► New BMW X5 45e PHEV driven
► It's the fourth-generation SUV
► Diesel, petrol and hybrid review
The way the world is going, you just know that combustion engines are living on borrowed time. And if you're not quite ready to go for a full electric vehicle (EV), the chances are that a hybrid car is a good stepping stone. And the new BMW X5 45e is a particularly good example of the breed - it's a full plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV for short.
So it's not like an early-generation Prius, where it's always self-charging; it does that regenerative braking thing, where it tops the battery up on the move - but you can also plug it in at home, so you start every journey with a full battery. Crucially, there is now a properly chunky lithium ion battery onboard, with an impressive 24kWh capacity, so there's a decent all-electric range. Mind you, it also pushes the UK price up to a stout £63,175 for an entry-level xLine.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car?
How far will a BMW X5 45e go on electric drive?
The range is put at an impressive 53-60 miles on the latest WLTP cycle, and this is where the plug-in X5 gets interesting. That huge (for a PHEV) battery pack means it can purr silently along on full electric power for a jolly long way. You'll no longer pussyfoot around, worrying you're about to wake a dormant petrol engine - you really can drive for extended periods on full, saintly EV mode (usual caveats apply, ie don't drag-race a Ludicrous Tesla at the traffic lights, though you can drive up to the motorway speed limit on electric power).
This changes the character of the X5, and affords a sneak peek at how future electric BMW SUVs will feel. And it feels good, with smooth performance, silken refinement and a subtle switchover when the 3.0-litre straight six kicks in (which it will do eventually, if you boot it or when the battery approaches empty).
There are some compromises: a chunky 300kg of battery packs go where a third row of seats and/or a spare wheel sits - so no seven-seater X5 plug-in hybrid is available for larger families and creche duties. The packaging of the cells pushes the boot floor up by around 3cm, but you'd barely notice. It's still a generous size. And there's a shallow cubby hidden under the loadbay for storing charging cables and suchlike.
Handily, you keep the 69-litre fuel tank of regular X5s, so this PHEV has a properly long range across both power sources. Performance is reasonably gentle as an EV (a modest 81kW e-motor is fitted) but quite sufficient for day-to-day duties and you can waft around town and country lanes silently and swiftly enough for keeping up with traffic.
You just need to remember to charge up properly overnight to get the full benefit of this plug-in hybrid BMW X5, and the onboard charger will only accept 3.7kW, according to product manager Marco Möller - so it's an overnight trickle charge and no fast charges for families in a rush.
Read on for our test of the rest of the X5 range - including the popular petrol and diesel engines.
Our review of the rest of the BMW X5 range
At the beginning of its life, the BMW X5 SUV was seen as a bit of a Marmite car - you either loved the lofty driving position and ability for light off-roading, or lamented the fact that BMW stepped away from just making sleek saloons.
Now in its fourth generation, the X5 has spawned an entire series of other X cars below, and now above it, too. It plays a critical role in getting buyers with high aspirations (and higher visibility goals) through the door, even if they drive away in a smaller model that offers most of the lifestyle image at a much more reasonable price.
That means this new model needs to offer even more than before to keep customers out of an Audi Q7, Range Rover Sport, or indeed the cheaper cars that sit below them in the line-up.
What engines can I get in the latest BMW X5?
From top to the bottom you’ll be buying a straight six – the most powerful is the quad turbo M50d, then there’s a 40i petrol (the same petrol engine that powers the 45e PHEV is a real highlight for reasons we’ll explain later) and the projected best-selling 30d diesel.
That’s because it’s ruthlessly effective and reasonably cheap to run. In operation it’s smooth and quiet until you stretch it, but there’s enough mid-range torque that you shouldn’t ever experience its more vocal upper reaches.
The petrol 40i is faster and much more refined, plus sounds more attractive at higher revs. Of course it’s also more expensive to run, but as it’s barely a handful of tenths slower than the M50d and substantially cheaper to buy, we reckon it’s a tempting offer unless you do huge monthly miles.
What’s it like to drive?
The BMW X5 is a great steer, as it turns out. It’s not the ultimate driving machine you’d instantly choose for picking apart a challenging road given its tall and heavy nature, but it manages to do all the muddy stuff you could ever need while still entertaining on the road. All cars in the UK come with xDrive all-wheel drive.
Air suspension (standard on UK cars) isolates potholes with ease and resists the pitter-patteriness often associated with such a set up admirably. Body movement is kept neat and tidy by active antiroll bars – there’s very little weight transfer to worry about in a series of corners in most models (the 45e hybrid with its heavy batteries feels a little more ponderous when pushing on).
The all-wheel drive system works well, subtly shuffling power around and working in harmony with the rear-wheel steering to give the X5 confidence-inspiring stability. It always feels like there’s a bit more grip and a bit more lock to use if you bowl into a corner with abandon.
Where the X5 falls behind saloon and estate rivals is that it doesn’t get exponentially more fun to drive as you approach its limits. You’re best driving it at three-quarters-effort where it’s happy to provide uncanny thrills – any faster and things get uncomfortable.
But what did you expect of a large, premium SUV?
Is it well equipped?
There are two trim choices, but BMW says 80% of British customers will ignore xLine and pick M Sport – gaining 20-inch alloys, an M Sport bodykit and badges. That may not sound like a lot, but that’s because the standard car is surprisingly well-equipped – automatic gearbox, all-wheel drive, air suspension, and BMW Live Cockpit Professional.
The latter is the same dual 12.3-inch screen set up from the 8-Series and it’s very pleasing to the eye, but not quite as forward-facing as the system you’ll find in a Mercedes-Benz, which looks like one long screen.
The latest 2020 model year X5 comes with all manner of cool driver assistance and connectivity tech – you can now programme your sat-nav from your smartphone and it’ll warn you about traffic and delays en route to your next appointment even when you’re not sat in the car.
You can also use your phone as the car key, by using the NFC chip, which BMW says is harder to hack than the standard key. Plus, you can send access to up to four friends, and because their BMW profile can be stored in the cloud, your X5 will automatically set itself up for them when they drive it.
It's all clever stuff, although some of the interior architecture could be accused of being identikit big BMW...
Popular options include the M Sport Plus Package, which adds a load of styling upgrades and an uprated Harman Kardon stereo, plus the xOffroad Package to help turn your X5 into a proper mud-plugger (as if...). This gets you a mechanical diff, sump guard, and off-road modes for xSand, xRocks, xGravel and xSnow.
Is the interior decent?
BMW's usual climate control panel of many buttons has been ripped out and replaced by a much more modern and decluttered centre console. You get knurled switches (like a Bentley!) and a crystalline gearshift (like a Volvo!) which brighten up an otherwise featureless facia.
To be honest we reckon the Audi Q7’s cohesive and brutally simple interior is still the benchmark here.
In the back you’ll find plenty of space for adults thanks to a low transmission tunnel and the 650-litre boot is usefully square, with minimal intrusion. You get a split tailgate as standard, which we’re not entirely sold on, but if you enjoy outdoor leisure activities then maybe this is a selling point.
It's certainly a useful perch for sitting on, and we like the fact that the dropdown lower flap is clad in plastic, so you can easily wipe clean muck from dogs and filthy rugby kit. We also like that the seat backs fold nearly flat, lowering at a simple tug on a lever in the boot.
New BMW X5: verdict
Whether or not you buy into the lifestyle image that comes with a large SUV like a BMW X5 is entirely up to you – we reckon a 5-series Touring is a more satisfying drive most of the time and just as practical.
Thing is, as soon as you add any kind of rural hobby into the equation, or the desire to sit in a fashionably high-up driving position, the X5 starts to make more sense. And the new BMW X5 45e is one of the most compelling plug-in hybrids we've encountered yet, with a fabulously long range making it a very viable alternative.
It’s heartening then that this car closes the gap to its lower-flying stablemates in the driving stakes, and now offers even more tech and luxury.
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