feels pretty much like any other of its conventional engine powered brethren, like a big hot hatch. Its steering is precise and responsive for a huge SUV. This was helped by the steadfast grip summoned from its four-wheel drive system and chassis, which made it especially wieldy even when driven through the narrow country lanes. Though BMW says that the lithium-ion batteries do add around 150kg of ballast right on top of the rear axle, there isn’t any rear heaviness to be felt, or at least not at the speeds I was doing, and not that I would want to find out.
In case you were wondering, the xDrive40e designation was chosen based on the fact that the drivetrain’s total system output of 313hp matches that of the xDrive40d with its 3-litre inline-six diesel engine. And drawing from my prior experience with the xDrive30d, the immense pull from the xDrive40e’s drivetrain from rest makes it feel every bit deserving of that ‘40’ figure. 0 to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds, means that this big SUV can easily keep pace with a MINI Cooper S. And at speed from 120km/h onwards the X5 xDrive40e still pulls with plenty of vigour. Ònly when I was pushing it further beyond 160km/h did the reality of having a big two tonne SUV being powered by a small 2-litre engine start to sink in, with progress in building speed gradually easing off.
Despite all the complexities it packs beneath, the ride hasn’t been the least bit affected. Even if you leave the Dynamic Damper Control in ‘Sport’, and the ride is still nicely well dampened, while its standard fitment self-levelling rear air-suspension does more to deliver a cushioning ride quality instead of merely sharpening up the chassis at the expense of ride quality.
Living the Electrified Life
It wasn’t long till the route led me to the grand BMW Welt building, located right next to the headquarters of the BMW Group in the heart of Munich, and serves as the ultimate showcase of the BMW Group and all its brands and products. There was reason behind choosing such a locale, as its parking lots are already fitted with charging stations where I could plug the X5 xDrive40e in.
Not that Munich had a shortage of charging facilities. With the use of BMW’s ConnectedDrive system, which hooks up to the internet, I could look up for charging stations in my vicinity or in the vicinity of my destination. Furthermore charging stations that are part of the ChargeNow infrastructure can relay information on whether individual charging stations are being occupied, or available to receive my car, so you wouldn’t be in for any unpleasant surprises when you get there. Not that there is any worry since the engine is ever ready to step in and top up the batteries.
In this case, my stop at the BMW Welt was an opportunity to demonstrate the ease of charging up the X5. Simply pull up to a charging station, pop open the flap on the left front fender to access the charging port, use the ChargeNow card that grants users access to any BMW or partner charging stations, and slot the charging plug in. When the batteries are being charged up, the charging port will be highlighted by an illuminated blue ring around it, and the charging plug cannot be removed nor the vehicle started.
Should I need to charge it from a domestic power socket, the X5 xDrive40e comes with the appropriate cable, which is stored under the luggage compartment floor. It is as easy as filling up at a petrol station, may be even easier, but that being said, BMW says the decision to keep the charging port on the left was for convenience as drivers can alight from the X5 and immediately plug it into the mains. Unfortunately they aren’t going to switch that over for right-hand drive markets.
According to BMW’s estimates it takes 3 hours and 50 minutes for the batteries to be fully charged from flat through a conventional domestic power socket, while a high-voltage charging station or one of BMW’s own i Wallbox, with a charging rate of 3.5kW (16A/230V) would get the same job done in 2 hours 45 minutes. What’s more, with the electrical system plugged in, drivers can use the BMW Remote app from the smartphones to retrieve information on the battery’s state of charge, as well as get the air conditioning system to cool the cabin down remotely before you return.
Is it worth it? Or Worth waiting for?
As I pulled into Garching to hand back the X5 xDrive40e’s keys, the trip computer showed a decent fuel consumption figure of 8.5L/100km. It might seem quite far off from the NEDC rated fuel consumption figure, but considering that this figure was the end result of a mix of city driving with stop-go traffic, high speeds on the Autobahn, and varying speeds on country roads, 8.5L/100km is actually a pretty good.
My previous experience with an X5 xDrive30d in Australia, driving through Australian speed limits that saw the speedometer rarely peek above 100km/h, far slower and gentler on the throttle than what I was doing here in Germany, only managed to yield 9L/100km. Whereas the lighter and smaller X4 xDrive28i with the same 2-litre engine in its 245hp state of tune returned a figure closer to 12L/100km. By BMW’s own estimates and assuming you started your journey with a full charge in the battery, a commute of between 50 and 60km can be completed in practice with a fuel consumption of not more than 6.5L/100km, but once again, depending on driving style.
But is that fuel efficiency gains enough to justify the X5 xDrive40e? After all in Germany the plug-in hybrid variant retails with a price tag that is 12% higher than that of the xDrive35i or xDrive30d, which is understandable considering the amount of technology and batteries crammed beneath. It is a brilliant and well-executed niche product, which will definitely win over the hearts and minds who appreciates the brilliance and complexity of the technology inside. This isn't just another hybrid with a bigger battery, but represents the next step in the evolution of automobile powertrains. It is the ultimate embodiment of BMW’s capabilities of bringing all that talk of sustainable technologies that they have learnt from the i3 and i8, and implement it into the rest of their model range through their EfficientDynamics strategy.
For the traditional SUV buyer however, its four-cylinder engine might not boast the smoothness and refinement of BMW's legendary inline-six units, nor does it return a huge difference in its real world fuel efficiency figures. But the instantaneous torque from its electric motors, the silence of its all-electric propulsion, and the seamlessness of its transition from engine to electric motor, might make you a fan of this new and emerging generation of powertrains.
That being all said, will we see the X5 xDrive40e coming into Malaysia soon? Though BMW Group Malaysia hopes to bring it in, they have yet to form any firm plans to do so as of press time. Considering how the great majority of Malaysian consumers are more price-sensitive, rather than being technology-savvy, and the possible absence of any CKD hybrid-tax incentives from 2016, such an impressive piece of automotive brilliance might not find a market here or make it to our shores.