Behind the wheel of BMW’s most practical hybrid
On paper, developing a plug-in hybrid is pretty straightforward. You take a regular hybrid, find room for a bigger battery, add a charge port, and there you go. EPA-rated fuel economy jumps, owners have the option to make short trips on electric power, and the price doesn’t jump nearly as much as it would if you’d gone all electric. Job done, right?
Not necessarily. You also have to consider how buyers will use the vehicle and how choosing the plug-in version can benefit them. Those factors need to then influence the way you integrate the electric powertrain. Some PHEVs are better if the powertrain improves performance. Others are better if it’s all about efficiency.
With the new X5, though, BMW seems to have focused on something different—transparency. The hybrid powertrain still delivers better fuel economy. It just fades into the background instead of being the star of the show.
First, let’s cover the basics. BMW redesigned the X5 for 2019, and we found it to be a relatively luxurious, practical daily driver with good power. It also happens to be a surprisingly good off-roader. The plug-in hybrid version, the X5 xDrive45e iPerformance, uses an electric motor paired with a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six to make a system total of 394 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. By BMW’s estimates, that’s enough to launch from 0 to 62 mph in 5.6 seconds.
BMW hasn’t released official EPA numbers yet, but on Europe’s WLTP cycle, it has a range of 80 kilometers. Because of differences in the testing procedure, expect that to work out to around 40 miles in the U.S. In electric-only mode, the X5 has a top speed of 87 mph. Interestingly, the X5 has the biggest battery and can go the fastest under electric power in the entire BMW plug-in lineup. It even tops the plug-in version of the new 7 Series.
Because the new X5 plug-in more or less doubles its predecessor’s EV range, it’s much more likely that owners will be able to do all or most of their commute without using a drop of gas. Under electric power, the X5 is no rival for the Model X P100D, but around town, its acceleration was at least acceptable. As long as you have a place to charge regularly, the X5 xDrive45e will make for a daily driver that’s incredibly cheap to run (at least until you take it to the dealer for maintenance).
And make no mistake: The overwhelming majority of X5 owners will use their cars as daily drivers. Even though hypothetically it can tow and go off-road, the xDrive45e is still a vehicle most people will pick for its everyday practicality. In fact, a significant number of owners probably won’t even plug their X5 in very often.
It appears that BMW recognized this, too, because even though there are different modes for sportier driving or using the engine to recharge the battery, in the default driving mode, you might not even notice you’re driving a hybrid. Leave things alone, and the engine will turn off when it’s not needed. When it is needed, it starts up almost imperceptibly instead of shaking the whole car like you get with less refined stop/start systems. Other people probably won’t notice it’s a hybrid, either, because BMW decided to do away with hybrid-specific badging with this generation.
Whether you’re a realtor with a trunk full of for-sale signs and a back seat full or passengers or a parent ferrying your kids from school to rugby practice, you’ll be able to drive all day without thinking about range or fuel efficiency. The X5 will just deliver good gas mileage on its own. You’ll lose a little more than 5 cubic feet of cargo space to accommodate the battery, but assuming the EPA rating will significantly exceed the previous X5 plug-in hybrid’s rating of 56 mpg-e, it’s probably worth the sacrifice.
If you like the practicality of a plug-in hybrid but need something smaller or more affordable than the X5, BMW’s got you covered with a plug-in version of the X3, too. It’s a little less powerful and won’t have quite the same range as the X5, but it’s still a practical plug-in hybrid that knows it’s destined for use as a daily driver.
We got to sample the X3 at the same time as the X5, and like its larger sibling, driving the X3 was comfortable and relaxing to drive. It never felt like it was trying too hard or cutting power to maximize fuel economy. It just drove the way you’d expect any other compact luxury crossover to drive, only without burning as much gas in the process.
Behind the wheel of an M2 Competition or even an X3 M, you’d expect the driving experience to feel more special or exciting. But it seems that even though BMW wants its crossovers to fall on the sportier side of the segment, it also knows exactly how these vehicles will be used most of the time. Especially the plug-in hybrid versions.
From that perspective, the X5 and X3 PHEVs are exactly what they need to be.