The BMW eDrive X5 is an impressive machine. The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle won’t be in showrooms until 2015 at the earliest, but we’ve been given a taste of its talents at BMW’s test track in Mirimas, France.
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What’s the PHEV’s set-up?
This is the first of BMW’s mainstream range to be treated to tech from its electric ‘i’ sub-brand. That means this X5 takes the 241bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, codenamed N20 and currently found in the 3-, 4- and 5-series, and couples it with an electric motor and all-wheel drive.
Open the bonnet of the X5 and you’ll find that the 2.0-litre is positioned super-low and right on the front axle, helping weight and balance. The 94bhp/184lb ft electric motor is positioned in the brilliant eight-speed ZF automatic transmission in place of the torque convertor – there’s no wheezy CVT in this hybrid (hear that, Lexus?). At the rear is a 4kWh lithium-ion battery pack, recharged thanks to regenerative braking.
What’s it capable of?
The combined output of this package is 268bhp – 10bhp more than the 3.0-litre diesel X5. That allows the eDrive to run from 0-62 in less than seven seconds, says BMW – just 0.5sec shy of a VW Golf GTI – not bad for an all-wheel drive SUV that’ll weigh even more than the regular xDrive X5’s two-tonnes (BMW won’t reveal a weight figure for the hybrid yet). There are all sorts of tricks to save weight and improve aero, all helping efficiency and increasing the range. BMW’s aerodynamicists reckon that the improved airflow, for instance, which sees air channeled through the front wheel arch, around the rear wheel and tidied up at the back with ‘air blades’, gives the X5 almost a mile of its electric-only range.
What is the range? Can it actually go anywhere under electric power?
Its range in EV mode – called eDrive Maximum – is a measly 18 miles. Tokenism? Well, BMW says that its research has shown that 80% of journeys carried out by current X5 owners are less than 18 miles, so it’s ‘real world’. The charge time from empty, using a regular socket, is around three to four hours, or if you pay more for a fast charger, that time is halved.
The positive thing is that you can, of course, drive this car solely on its petrol engine, although you’re carrying that battery pack for nought in this case. There’s also a Save Battery mode, which allows you to rely solely on the petrol engine to save your zero-emission running for inner city commuting, as well as a Sport mode where you get both electric and petrol power.
The transition between the two power sources – which in our test car occurred at 42mph, although this may change for production versions – is seamless. Leave it in Auto eDrive mode, and the X5 decides which power source to use. Genuinely, we had to ask when the change was occurring – it’s that smooth and that refined. Give it enough throttle, and the petrol will take over, and whenever you back off, the engine cuts out and the regenerative braking feeds the lithium-ion battery pack. That’s what we were told, anyway…
What’s its fuel figure, then?
It’s in EcoPro mode, of course, where you’ll get closest to the claimed 74.4mpg: better than the most parsimonious X5 currently on sale – the sDrive 25d with a claimed 50.4mpg – but also better than any X3 or even the most efficient X1. That also eclipses the Lexus RX450h, with its 44.8mpg, the cleanest M-Class, the ML250 BlueTec (46.3mpg) and the Audi Q7 3.0 TDI with 39.2mpg.
The C02 is also impressive, at a class leading 90g/km. To put that into perspective, the new three-cylinder Mini diesel pumps out 92g/km…
It must feel heavy and bulky to drive, though?
No, not at all. We were chasing an X5 M50d around the handling circuit, and the eDrive wasn’t embarrassed when it came to body control. Of course, traction is a strong point, the grip levels high and the balance – thanks to that low engine, and the battery pack being mounted between the back axle and the rear seat – showing little to no dynamic penalty over a ‘normal’ X5. Throttle response is strong, thanks to that gearing, and the Sport mode also gives you an ‘e-boost’ – you simply wouldn’t know this car is a four-cylinder if you weren’t told.
What about the brakes – they’re often rubbish on hybrids?
That woody feeling at slow speed is common in hybrids – but again, not here. The pedal is progressive, predictable and feels just like regular X5’s. That’s massively impressive. And so too is that the boot floor, which remains flat, is a mere 2cm higher than the standard floor, too. Packaging loses? Negligible.
What else does it have to save fuel?
Like the i3 and i8, the nav in this car predicts what the best power source is for your journey. It takes into account terrain, traffic and conditions to recommend when you should use electric, petrol or combined modes. You can ignore it if you want to, but it’s another useful real-world attribute. Like the i3, it can also remind you if you don’t have enough range to reach the destination, too.
We only drove this car on BMW’s near-perfect test track (hence the futile camouflage), so we can’t give you a genuine steer on how it performs in the real world. We haven’t served up potholes, rutted surfaces or a muddy road that it’ll have to deal with in the UK. What we sampled, though, is ominous for rivals. What’s even scarier is that this car has at least another 12-months’ of development, and that the technology will be even better in cars like the 3- and 4-series. The price of the X5 eDrive is yet to be announced, as is a specific equipment level, but it should be competitive with the £45k Lexus RX450h, so it hopefully won’t be more than £50-52k when it goes on sale in 2015. Between now and then, the cost can only get lower, and its efficiency will only get better.