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).
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.
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
2016 BMW X5
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.