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Tested: BMW's clean, green X5 hybrid

Road tests

By: Denis Droppa

Johannesburg - Kermit the frog was right when he sang that it’s not easy being green.

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Pollution-reducing European Union laws dictate that tailpipe CO2 emissions for new passenger cars mustn’t exceed 130 grams per kilometre, with a target of 95g/km to kick in from 2021.

When you have a lot of gas-guzzling SUVs and powerful M cars in your range, as BMW does, it’s tough to get your green on. For instance, the CO2 figures in the X5 line-up range from 146g/km right up to 258g/km.

Vehicles such as the hybrid i8 (rated at 49g/km) and electric i3 hatch (0 g/km) help restore the balance and bring down BMW’s overall carbon footprint, and as part of this greening exercise it recently launched a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid version of the X5.

It’s called the X5 xDrive40e eDrive and, in contrast to its maxed-out name and hefty R1 137 000 pricetag, it has a small CO2 figure of just 77g/km. More importantly (let’s be honest, environmental friendliness isn’t most peoples’ primary reason for buying a car) the claimed average fuel consumption is just 3.3 litres per 100km.

This claimed petrol-sipping nirvana comes about by pairing an electric motor with a 185kW, two-litre twin-turbo petrol four (nope, not a four-litre despite what the badge says). The plug-in part is that this X5 has to be connected to a wall socket in order to fully charge the electric motor’s Lithium-ion battery pack, unlike a regular hybrid vehicle (such as a Toyota Prius) where the battery can be fully recharged during driving.

The X5 can be charged at a regular 220V wall socket, or by an optional R25 000 iWallbox that BMW can install at your home, which charges a lot quicker. There are also quick-charge stations set up at selected BMW and Nissan dealers, a partnership that exists because these are so far the only two brands offering electric cars in South Africa.

Solid performance

The hybrid X5 has three driving modes that the driver can select from: a default one that automatically keeps the vehicle in a happy balance between electric and petrol propulsion; an all-electric mode with a claimed range of up to 30km; and a mode that uses just petrol power and saves the electric motor for later use – for instance when you know there’s some urban driving later in the journey which is more conducive to electric propulsion.

Left in the standard petrol/electric mode, this X5 delivers solid performance with decent if not brilliant fuel economy. The total outputs of 230kW and 450Nm make for hearty acceleration, especially if you select the Sport setting which livens up the throttle and transmission response.

Here it feels like a regular sports SUV, with the ability to blast from 0-100km/h in a hot-hatch-like 6.8 seconds, a top speed of 210km/h, and effortless cruiseability.

The switch between electric and petrol power is essentially seamless and you wouldn’t notice the changeover unless you’re looking at the rev counter needle, which drops to zero when the car’s running on battery power alone.

In battery-only mode the top speed is governed to 120km/h but the performance is satisfyingly instant and punchy.

Electric motors notably have no lag; the power’s instant and it’s all the grunt you need for normal driving.

It’s all very refined too. In electric mode the X5 wafts along in eerie silence (which can be problematic as pedestrians tend not to hear you coming), while the petrol engine barely makes a noise itself.

Fast, check. Smooth, check. But how about those all-important fuel economy figures?

An all-electric range of 30km is claimed for this X5 but the best our test car could manage was 21km in a combination of urban and freeway driving.

When left to automatically manage its power on a mix of petrol and electricity, it averaged 8.4 litres per 100km. Decent, but nowhere near the claimed 3.3 litres, and not much better than the 8.8 litres we managed in the X5 xDrive25d turbodiesel we tested recently – an X5 that’s R190 000 cheaper to buy. The powerful and fuel efficient three-litre turbodiesel X5 is also substantially less pricey (by R108 000).

Aye, and there’s the rub.

Turning the X5 into a hybrid hasn’t affected its practicality. The Lithium-ion batteries are stashed under the luggage compartment but there’s still a generous 500 - 1720 litres of luggage space available; there’s no spare wheel but the X5 plug-in wears run-flat tyres and has a puncture repair kit.

The roomy five-seater interior is plush and lays on the luxury with climate control and leather seats, the driver’s one being electrically adjustable.

Spec levels are suitably high and include a standard Professional navigation system, cruise control, reversing camera, an automatic tailgate, and a Comfort Adaptive Suspension Package including rear air suspension and Dynamic Damper Control. The extra weight added by the hybrid system isn’t felt in regular driving and this X5 rides and handles with the typical BMW experience.

The xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive keeps it safe and steady on slippery roads, and provides some off-road ability as well in conjunction with hill-descent control.

The price includes a five-year or 100 000km maintenance plan and an eight-year or 100 000 warranty on the Lithium-ion battery.

VERDICT

This vehicle exists to help BMW meet emission targets. Rationally there’s little reason to buy it when you can spend between 100 and 200 grand less on a diesel X5.

The 3.3 litres per 100km is a compelling figure, and a theoretically possible one if your commute falls within the hybrid X5’s all-electric range and your employer allows you to charge your car at work.

Then you could commute all week without using any petrol, and start recouping this X5’s extra purchase price - but it will take a long time.

FACTS

BMW X5 xDrive40e eDrive

Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic

Power: 185kW @ 5000-6500rpm + electric = 230kW

Torque: 350Nm @ 1250-4800rpm + electric = 450Nm

0-100km/h (claimed): 6.8 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 210km/h

Price: R1 137 000

Warranty: Two year/unlimited distance, eight years/100 000km on Lithium-ion battery.

Service/Maintenance plan: Five-year/100 000km

X5 xDRIVE40e eDRIVE VS KEY RIVAL

BMW X5 xDrive40e eDrive (230kW/450Nm) - R1 137 000

Volvo XC90 Twin engine AWD (300kW/640Nm ) -R1 116 100

Follow me on Twitter @DenisDroppa

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