2021 BMW X5 45e: The Performance PHEV SUV You Want?
Plug-in hybrid tech is cool, but does it make this big BMW better?
In an effort to be more green, manufacturers are working all sorts of hybrid and electric setups into cars. Offering lower emissions and increased electric range for daily errands and commutes, PHEVs are bridging the gap for drivers who aren't ready to make the big transition to fully electric cars.
BMW has taken this approach with several models across its lineup, including the X5 SUV. After reviewing the X5's X6 crossover coupe sibling last year, I wanted to check out the proper SUV body and BMW's PHEV setup. Is it the powertrain you should get? I gave the X5 45e a week-long test to find out.
The Useful Figures
For 2021, BMW put an emphasis on more power in this updated PHEV X5, and dumped the 240-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder in favor of a turbo straight-six. The PHEV setup in this X5 xDrive 45e bumps to 389 horsepower and 443 lb-ft, and can stretch its fuel range to 400 miles, with help from a battery pack that also gives you 30 miles of all-electric range. The X5 45e comes standard with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system, and other trims have rear-wheel-drive available.
Different from it's Mercedes rival (which uses a 48V mild-hybrid alternator generator in the GLE 450 and AMG GLE 53), BMW employs a plug-in hybrid system that deploys electrified assistance from a battery pack while offering you a hint of all-electric cruising range that the Mercedes doesn't. This gives you flexibility of driving the X5 in fully electric, hybrid, or sport modes, to suit your driving mood and energy consumption awareness.
Because it has a smaller 18.5-gallon tank paired to this battery setup, the full cruise range of the 45e is less than its conventionally-powered X5 sibling that gets over 550 miles from its bigger 21.9-gallon tank. The 45e also gets a lower combined MPG average in hybrid driving (20, estimated by the EPA) than the conventional X5 40i (23 MPG combined). Those batteries and hybrid equipment do add some mass, as the X5 45e tips the scales at 5,672 pounds, which is significantly more than the 4,828-pound X5 xDrive 40i. Despite its curb weight, the X5 45e can still scoot from 0-60 MPH in just 5.3 seconds.
The cost of PHEV upgrades comes into play, as the base price for a non-PHEV X5 xDrive 40i is $61,700, and the PHEV 45e starts at $65,400, but the 45e is eligible for tax credits up to $7,500 (depending on your location). After ticking a bunch of option boxes, including an executive interior package, a few driver aids, and a few upgrades from the M Sport department, this Arctic Grey tester rang up an MSRP of $81,695.
The Functional Errand Runner
Soccer mom jokes be damned, this PHEV X5 is still a BMW. Sure, it's toting around an extra 700 pounds versus its non-hybrid sibling, but the X5 45e is surprisingly agile in the bends. The electric shove of torque is a nice supplement when having fun behind the wheel, especially in the sport drive mode. Steering is sharp for a big SUV, and I appreciate BMW giving the X5 a sporty feel, as it calls this segment a Sports Activity Vehicle, rather than a utility one.
With the optional M Sport brakes equipped, this X5 was competent under braking, as I took it for a spin on some twisty roads. I like that BMW allows individual settings for the drive modes, and found the sport setting was my happy place. The X5 was still composed in its sportiest setup, but provided more positive throttle, steering, and suspension feedback. Through its 8-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive, the X5 45e is quick in any situation, and offers snappy response for an SUV that's balancing environmental awareness and performance.
iDrive is updated in the 2021 X5, with as massive 12-inch touchscreen and wireless connectivity for Apple CarPlay. There's a wireless charging point just ahead of the cupholders, but iPhone 12 users will notice their charging time takes a lot longer while also significantly heating up the back of your phone. I point the blame at Apple's cool metallic design, which has led to this happening in several cars I've tested with wireless charging.
I appreciate the split tailgate setup of the X5, which allows you to open the top glass half independently or open both it and the lower tailgate, with the push of a button or a kick under the bumper. The top half makes quickly dropping in a couple grocery bags easy. Storage space in the back hatch is plentiful, and X5's SUV body holds an advantage over the X6 crossover coupe's storage area. Should you want to tow your boat on the weekend, opt for the trailer hitch to give the X5 5,952 pounds of towing capacity.
Electrified Flexibility In An SUV
Electric flexibility is becoming more common in a wide variety of vehicles, and BMW's plug-in hybrid option is reasonably good in the X5 45e. When the lithium-ion batteries are fully charged, BMW claims the X5 will roll around at reasonable speeds and energy consumption for up to 30 fully electric miles. During my test, I had the pack fully charged, and only managed around 15 miles in the city before the batteries were depleted. I cut the X5 some slack, as this was on a 90º day in Austin, and I had the A/C blasting. Your results may vary.
PHEV systems have advantages and limitations. DC fast charging isn't an option, and the fastest charging you'll experience for the X5 45e is a level 2 charge. If you're hooked up to a 240v system at home or at a public charging station, it will take about 5 hours to charge back up to the 50 mile EV-only range. At home on a 120v or level 1 port, this will take significantly longer.
To best take advantage of all-electric cruising in the city, I wish PHEV architecture was compatible with DC fast charging, so that you could quickly juice up while running errands without needing to kick on the engine. Particularly as public fast chargers are becoming more common.
Some Positive Things
The X5's interior is spacious and stylish. Not as tech heavy in appearance as an Audi or Mercedes inside, the cockpit is still cleanly laid out, with quality materials everywhere. Through the executive package, there are cool improvements to the center console's trim, including a glass shifter and iDrive control knob. BMW's seats are exceptionally comfortable, with plenty of support in all the right places.
Rear seat occupants will be happy, with loads of legroom for two adults or three kids. BMW is smart to incorporate USB-C ports into the front seatback, directly in reach for quick charging of mobile devices. Despite costing an extra $6,000 to equip, I like the M Sport upgrades that give the X5 45e a sportier appearance outside (via Shadowline trim), grippier Pirelli P-Zero tires, and upgraded brakes that offer better performance where it matters to this enthusiast driver.
A Few Negative Points
Because cabin space in the back is eaten up by the X5's hybrid system batteries, you lose the option for a third row seat, and cargo space takes a slight dip because of a higher floor which also incorporates hidden storage for the charging cable. Some buyers of bigger SUVs may want that third row seat, in case they need to pick up a couple extra kids from school.
With its focus on efficiency and reducing energy consumption, there's no way to toggle the X5's start/stop mode. It's always engaged, so if you ever open your door with the engine running, the car will shut off. Even if you're simply running into a shop to grab a to-go order, with a passenger staying inside the car, everything shuts down, no matter which drive mode you are in. It pains me that the user can't easily keep the car running on-demand.
The climate control system takes some time to fire up and get to your desired temperature. If the X5 was started in its electric or hybrid mode, the A/C refused to kick on for up to two minutes of driving, or would still be either delayed or running in a weaker state if I had the engine in sport mode. This was not ideal on hot Texas days.
Not Convinced PHEV Is The Way To SUV
Depending on your habits and needs, the X5 45e might not be the SUV for you. If you stick to short commutes and errand runs, the X5 plug-in hybrid is a good EV alternative, but PHEV tech still has some challenges. I like the 48V mild-hybrid setups in Mercedes models a bit more, as they provide a more seamless start/stop experience, have gobs of electrified torque, and employ more modern tech to give drivers a better experience behind the wheel.
BMW offers a good experience in the X5, with tidy styling inside and out, good proportions, and driving dynamics that please any SUV driver. Providing a PHEV option allows drivers to reduce emissions and fuel consumption, while getting all-electric driving around the city. The weight and price increase quite a bit with the X5 45e, and if you're taking longer drives the math doesn't work out in the long run. In that case, maybe consider the conventional engine in the X5 40i xDrive instead.