It’s been a while since we spent time with BMW’s plug-in hybrid X5. Since then, the German automaker replaced the X5 with an all-new model called the X5 xDrive45e. The brand has returned to its iconic inline six-cylinder engine configuration under the hood and has doubled the traction battery in capacity, usefully boosting the SUV’s electric-only range.
Styling-wise, the X5 xDrive45e is similar to its non-hybrid sibling. It’s a big vehicle that looks particularly tall on the road. I think it lacks the handsomeness of the original X5, but the Internet already has enough takes on BMW styling and doesn’t need another one from me.
On the inside, all the materials you sit on or touch feel high-quality, and the driver’s seat has good forward and rear visibility. However, I felt a little like I was sitting on the car (in an overstuffed armchair) rather than in it. Ahead of the driver is a thick-rimmed multifunction steering wheel and a 12.3-inch digital main instrument display.
BMW’s iDrive infotainment system is now in its seventh generation, and it appears here via a 12.3-inch touchscreen that you can also control with the rotary dial on the center console. The system now supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and no, there’s no subscription fee anymore.
The addition of two extra cylinders and another liter of engine capacity brings with it a significant bump in power and torque output. The turbocharged 3.0 L straight-six now generates 282 hp (210 kW) and 331 lb-ft (449 Nm), with BMW quoting a total output of 389 hp (290 kW) and 443 lb-ft (601 Nm) for the hybrid powertrain—the electric motor generator unit provides the same 111 hp (83 kW), 77 lb-ft (104 Nm) as in the old model.
The increased torque and power results in a faster 0–60 mph time—now 5.3 seconds—and an increased towing capacity of 7,200 lbs (3,266 kg), provided you have the optional trailer hitch.
A big battery
The addition of a bigger battery may be a more significant update, at least in terms of day-to-day driving. The pack now has a gross capacity of 24 kWh, with a useable 17 kWh. That endows the X5 xDrive45e with an EPA-estimated 31 miles (50 km) of range when just using the battery and electric motor, making it extremely competitive with other plug-in hybrids of a similar size and price. The X5 xDrive45e is also now capable of going a little faster in electric-only mode—84 mph (135 km/h) instead of 75 mph (120 km/h).
In practice, the EPA electric range estimate is slightly optimistic, but 25 miles (40 km) sounds reasonable as long as you drive the X5 xDrive45e gently when in Electric mode. If most of your trips are short, it’s possible to go a couple of days between charges and still rarely hear the internal combustion engine fire into life, as long as you keep the vehicle in Electric or Hybrid mode. The electric motor’s output might seem slight on paper, but in practice, it’s enough to get this SUV moving briskly alongside other traffic—yet another reminder of the benefits of electric motors and their near-instant torque delivery.
When you do need to plug in again, be prepared for a wait. The X5 xDrive45e maxes out at 3.7 kW while connected to a Level 2 (240 V, AC) charger, even if the charger itself is capable of a higher power output. You’ll need a little over five hours to return the battery pack to 100 percent. That’s not really an issue if you just plug the car in each night at home, but it does mean you’ll need to spend a long time shopping if you plan to recharge at the grocery store.
In Hybrid mode, the X5 xDrive45e’s computer brains determine how and when to blend the electric motor and the engine. In this mode, the X5 will go as fast as 68 mph (109 km/h) just on the electric motor. Also in this mode (and with a battery with some charge left in it), the BMW proves quite efficient; the EPA rates it at a combined 50 mpg (4.7 L/100 km). That’s down 6 mpg on the old hybrid X5, but the 2021 model weighs nearly 400 lbs more at 5,672 lbs (2,573 kg) and has an engine that’s 40 percent more powerful. So this decrease isn’t surprising. If you run out of battery charge altogether, things get a whole lot thirstier at a combined 20 mpg (11.6 L/100 km).
Finally, a Sport mode keeps the gasoline engine in play continuously, and the engine will recharge the battery while you drive. (The feature also does the usual Sport mode things like sharpen the throttle response, increase the steering weight, stiffen the air suspension, and so on.) An X5 xDrive45e won’t trouble an X5 M on a twisty road or on track, but as we noted in the review of the latter, the hybrid rides better and costs less.
In fact, since it qualifies for the full $7,500 IRS plug-in vehicle tax credit (which is based on battery capacity), the $65,400 X5 xDrive45e will often work out to be cheaper than the not-hybrid X5 xDrive40i. Couple that with the much better fuel efficiency and the lower maintenance costs of a plug-in, and value-wise, the plug-in X5 appears to be the pick of the X5 range.
Listing image by BMW