The BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car is one of the most coveted performance cars on the market today. At RM1.2 million, for many it will remain as a dream car. What the i8 has accomplished however, is firmly establishing the BMW i brand in Malaysia.
Just as the previous generations of the BMW 7 Series have always led the way in safety, comfort and convenience technologies, previewing the features that are likely to trickle down to future generations of the 5 Series and 3 Series, the advanced carbon-fibre structure and plug-in hybrid technology used in the i8 will trickle down to other mainstream BMW core models – most recently being the Carbon Core chassis in the all-new BMW 7 Series.
Sitting a couple of rungs below the 7 Series is the new BMW X5 xDrive40e, better known as the BMW X5 Plug-in Hybrid. Following behind the tyre tracks of the i8, the X5 Plug-in Hybrid is the first model to introduce the BMW iPerformance sub-brand in Malaysia.
BMW iPerformance is to M Sport in the same way i Series is to M Series – aspirations to the sporting appeal and dynamism of the sub brands from BMW.
In the same way BMW’s M cars have never compromised on comfort, utility and aesthetics in pursuit of faster lap times, neither has the X5 Plug-in Hybrid. There are none of the ugly aero aides, low but stiff ride height typically seen in other hybrids, trading off handling and performance for lower emissions. It drives just as well, if not better than a regular BMW X5 xDrive35i.
30 km and 120 km/h in eDrive – because that’s the optimum
By now, you would’ve read that the X5 Plug-In Hybrid has a maximum electric-only driving distance of 30 km, reaching up to 120 km/h (real-world performance will vary depending on driving conditions).
Not a lot, but it’s more than enough to get many drivers to work. In certain countries where charging facilities are widely available, drivers can in theory drive to work and back without using a single drop of fuel.
Why the obsession with electric-only driving distance? In places where carbon-tax applies, there are significant benefits in driving an ultra-low emissions vehicles like the X5 Plug-In Hybrid, whose CO2 emissions stands at 77 g/km, versus over 200 g/km that a typical SUV of this size emits.
Exemption from congestion charge to enter city centres, priority parking, access to carpool lanes, income tax rebates, are among some of the benefits enjoyed by many X5 Plug-In Hybrid owners around the world.
Closer to home, where the public transportation is barely even integrated, such benefits are easily a decade away but the advantages of the X5 Plug-In Hybrid’s eDrive mode are not lost entirely.
Filtering your way through Klang Valley’s notorious peak hour traffic, the X5 Plug-In Hybrid is probably the most comfortable BMW to commute in, bar the 7 Series. Prod the throttle gently when the traffic light turns green, the leviathan X5 glides forward with amazing poise, minus any engine noise or vibrations. It simply wafts along riding on the electric motor’s ample 250 Nm of torque.
Unlike a regular hybrid, the X5 Plug-in Hybrid can continue doing this for a pretty long distance, up to 30 km, and the petrol engine doesn’t fire up until you really give the accelerator a firm shove.
Why stop at only 30 km? Of course BMW can extend the X5’s eDrive distance beyond 30 km, and sustain it at speeds much higher than 120 km/h, but doing so would require a bigger traction battery, and that would mean more weight, and weight is the enemy of driving performance, never mind about the significantly higher cost.
Interestingly, an independent study conducted by China’s Tsinghua University same to the same conclusion as BMW had, that when all else are equal, an eDrive distance of about 30 km is the optimum balance in covering the average driver’s daily driving distance, while controlling cost. Beyond 30 km, every additional km in eDrive distance exponentially bumps up the weight and cost penalty.
Even when all four cylinders fire up, increasing the torque reserve to 450 Nm, there’s hardly any noticeable jerk as the vehicle is already at speed.
The BMW Roundel – Symbol of Class-Leading Driving Pleasure, Hybrid or Not
Unlike the regular X5 models, the X5 xDrive40e comes strictly with two-row seats, without the option of adding a third row. The omission is made in the interest of preserving the agile handling that all BMW cars are known for.
Hybrid or not, this X5 Plug-in Hybrid wears the BMW badge, and that means having to live up to certain levels of expectations in driving performance.
The addition of a traction battery beneath the boot floor adds 150 kg over the rear axle. The need to offset this weight penalty, plus the associated packaging constraints meant that the third row seats have to go.
This allows the X5 Plug-in Hybrid to deliver almost the same performance as the petrol-powered X5 xDrive35i, with a power-to-weight ratio of 9.7 kg/kW versus the petrol variant’s 9.0 kg/kW. Both figures are much better than the xDrive30d’s 10.7 kg/kW.
The all-important century sprint from 0-100 km/h is done in 6.8 seconds, just 0.3 seconds slower than an X5 xDrive35i, a pretty acceptable trade-off considering the plug-in hybrid’s added eDrive capability.
On its own, the 2.0-litre four cylinder engine produces 245 hp and 350 Nm, thanks to a single TwinScroll turbocharger, making it the most powerful four cylinder engine from BMW. Together with the electric motor, the combined system produces 313 hp and 450 Nm, marginally better than the X5 xDrive35i.
BMW doesn’t expect X5 owners to engage in any Borneo Safari-like activities, so the X5 xDrive40e’s permanent all-wheel drive system is optimised for on-road performance.
With a combined torque of 450 Nm (50 Nm more than a base model Porsche Cayenne), the X5 xDrive40e needs all four wheels to be driven rather than just two.
A short drive in the car during the X5 Plug-In Hybrid’s launch gave a good enough first impression of the car. Keen drivers will be happy to note that hybridisation has not affected the X5’s hallmarks of surefootedness and excellent ride and handling. The steering wheel connects not just to the car’s mechanicals, but also to the driver’s emotions.
But nevermind about all that. Priced at just RM388,800.00, Malaysia is one of the few, if not the only country in the world to have a supposedly pricier Plug-In Hybrid variant priced significantly lower than its petrol or diesel equivalent. The Boss has never looked so good.
For more information on the BMW X5 xDrive40e, visit bmw-electricdrivingpleasure.com