Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: April 5, 2021
While the spotlight remains fixated on BMW’s upcoming all-electric SUV, the iX, let’s not forget about their current line of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) found in the 3 Series, X3, and X5 platforms. Each has been significantly improved from their first-generation models, and that especially rings true with the X5 45e.
It’s not our first encounter with an X5 PHEV, but this 2021 model gains a larger battery that allows for 45 km of zero-emission driving - wait, is that why it’s called the 45e? Visually, the X5 PHEV is nearly indistinguishable from its gasoline-only variants besides the obvious badging and charging port. Loaded up with the M Sport body kit, blacked out exterior accents, and a stunning shade of Tanzanite Blue, and it’s one of the most balanced and handsome looking mid-size SUVs currently on sale.
The 330e and X3 30e both use a turbo-four engine mixed with a hybrid setup and though remarkably satisfying to drive and fuel efficient, they feel lethargic under full load. The X5 45e on the other hand uses a larger straight-six engine and a larger battery. The engine itself delivers just 286 hp while the electric motor dishes out 111 hp, and in conjunction with the 24 kWh lithium ion battery running the show (double the size of the 330e, and actually one of the biggest in the PHEV market), we have a combined output of 394 hp and 443 lb-ft. The X5 runs that output via an 8-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels, and sprints from 0-100 km/h in an average 5.6 seconds, but 1.2 seconds faster than the outgoing model.
Those numbers should amount to a good amount of straight line performance, but then again the X5 weighs a portly 2,561 kg, more than the Rolls-Royce Ghost SWB we just tested. Heavy doesn’t begin to explain it, and even with the instant kick from the hybrid motors that fills in the turbo lag, the X5 lacks that urgent thrust and mid-range pick up that makes the 40i such a willing and energetic partner. And when running in full electric mode (available up to 135 km/h), acceleration is diminished even further. At least you can rest easy knowing there’s nothing but unicorn dust popping out the rear pipes. Those that despise the jerkiness of start/stop systems that have infested every modern day vehicle will also be glad to know that it’s smooth as silk here.
Luckily the X5’s stellar chassis, standard two-axle air suspension, and electronically controlled dampers work well to hide much of that weight and portrays a more lithe and athletic character on the road. It won’t dance with the same kind of maneuverability as the lighter 40i, but there is an honesty to its movements. With the batteries situated low to the floor that contribute to a low center of gravity, the front end remains responsive even if the steering is heavily muted. The ride is comfortable and absorbent, displaying mannerisms that aren’t out of place with the luxury segment. Furthermore, the regenerative brakes that harvest energy under braking are incredibly linear - not something you can say with many PHEVs - and feel just like a regular non-regen pedal.
BMW quotes the total zero-emission range at roughly 45 km depending on the driving conditions. We got 40 km in single-digit Canadian spring weather but with regenerative braking taken into account. That’s more than the XC90 T8 and Range Rover Sport PHEV, and we didn’t expect too much more from the 24 kWh battery - by comparison the full-EV Volvo XC40 Recharge packs a 78 kWh battery instead with a range of 335 km. Whether or not the range is enough for your own daily use remains subjective, but there’s no denying that it’s more appealing than before. It might actually be enough to convince those hesitant buyers wishing to make their first step into an EV future, but want to remain anxiety-free with a combustion engine ready to fire at any moment’s notice.
A full battery top up with a Level 2 charger will take just under six hours. If you are like us and only have access to a standard household power outlet in the garage, setting it at the minimum charge of 6 amps will take around 26 hours. PHEV benefits with the X5 include the ability to preheat or pre-cool the cabin without running exhaust fumes in the garage, and the optional green plates in Ontario that let you drive in the HOV carpool lanes without any passengers. Downsides? The $6,000 price premium over the 40i, especially since this X5 is not eligible for federal EV credits. That hurts its value especially with options in - our tester rings just over $100,000. The battery digs in and reduces around 23 L of trunk space as well, though I don’t think many people will notice the slightly raised trunk bed.
The X5 45e is a perfect candidate for those unsure about living with an EV, and who only want to keep one foot forward while also resting back on the combustion engines they have grown accustomed to. With many automakers taking emissions seriously now, the X5 has spawned a fair amount of competition from the Range Rover Sport PHEV, Volvo XC90 Recharge, and Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid. While performance and value are clearly lacking, the 45e offers a sizable EV range and an environmentally-conscious mindset that positively augments the X5’s already calm and collected road manners, ergonomically sound interior, and handsome good looks.
Model: 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV
Paint Type: Tanzanite Blue
Base Price: $83,500
Price as Tested: $101,850
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,922 / 2,004 / 1,745
Curb weight (kg): 2,561
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six + battery + electric motors
Horsepower: 394 combined hp
Torque: 443 lb-ft combined lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.6
Tires: 275/40R21 front; 315/35R21 rear