The electric/hybrid market continues apace, and following the cracking i3 and i8 models, the Bavarian Motor Works have come up with their latest incarnation - a hybrid X5.
Hybrid SUVs might not yet have taken Europe entirely by storm, but in the petrol-dominated US and Chinese markets, their potential sales volumes are prodigious.
In the US, with Lexus and Porsche chief among its rivals, luxury and performance rate as highly as efficiency, so the plug-in hybrid X5 gets plenty of surge to go with its zero-emissions.
Consequently, the car comes with a 111bhp electric motor located just upstream of its eight-speed Steptronic gearbox, and, ahead of that, the most powerful four-cylinder petrol engine in the BMW range: the 242bhp TwinPower turbocharged unit found in the 328i. Total system output is rated by its maker as 309bhp and 332lb ft, and 0-62mph ought to take just 6.8sec. Claimed combined economy, meanwhile, is 85.6mpg. From a domestic socket, the car will recharge itself in a little under 4hr, or 2hr 45min if you’ve stumped up for the fancy-looking BMW i Wallbox.
What’s it like to drive? Well, the same as any other barnstorming X5, but quieter. With full electric charge, it’s totally silent, which, for a large SUV, is rather disconcerting, and when you run out of electric juice, around 20 miles, the engine kicks in with barely a murmur and the only way you really know you are on fossil fuel is when you see the rev counter flicker into life. Try the Porsche Cayenne with this trick and you will see how well BMW have done. They have also thrown in a ‘Save Charge’ setting, which avoids draining the battery if you’re anticipating some urban driving later in your journey. Most drivers will leave the car in Auto eDrive mode and let the computer decide when the e-motor should get stuck in.
Interestingly, BMW’s official bumf tacitly admits the claims of 85.6mpg and 77g/km (which misses out on the UK government’s £5000 plug-in grant) are a result of the flawed NEDC economy test. Instead, BMW calculates that with a full battery charge you should score about 43.5mpg on what Munich deems ‘an average commute,’ and for a two-tonne SUV, this is pretty impressive, but if you combine the electric and fuel mix, and drive like Mother Theresa, then you can reach over 85 mpg.
There is virtually no difference in the drive, cabin layout or styling from the standard X5, save a few badges, and there are no shouty ‘look at me, I am saving the planet’ styling cues. The X5’s cabin is still a good place to spend time, with very comfortable seats and masses of space in the back. But if you need seven seats, it’ll have to be a non-hybrid X5, as the rear-mounted battery pack means a third row of chairs can’t be fitted. There is also restricted luggage space — 150 litres less with the rear seats down — although, subjectively, the boot still looks quite capacious. And then you have the lovely split tailgate that offers the Range Rover style seating area should you find yourself unexpectedly on a grouse shoot.
It drives superbly, is full of creature comforts, will take on mountains and valleys, and then there is that intrinsic satisfaction that, in electric mode, all of this is costing you absolutely nothing. Do less than 20 miles a day on your commute and you will never have to put in a drop of fuel. With an ever-increasing network of charging stations around the country, this is getting easier to do away from home, and with a 2.5-hour charge time, you could find yourself driving to that meeting, putting it on charge and then driving home again without ever visiting a petrol station.
Mash the go-pedal to the floor and it is satisfyingly fast and is as smooth as silk on the motorway, with barely a hiss coming from the tyres, very little wind noise and a totally silent drive.
Model Tested: X5 xDrive 40e
Engine: 2-litre, turbocharged
Performance: 0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Top Speed: 130mph
Economy: 85.6 mpg combined