BMW X5 xDrive40e Munich 1

Impressive as the BMW i8 is as a technology showcase, there’s only that much ground it can cover from a reach perspective – a sports car undoubtedly gets a lot of attention and its tech noticed, but accessibility is always going to be an issue given the stratospheric leanings and limited sampling scope.

The vehicle to take its plug-in hybrid tech from the i sub-brand to a wider audience comes in the form of a SAV – the BMW X5 xDrive40e has the honour of being the automaker’s first BMW core brand PHEV offering.

Originally presented as the Concept X5 eDrive, the vehicle officially broke cover in March. Series production is set to begin on August 1 in Spartanburg, not a moment too soon given that Mercedes-Benz has arguably already stolen the march with the deployment of its S 500 e and C 350 e plug-ins.

Munich has been moving quickly to cover ground in this regard – the X5 may be the first, but it isn’t going to be the only type of its kind for long. The G11 7 Series 740e and 3 Series 330e eDrive has been announced and a 2 Series AT plug-in has also been unveiled in prototype form, but until they come along, the X5 plug-in is the very much the flag bearer. Let’s find out just how effective the spearhead is.

BMW X5 xDrive40e Munich 2

The biggest clue that tells you this isn’t a regular F15 is the small cutout panel sitting above the front fender on the left side of the vehicle, which happens to be the flap cover of the charging port. Another is if the SAV is equipped with the five-spoke 19-inch wheels and 255/50 tyres as seen here in the photos – the two-tone finish and styling of the unit borrows design elements from the i wheels.

Still, this aspect can be masked, because the X5 plug-in can be had with a choice of wheels from the dress-up packages that are available for it – indivualisation options for the xDrive40e consist of Design Pure Experience, Design Pure Excellence and M Sport packages, and there’s also the BMW Individual route as well.

There are a few other cues to say this is a PHEV, but they’re not shouty – under the bonnet, there’s a blue eDrive strip on the engine cover, and inside the cabin eDrive wording on the scuff plates and a small badge on the console sliding cover are the only nods to say you’re in a plug-in.

Otherwise, everything is tucked away from sight. The petrol-electric system consists of a N20 2.0 litre turbocharged four – with 242 hp at 5,000 to 6,500 rpm and 350 Nm of torque from 1,250 to 4,800 rpm for output numbers – and a synchronous electric motor offering a maximum output of 111 hp at 3,170 rpm (rated output is 73 hp) and 250 Nm of twist from zero rpm.

Combined system output for the xDrive40e is 313 hp and 450 Nm of torque, delivered by an eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission to all four wheels via the automaker’s xDrive system, no matter which source of propulsion. Incidentally, the electric motor sits before both transmission and transfer case, so the X5 can theoretically be taken off-road in EV mode.

Performance figures are decent but by no means blistering – the xDrive40e gets from standstill to 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds and its top speed is electronically limited to 210 km/h. The xDrive40e can run up to 120 km/h in EV mode, and it can travel up to a distance of 31 km on electric-only operation.

Elsewhere, the claimed rated consumption is 3.3 litres per 100 km combined, but you’ll have to take the numbers with a pinch of salt given that it’s a NEDC cycle rating. A more realistic figure suggested by the automaker is that of 6.5 litres per 100 km on daily commutes of between 50 to 60 km, with the battery fully charged and the engine deployed.

The battery pack for the vehicle is a 351 volt lithium-ion unit with a gross energy capacity of 9.0 kWh – the high-voltage 96-cell unit, which also supplies power to the battery for the 12V electrical system via a voltage transformer, is housed underneath the luggage compartment floor and adds another 150 kg or so of heft to the variant’s kerb weight of 2,305 kg.

The battery means that a little sacrifice has been made in terms of boot space, with 500 litres to be had in this one (1,720 with rear seats folded down), but the biggest omission is that of extra seating – if you want an X5 with seven seats, this can’t be your pick.

Other numbers – the quoted total recharging period for the lithium-ion battery is around two hours and 45 minutes via a BMW i Wallbox system at a charging rate of 3.5 kW (16A/230V line) , and around three hours and 50 minutes via a conventional household outlet.

Inside, the plug-in’s cabin feels like a regulation X5, so no surprises here. The only changes, aside from the small visual bits mentioned earlier, is the addition of an eDrive button located down by the gear selector – which offers selection of the three different operating modes for the hybrid powertrain – and with the readouts within the primary field of vision.

The latter sees the instrument cluster offering a display of high-voltage battery’s state of charge – visualised in the form of a battery symbol below the gear display – as well as the chosen operating mode selected with the eDrive button. Information on the vehicle’s electric and total range, current fuel or electricity consumption and the progress of vehicle charging can likewise all be shown in the instrument cluster.

The presentation works well enough, but I felt the delivery pitched by the Mercedes-Benz C 350 e to be more organically legible and accessible upon first (and limited) use – xDrive40e owners should have no complaints in this regard through the inevitable familiarity.

The three operation modes are headlined by AUTO eDrive, which is the default setting. This utilises both the combustion engine and electric motor for propulsion, with the motor alone used for setting off with normal power requirements, while the engine cuts in at around 70 km/h or when full acceleration is needed. In this mode, the operating strategy balances the workload of both power sources for optimal deployment.

The next mode is MAX eDrive, in which the car runs on pure electric power, range dependent on available level of battery charge. Lastly, there’s SAVE Battery mode, which runs on engine power alone and enables the battery’s current level of charge to be kept constant or replenished for use later on in urban surroundings.

Standard equipment on the xDrive40e includes Dynamic Damper Control in its comfort package, self-levelling rear air suspension, a two-zone auto climate control with auxiliary heating and ventilation system, Navigation system Professional as well as a cruise control system with braking function and Driving Assistant.

BMW X5 xDrive40e Munich 4

Options from the ConnectedDrive inventory include collision warning with braking function, a Night Vision system with pedestrian/animal recognition as well as Dynamic Light Spot, Lane Change Warning, front/rear view cameras and Adaptive LED Headlights.

It’s quite well specified from a kit point of view, in some ways better than that found on the equivalent X5 xDrive40d oil burner which which it shares the same numerical suffix, the similar 40 designation being used to denote both vehicles’ identical 313 hp power output.

The chosen route for the X5 plug-in’s media drive last month in Munich kept things tidy and as real world as possible, with plenty of traffic running throughout, not just in the city itself. In many ways it resembled that of the Merc C 350 e’s, with a mix of city, highway and rural trails.

Pure electric operation was selected for the first phase of the route out from the BMW press and fleet centre in Garching, and the X5 didn’t seem too bothered by a detour to take tracking shots – by the time the engine finally sprang to life I’d managed to coax out just over 25 km of travel in electric mode, the last 10 of it running on the Autobahn.

You can’t get anywhere up to speed as fast as with an i8, of course, but like the Mercedes, the BMW’s system displayed good reaction to load, coping well with the ask in progressive acceleration without calling the motor into play, even when battery levels were down close to the halfway mark.

And, like its competitor, the motor and engine integration aspects were very good, the coherence in transitions clean and largely imperceptible. Meanwhile, electric-only maximum speed was actually better than advertised, with 126 km/h shown on the HUD at one point.

At the end of the stint on EV mode, the OBC showed a surreal ‘equivalent to’ 1.6 litres per 100 km reading, which then started to climb once the engine entered the equation. As we progressed along the 162 km-long loop southward from Garching to Gmund and then back to Munich via Bad Aibling, the SAVE and Auto eDrive modes allowed us to try out other aspects of performance.

Acceleration was decent, but the plug-in is no barnstormer off the line, as reflected in the quoted numbers for the century sprint, and while the N20 has good midband punch, it and the motor did start to run out of puff heading into the final third of its speed equation, not surprising considering the tonnage it had to propel along. When pushed, it also felt coarser – and more raucous – than in its petrol-only application.

Otherwise, the plug-in drove quite well – it’s not the final word in excitement and there’s no escaping the mass in the end handling-wise, but it is nimble enough for what it is and the added weight of the battery pack didn’t upset the F15’s balance, not in any perceptible terms at the speeds we were managing anyway. The ride is on the firm side though, and there’s a fair bit of tyre noise at cruising speed, which takes some shine off things.

The end of the first sector’s run took us to the BMW Welt, where charging aspects could be highlighted. Once the charging plug has been inserted and charging activated (regular users have to access this through a ChargeNow service, but we’re obviously doing it for free), the plug locks in place and a ring around the charging port lights up in blue to denote that charging is active.

In case you think the forgetful might drive off with plug still in place, the X5 can’t be started until the charging process has been stopped and the plug removed. Some other notes – a charging cable for use with a domestic power socket is provided with the car, and this is tucked away in a compartment in the boot.

As for the location of the plug port, that’s meant to cater for the convenience of owners of LHD vehicles, and will not be switched for the RHD production xDrive40e – drivers of these will have simply go around the car to do the necessary.

BMW X5 xDrive40e Munich 64

The drive continued with a shorter route in the afternoon, but one no less filled with traffic. When my co-driver finally rolled us back into Garching later that evening, the day’s full average reading ended up being 8.5 litres per 100 km. Not too shabby, but it is worth mentioning from an overall consumption viewpoint that a diesel equivalent can get similar returns – back in 2011, I’d managed a 7.8 litre per 100 km average on a previous-gen E70 X5 xDrive30d in Melbourne, and this over a longer 482 km distance.

Still, to be fair, we’d been ambling along in heavy summer traffic for the most part on this one, and the drive conditions in Australia were far smoother in movement and non-evaluative in nature. For sure, there was certainly less acceleration trialling and moments of idling. Certainly, if conditions were identical, it’d be possible for the plug-in to rival – if not better – the diesel’s fuel economy performance.

So how does the X5 xDrive40e measure up in the end? In Germany, its pricing makes it a viable pick for the alternative crowd who view going green as the way forward – the xDrive40e’s 68,400 euro (RM286,600) pricing is just a shade more than the xDrive40d (66,300 euro, or RM277,860). Closer to home, BMW Malaysia says it is hoping to bring the X5 variant in, though it hasn’t been confirmed as yet. Will it go the way of the Merc C 350 e or make it here? Time will tell.

Whatever the case may be, the solidly engineered offering is a neat first step in expanding the plug-in scope into the BMW mainstream. Despite its limited appeal (well, it is a high-end SAV), the variant ably sets the tone for those that will come after it. Beachhead secure, expect the likes of the 330e eDrive and 2 Series AT eDrive to be from where the breakout occurs.