It can be cathartic to vent and get things off your chest.
We have waited a long time to come clean, so here goes: We don’t much care for hybrid vehicles, plug-in or otherwise.
Whew! That felt good. We feel better already.
With the elephant in the room outed, allow us to explain. We know that hybrid technology has proven itself over the years as an uncontested strategy for saving fuel. Porsche, McLaren and Ferrari showed us back in the 2010s that hybrids could be cool and fun, used not so much to conserve fuel but rather as a means of increasing performance. Yet we have always regarded the H-word as the automotive equivalent of a beige cardigan, or rocking black knee-high socks with sandals during a heat wave- decidedly uncool. You can thank early encounters with the wheezy first-gen Toyota Prius and the hapless 2008 GMC Yukon Hybrid as examples of the technology that fostered such beliefs, and while we understood the premise behind it, we always left the driver’s seat feeling underwhelmed. If this was a path one could take to save fuel, we wouldn’t be in such a rush to head down it.
Right now, as the industry finds itself in a transition period away from internal combustion engines towards hybrids and EVs, we’ve softened our stance somewhat. Every time we drive an EV- which is often these days- we come away from the experience pissed off at the woeful lack of (working or otherwise) infrastructure needed to make sure you make it from here to there. The rush to EV acceptance has been brisk and more and more people are making the switch. Still, the headlines are rife with cautionary tales of eager adopters who realize maybe they should have contemplated switching a little more when they require a flatbed tow truck to get them home because of a lack of planning or said terrible infrastructure. Toyota, who took a lot of heat when they claimed they were going to stick with hybrids as they provide a better solution to mobility than an EV at this point in time, start to look like geniuses. We agree with the Japanese juggernaut, and as drivers who typically take longer trips, we think the plug-in hybrid solution makes a great deal more sense. That means you can set off on your journey without burning a drop of gas, and when the battery goes flat, the gas engine fires up and keeps you rolling. Therefore, plug-in hybrid vehicles, or PHEVs, seem like the perfect intermediate solution until EVs- and the infrastructure needed to support them- are ready for prime time.
Why are we telling you this? We had heard from some collegues of ours who swear that BMW is making one of the best PHEV drivetrains on sale today and reckoned we should have a go. So when BMW’s BMW X5 50e became available for a road test, we felt that it was a good time to start employing our eagle eyes and fine-toothed combs in its direction to see what’s what. On first blush, the interior and exterior styling don’t stray too much from convention, which is a very good thing. Our tester’s Ametrine Metallic (read: purple) livery complimented by beautiful 21” wheels shod with massive performance tires are very on brand for X5. We have always found this SUV to be a handsome conveyance, and spec’d as it is it certainly looks fetching. Aside from some BMW ‘I’ badging and the flap that concealed the charger hookup point, it’s business as usual. It’s the same story when you slide behind the seats, whose creamy white surfaces look stunning when contrasted with the purple exterior. You won’t find it difficult to get comfortable in these environs, what with heated and cooled everything, an incredible Harmon Kardon sound system and the newest version of iDrive 8 quarterbacking all infotainment functions. We thought we would curse BMW’s decision to get rid of hard buttons for the climate controls, but after we got used to it we didn’t miss them. Everything works and looks great, including the new swath of digital screens that nearly span the entire dashboard shelf.
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s talk about the PHEV componentry which is the real headline grabbing stuff on this SUV anyhow.
Earlier we applauded BMW for making the X5e look and feel just like any other. It never fails to rankle us when we get behind the wheel of a hybrid or PHEV where the manufacturer goes out of their way to make sure the driver knows they aren’t driving a more conventional version of the model in question. There’s no spacy interface or weird graphics, just regular X5 stuff. But thumb the Start button, and…nothing happens. The X5e’s battery, when fully charged, shows an available range of 70 kilometers while the 3.0 litre turbo inline six snoozes. Select Drive as you normally would and off you go, wafting along a current of spent electrons. One of the best aspects of electric only motivation is the smoothness and silence that follows, and the X5e has both in spades.
The X5e’s electric only range should be more than enough for most commutes, and, if you’re diligent about plugging it in, means that weekly commutes without burning a drop of gasoline are easily within reach. But what happens when the digital readout gets whittled down to 0 km? Well, where many an EV owner would have long since called for a flatbed, X5e drivers simply shrug and continue on their merry way, now with BMW’s excellent inline six heading up motivational duties. You’d almost confuse it for an electric motor, so smooth and silent it is, and the way its power is doled out with impressive linearity. It’s been massaged to run on the Miller Cycle in a nod towards efficiency. You sacrifice a bit of power for that, but with a combined output of 483 horsepower and 516-foot pounds of torque, you really won’t notice that any ponies have skipped the corral.
We couldn’t find any fault whatsoever in the way BMW has tuned the X5e’s drivetrain- it is simply flawless how gasoline and electric power have been integrated with one another. It was done so well that many passengers couldn’t believe we were in a PHEV and only suspended their doubt when we showed them the charging port on the left front fender. Even with a scant kilometer or two of range available, the electric motors will still serve as a means to fill in the gaps where the inline six isn’t at its best, like from a traffic light or stop sign. There’s lots of technological stuff happening behind the scenes, but all the X5e’s occupants feel is a smooth, flat shove of power that is very satisfying indeed.
There are facets of the X5e experience that are not so satisfying, but as you’ll see, we’re reaching a bit on our complaints. We mentioned earlier that the seat colour/exterior paint combo are first rate, but those thrones were already starting to blush a shade of denim blue, a result of many journalist keisters sliding across their surfaces. If you have kids who like to enjoy a snifter of grape juice on trips long and short, it might be time to wean ‘em off of it in the hopes of protecting the cockpit; besides, there’s too much sugar in that stuff anyhow. Are you someone who delights in feedback from the steering to the suspension to the brake pedal? Yeah, there isn’t much of that happening here. BMW’s ‘Lexus-fication’ of their product lineup marches on. It seems that the engineers reached for the Novocain when designing the control interfaces on the X5e. Someone quietly pointed out that most customers shopping in this segment will likely embrace such a tactile experience, and they are probably right.
Quibbles aside, we have to tell you that after experiencing many iterations of plug-in hybrid vehicles, we think the BMW x5e is the best one you can currently buy, and one of the best we have ever driven, period. We opened this review with a mea culpa professing we don’t care for hybrid/PHEV cars and trucks. The main reason for the disdain is the messy handoff between electric and gas power and the stumbles that occur in low-speed driving. The X5e’s greatest accomplishment is that it never feels like it has two separate drivetrain; BMW has done a sensational job of getting the internal combustion engine and electric motors to seamlessly integrate with one another. It's such a polished system that you forget you are driving a PHEV. Even if you never plug it in, the velvety inline six is so refined and demure that you are never asked to deal with a gritty engine note or a mooing CVT. You get all the great stuff you expect in a regular X5, just with way better fuel consumption figures. Fun fact: Our X5e achieved only slightly worse fuel economy than the Lincoln Corsair PHEV we drove earlier in the summer (7.5L/100km versus 7.2L/100km) and the X5e is much larger, heavier and vastly more powerful than the Lincoln.
If you still have reservations about putting a luxurious PHEV in your driveway, you really ought to drive the X5e. It will change your mind- it certainly did ours.
2024 BMW X5 xDrive50e - Specifications
- Price as tested: $106,605
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-6, DOHC, 24 valves
- Electrification: 25.7 kWh Lithium-Ion battery
- Total System Horsepower: 483 @ 5,000 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 516 @ 1,500 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 2,528 kg (5,573 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 7.5/100km (31 mpg)