BMW Takes the Guilt-Free SUV to New Levels
The American automotive market in mid-2016 is a study in schizophrenia. Plug-in vehicle sales are up 62 percent, outpacing a market that is up by less than 2 percent compared to last year. But
that overall market is shifting as well; light trucks, which includes pickups, SUVs and crossovers, accounted for 59 percent of the market in the first half of 2016, a bump up from 55 percent during the same period last year and 52 percent in 2014. We spent a week in an SUV—the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e that straddles those trends seamlessly.
Other than this great white whale of a BMW, light trucks are noticeably absent from the plug-in market (there’s the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid and you might be able to slip in the Volvo XC90 T8, which we’ve also driven). In that same first half of the year (January-June 2016) the BMW X5 clocked in as the fourth best-selling plug-in hybrid in the country, trailing only the Chevrolet Volt and Ford’s two Energi models—the Fusion and C-Max—none of which could be considered competitors.
What Does “X5 xDrive40e” Mean?
First, let’s decipher BMW’s classic meaningful, but obscure and idiosyncratic German nomenclature. X5 indicates the size of the vehicle, which in this case is midsize (tucked between the compact X3 and the rumored full-size X7, which has yet to appear). xDrive is BMW code for an all-wheel drive vehicle. Finally 40e has two meanings—the 40 telling you it’s a four-cylinder engine and the “e” hinting that it’s a plug-in model.
But what do all those letters and numbers really mean? BMW is now offering the closest thing to a guilt-free SUV. With this smooth beast you can get true luxury inside and out, 308 horsepower—and 56 mpge.
The “mpge” is always a little confusing because it’s a number pulled out of a test cycle. The problem with test cycles, of course, is that nobody drives test cycles—they drive in the real world. In the real world a fully charged BMW X5 xDrive40e will give you about 13 miles of driving on electricity alone, after which the hybrid system kicks in. Running on gasoline only you’ll get about 24 mpg from this 5,220-pound vehicle.
In our real-world driving we can verify the electric-only range and the BMW turned in 20+ mpg on the highway and 15-20 around town. It’s no Prius, but what Prius can carry five full-size adults and luggage around in such luxury, power and comfort?
Torque was plentiful and you were never reminded that there were only four cylinders under the hood, probably because the TwinPower Turbo four punched out 240 horsepower and the eDrive electric motor added another 111 horsepower (no, the numbers are not additive) and the low-end torque (a total of 332 lb-ft) you expect from an electric motor.
Real World Technology
The 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e was a dream to drive in the real world. The gas and electric motive systems were well-integrated and 9 KWh, 351-volt battery pack added its punch whenever asked.
BMW’s advertised 0-60 of 6.5 seconds puts this good-sized SUV in the performance territory of many sports cars.
This car’s natural habitat is the highway. It’s a smooth runner that still keeps you connected to the road. You feel the changes in surfaces and have a steering system that instantly responds to any command. It takes a very light touch to ensure this car keeps on track. The “intelligent” all-wheel drive system, Dynamic Performance Control in BMW-speak, distributes the power between rear wheels and front-to-rear. Even though this is a tall SUV (Sport Activity Vehicle in BMW-speak), the two-piece anti-roll bars and Dynamic Damper Control give the BMW a more car-like ride.
The tech in the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e is not all hidden in the undercarriage. The cameras and sensors in the car are state-of-the-art, covering the front, rear, side and top! With them the visible environment while driving and parking is expanded and safety is enhanced. You can get used to all of this assistance very quickly.
The SUV also has hill descend help, a parking assistant, night vision with pedestrian detection, advanced cruise control with stop-and-go capability and an active driving assistant, heads-up display, active blind spot detection, a navigation system and automatic high beams. It’s not all standard, but as you might expect the standard feature list is substantial and the options go on for tens of thousands of dollars. Our test car was loaded and every technology we tried worked well and made driving or parking easier. Even the once-despised iDrive (the knob that controls the variety of technology shown in the 10.2-inch touchscreen display) has shaped up and is now intuitive to use.
If you’ve got the time, the BMW offers its drivers a plethora of options and opportunities with 20-way multi-contour seats and programmable buttons scattered across the dash. Upgrades for the audio system come from Bang & Olufsen or Harman Kardon. Rear seat passengers can have their own entertainment systems, of course.
Make no mistake about the BMW X5; it is a luxury vehicle. The base trim level is called Luxury Line. From there you can move up to the xLine and finally the M Sport. The changes at each level involve different non-functional cosmetic adornments for the SUV, until you get to the M Sport level where you get a “sport” automatic transmission.
Approaching the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e at night you are greeted by subtle lighting around the door handles (a nice touch). Once inside you’ll have mood lighting illuminating the cabin, which will allow you to appreciate the heavy stitching found on the dash and throughout the interior. You might even be able to see the deeply grained wood trim.
The X5 is large. As we mentioned, fitting five adults in this oversize wagon is easily done. You lose the optional third row of seating because of the battery pack, but little storage space is sacrificed.
What is 23 cubic feet expands to 66 cu. ft. when the 40/20/40 split rear seat is folded down.
Access from the rear is through a two-part tailgate. The majority of it lifts up, but a smaller tailgate folds down to extend. The rear is equipped with cargo nets, a tensioning strap and several fastening points.
Safety and Warranties
We early detailed the standard and optional safety technology on the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e. As might be expected in a luxury car, on impact airbags will spring from virtually every angle around the interior to protect occupants. The Institute for Highway Safety rates the X5 as good in its two crash tests (moderate overlap front and side) and notes that with optional equipment (Driver Assistance Plus) is rated Superior on front crash prevention. Government testing NHTSA gave the X5 an overall 5-star rating.
Warranties on the plug-in X5:
Basic – Four years/50,000 miles
Roadside Assistance – Four years/unlimited miles
Rust Perforation – 12 years
High-voltage Battery – Eight years/80,000 miles
BMW Ultimate Service – Three years/36,000 miles
In its third generation the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e has entered the electric era. With a modest all-electric range augmented by a fairly efficient, small gas engine, the SUV delivers reasonable fuel economy along with a healthy dose of luxury trim and an abundance of helpful standard and optional technology. It’s a big, heavy machine, but remains nimble on the road. Dare we say it even retains the kind of sporty road feel and handling you would expect from a BMW vehicle. It’s quieter than your gas or diesel models, something you might notice cruising along the freeway. The reason behind the silence is revealed when you notice the tachometer is pegged a zero, indicating the car has shifted into all-electric mode. The guilt of spending so much on such a large vehicle melts away as you slip past another gas station and head for a charging station.
The 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e has a starting price of $62,100 plus a $995 destination charge. As tested, loaded with optional equipment, our model totaled $73,545, including that destination charge. All of the options were certainly not critical, but many were nice to have and most of the safety-related technology is highly recommended.
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