BMW electrifies the X5

Cargazing
By Derek Price

The BMW X5 does things SUVs aren’t supposed to do. That’s been its mission from the beginning.
SUVs shouldn’t be this fast. They shouldn’t feel so good from the driver’s seat. And most of all, they shouldn’t handle corners this well, hugging turns almost as gloriously as BMW’s famous sports sedans.
The X5 even adds another item to that checklist this year: SUVs shouldn’t be able to drive without burning any gasoline.
Yet the X5 does all that and more thanks to a new plug-in hybrid version with the Germanically awkward name of xDrive40e. It lets you enjoy the X5’s brilliant handling when you want to have some fun or, in a total change of personality, scoot around town as a silent electric car for up to 14 miles.
That’s a big deal for people who want to help the planet but don’t want to compromise on style, capability or performance.
Keep in mind that electric range number is in an ideal world. In real-world driving, you’ll be lucky to hit that figure regularly, but at least your grocery and school runs can be done under electric power.
Thomas Edison would be proud.
If you’re looking to save money, though, the xDrive40e is a terrible way to do it. It starts over $62,000, and my tester rang up closer to $80k with options (including a few that drive me crazy, like $200 for smartphone integration and $400 for a rear-view camera — things that come for free on cheap economy cars these days).

The BMW X5 is now available as a plug-in hybrid, called the xDrive40e, that can go up to 14 miles on electric power alone before the gasoline engine is required.

The BMW X5 is now available as a plug-in hybrid, called the xDrive40e, that can go up to 14 miles on electric power alone before the gasoline engine is required.

What you’re paying for with a BMW, though, is cutting-edge engineering. It feels like it comes from a different planet than most SUVs, almost like it defies the laws of physics with the way it moves over the road. It’s roomy on the inside, with a high stance and lots of glass wrapped around the cabin to give you outstanding visibility, and it epitomizes the solid, carved-from-stone feeling that the best German luxury cars give you.
Unfortunately for BMW, there’s some fresh competition in this space: a newly designed Volvo XC90 that’s so good I’d sell my children to get one — which is ironic because its top goal is keeping my children alive. And it’s even available as a plug-in hybrid.
But the X5 punches the Volvo in its one weak spot: handling. The BMW is off-the-charts fun to drive, compared to the softer and more lumbering XC90. I think they’re designed for totally different types of drivers coming from totally different mindsets.
For me, my head belongs to the XC90 but my heart beats for the X5. It pushes all the emotional buttons in a much more visceral way.
That’s not to say the electrified X5 doesn’t intrigue my nerdy side. Its very existence gives BMW some bragging rights over the rest of the world’s automotive brainpower, using lithium ion batteries and integrating a powerful electric motor with its eight-speed automatic transmission to turn this heavy SUV into a roadgoing rocketship.
BMW claims it can go from 0-60 mph in just 6.5 seconds, and I surely believe it after my week driving this beast. It might even be a conservative number.

Digital displays in the X5 are customized for the plug-in hybrid version, letting the driver see and customize information about the car.

Digital displays in the X5 are customized for the plug-in hybrid version, letting the driver see and customize information about the car.

One thing I love about BMWs, and the plug-in X5 in particular, is how they let you customize the driving experience. It engages Auto eDrive by default, letting the car decide how much battery power or gasoline power to use at any given time. But you can also set it to Max eDrive to go on purely electric power when you want, or put it in Save Battery mode to rely solely on the 2.0-liter gasoline engine.
It lets the driver stay in control, something that’s becoming increasingly rare in a world where cars are getting more automated, to the point of almost driving themselves, with each passing year.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e ($62,100). Options: Space Gray Metallic paint ($550), cold weather package ($550), M Sport package ($4,350), premium package ($2,550), rear view camera ($400), ceramic controls ($650), surround view ($750), smartphone integration ($200), NightVision ($2,300), Harman Kardon surround sound ($875). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $78,170
Wheelbase: 115.5 in.
Length: 193.2 in.
Width: 76.3 in.
Height: 69.4 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter gasoline engine plus electric motor (308 hp, 332 lb.-ft. combined power)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
EPA Mileage: 56 MPGe

RATINGS

Style: 9
Performance: 10
Price: 3
Handling: 8
Ride: 7
Comfort: 8
Quality: 10
Overall: 9

Video Review:
2016 BMW X5
bit.ly/2016×5

Why buy it?
It combines sporty dynamics and electric power in a way that’s uniquely BMW. You can plug it in to charge the batteries and run on electricity for up to 14 miles, plus use the gasoline engine gives you the performance you expect from this German brand.

Posted in BMW

Focused on a mission


Cargazing
By Derek Price

Kobe Bryant just retired from playing basketball, prompting all kinds of retrospectives about his famous marathon workout sessions that can start hours before dawn.
His work ethic made him one of the best players in the history of the NBA, some say.
But you know what people don’t say? That he was a gifted painter, an award-winning scientist or a sensation at playing tennis.
The guy did one thing — basketball — and did it well. He was no renaissance man.
There’s something to be said for laser-beam focus, and few vehicles are more focused on a singular core mission than the Jeep Wrangler. It’s the Black Mamba of off-roading.
Sometimes I like to criticize the Wrangler for its obvious weaknesses. It’s noisy and bumpy on the highway. It burns too much gas. It doesn’t come with Bluetooth (how prehistoric is that?)
But that’s also like saying Babe Ruth sucked at ice hockey.
The Wrangler puts on a jaw-dropping show of talent on the trails, which is all that matters to its mission. Its all-wheel-drive prowess makes it feel invincible climbing rock inclines or splashing through streams.

Few vehicles have been built around one core mission longer than the Jeep Wrangler. It’s a product with a laser-like focus on off-road driving, something unusual at a time when most vehicles seem built for compromises.

Few vehicles have been built around one core mission longer than the Jeep Wrangler. It’s a product with a laser-like focus on off-road driving, something unusual at a time when most vehicles seem built for compromises.

I spent a week driving a four-door version of the Wrangler called the Unlimited, and it makes a lot of nods toward practicality. The cabin is far quieter than it used to be — although still one of the noisiest you can buy today — and its dash feels much more modern than it did just a few years ago.
Its ingenious Dual Top option lets you switch between a hard-surface top, a soft cloth top or everyone’s favorite way to drive a Jeep: with the top wide open to the wind. The hard top and four-door layout make it surprisingly good at family-car duty, although its 16-mpg city rating make it an expensive alternative to a Honda Civic or Ford Focus at the fuel pump.
But again, that’s not what it’s built for.
A 3.6-liter V6 feels like a good fit, delivering enough low-end grunt to get the heavy Jeep moving at stoplights while also being easy to modulate with the throttle when you need to do rock climbing in 4WD-low. It sounds smoother and more refined than I expected from Jeep’s most rugged vehicle, too.
A remote engine starter and 28-gigabyte storage capacity for songs were pleasant surprises on the option list, although the Bluetooth phone connection remains a weird omission in 2016. I suppose where most Jeep drivers go, there’s not cell phone coverage anyway.

The Wrangler’s interior has gotten more modern and quiet in recent years, especially if you buy the optional hard top. And with four doors, the Wrangler Unlimited is surprisingly useful for kid-hauling duties.

The Wrangler’s interior has gotten more modern and quiet in recent years, especially if you buy the optional hard top. And with four doors, the Wrangler Unlimited is surprisingly useful for kid-hauling duties.

Jeep has always loved cranking out special editions, and this year it adds another: the Black Bear Edition that adds extra content inside and out — including a “heritage ‘Wrangler’ hood decal,” 17-inch wheels with black spokes and special trim on the inside. It commemorates Black Bear Pass, a popular trail at the annual Jeep Jamboree in Colorado.
The Sahara model gets some refinements as well. A body-color bumper and snazzier 18-inch wheels are among the design changes that make it look sharp on the outside, and olive green leather seats are optional on the inside.
Pricing starts at $23,895 for the two-door Wrangler and $27,695 for the four-door Wrangler Unlimited. My Wrangler Unlimited Sahara tester with around $10,000 in options rang up at $43,845.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara ($33,295). Options: Leather seats ($1,350), connectivity group ($595), dual top group ($2,185), supplemental front side airbags ($495), automatic transmission ($1,350), Trac-Loc rear axle ($395), air conditioning ($395), body color Freedom Top ($1,100), navigation radio system ($1,195), remote start system ($495). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $43,845
Wheelbase: 116 in.
Length: 184.9 in.
Width: 73.7 in.
Height: 72.6 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (285 hp, 260 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
EPA Mileage: 16 city, 20 highway

RATINGS

Style: 10
Performance: 10
Price: 5
Handling: 3
Ride: 4
Comfort: 5
Quality: 7
Overall: 8

Video Review:
2016 Jeep Wrangler
bit.ly/16wrangler

Why buy it?
It’s incredibly focused on its core mission of off-road driving. With an optional hard top on the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, it’s easier to live with in day-to-day driving on pavement, too.

Posted in Jeep

V for velocity


Cargazing
By Derek Price

In case any members of the law enforcement community are reading this, I’ll start the next sentence with a disclaimer.
Hypothetically, in theory, this is a car that could accidentally reach 105 mph before you reach the end of a short Interstate on-ramp, just by glancing away from the speedometer and letting your foot linger on the accelerator a bit too long.
It’s called the Cadillac CTS-V, and that “-V” makes all the difference in the world. Unlike the standard CTS, which is a very nice but perfectly sensible luxury car, the CTS-V leaves all sensibility at the door.
Cadillac gave it a carbon fiber hood to reduce weight, Brembo brakes that are bigger than your head, a magnetic suspension system that’s designed for racetrack use, and a customizable traction control system to help keep the car pointed in the right direction.
When you realize what’s under the hood, you’ll see why you need all that help.

All the slots, vents and air intakes on the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V are designed to cool its massive, 6.2-liter supercharged V8. With lots of carbon fiber and race-focused engineering, this is a luxury car designed for track days.

All the slots, vents and air intakes on the 2016 Cadillac CTS-V are designed to cool its massive, 6.2-liter supercharged V8. With lots of carbon fiber and race-focused engineering, this is a luxury car designed for track days.

The CTS-V shoehorns a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 up front that sends an insane 640 horsepower to the rear wheels — even more than comparable twin-turbo engines from Mercedes and BMW performance models.
Cadillac says it can reach 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds and hit a Ferrari-like top speed of 200 mph.
So again, in theory, if it were to reach 105 on the on-ramp, it would barely be getting warmed up.
Like any supercar, the CTS-V is not really engineered for driving on public streets. It feels out of its element, like a cheetah forced to live in a small cage at the zoo. It wants to run, but it can’t — at least not without spending a night in your local sheriff’s Hilton — so you’ll need to buy some track time to fully appreciate it.
What was totally surprising to me, though, was how effortlessly it gets up to speed. I’ve never driven a car that makes it so easy to accidentally go too fast, and that’s for a simple reason: it doesn’t give you the sensory overload that most supercars do.
Driving a Dodge Viper, it’s easy to tell you’re going too fast because the wailing engine makes you sound like a jerk and your eardrums start to hurt.
But driving a CTS-V, which is the most quiet, smooth and stable car I’ve ever driven at highway speeds, you just don’t get a sense for how fast you’re moving. It’s almost eerie.
The closest thing I’ve ever felt to this was a V12-powered Mercedes CL-Class that cost over $120,000 years ago. It makes the $95,890 price of today’s test car feel a bit more palatable, if you want to rationalize it.
Another thing that might help: “Honey, it’s got four doors! It’ll fit the car seats!”
Rarely do cars combine comfort, practicality and raw speed like this one. The Dodge Charger Hellcat (707 horsepower, $67,645) comes close, but it doesn’t offer anywhere near the level of luxury or highway silence you get in the speedy Caddy.

Digital screens in the CTS-V’s cabin help you make the most of this car’s performance. A data recorder can help you record lap and acceleration times.

Digital screens in the CTS-V’s cabin help you make the most of this car’s performance. A data recorder can help you record lap and acceleration times.

Some other notes from my week-long drive in the CTS-V:
— It’s super easy to lose grip to the rear wheels under acceleration, but the electronics do a good job keeping you pointed in the right direction. It might give you too much confidence at times.
— When you’re parked at idle, you can see the heat rising up from the engine through the cooling vents on top of the hood.
— I’m not as wild about CUE, Cadillac’s digital interface, as the last time I used it. But the voice recognition part worked pretty well when I’d tell it an address or use it to find a point of interest.
— It has a very, very nice cabin. It feels expensive (and it is).
Pricing starts at $83,995 for the CTS-V Sedan, which is around $38,000 more than the regular CTS’ starting price of $45,560.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan ($83,995). Options: Carbon fiber package ($5,500), Recaro high-performance seats ($2,300), performance data recorder ($1,300), gas guzzler tax ($1,000), Red Obsession paint ($500), sueded microfiber steering ($300). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $95,890
Wheelbase: 114.6 in.
Length: 197.6 in.
Width: 72.2 in.
Height: 57.2 in.
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8 (640 hp, 630 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
EPA Mileage: 14 city, 21 highway

RATINGS

Style: 10
Performance: 10
Price: 7
Handling: 9
Ride: 10
Comfort: 10
Quality: 9
Overall: 10

Video Review:
2016 Cadillac CTS-V
bit.ly/2016cts-v

Why buy it?
Not only is it insanely fast with a top speed of 200 mph, but it feels shockingly stable and silent on the highway. It’s a supercar that’s both comfortable and sophisticated — a rare combination.

Posted in Cadillac

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