Christmas came early to the Taylor household this year when the Good Ferry, the Calgary-area company that ferries press vehicles around the Prairies, announced a delayed arrival meant I’d have almost an extra week in the 2017 BMW X5 xDrive 40e.
When it debuted in 2015, it was billed as BMW’s first plug-in hybrid “sports-activity vehicle” (BMW-speak for SUV). It offers up to 40 kilometres of electric-only mobility from a full charge, and operates as a hybrid once the battery runs out of e-drive-only juice.
A charge port just forward of the driver’s door and a charge-power indicator — showing whether the batteries are charging during deceleration or applying thrust during acceleration — are the only outward signs this is anything but a standard X5.
Locating the propulsion battery — distinct from the usual 12-volt car battery — under the cargo floor means the X5 loses zero cargo or passenger room to its electric-drive components.
The electric motor is integrated within the eight-speed automatic transmission, which is bolted to the back of a 2.0-litre, twin-scroll turbo four-cylinder gas motor.
The gas motor has the full suite of BMW’s internal combustion goodies, including Valvetronic variable valve timing and variable camshaft technology.
On its own, it delivers 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.
The electric motor delivers 111 horsepower, as well as 184 pound-feet of torque available instantly on demand.
The combination provides for effortless, surprising acceleration.
Fuel economy, however, depends on keeping up with the charge cycles. When the X5 was faithfully plugged in overnight, the average fuel consumption would start sinking toward 10 litres per 100 kilometres. When the battery wasn’t at full charge, the meter would start creeping north of 11, approaching 12.
The official numbers appear to back that up. The combined equivalent is rated as 4.1 l/100 km, while the city/highway/combined numbers are 10.2/9.5/9.9. We had a fair degree of wheel slip, which hurt fuel economy, too. (But was fun…)
If you get the X5 40e and live in a cold climate area, make sure it comes with the heated steering wheel and heated seats. You’ll need them. The gas engine’s small size and sharing of propulsion duties with the electric motor means the cabin can take a while to warm up.
If, however, you’ve used the charging station, you can precondition the interior and drive battery for warmth or cooling using your household current.
This gives you the benefit of a toasty ride without a drastic reduction in electric range.
A timer can be set through the car’s infotainment system to delay charging and preconditioning appropriately.
Most times, the transition from electric to gas to gas-electric is seamless.
There were times, though, when under acceleration the gas engine would kick in to help the electric motor and not be so smooth. The surge could be disconcerting.
An interesting drive choice is called “save battery.”
You could use this, for instance, when on the highway. It preserves — and if needed, boosts — battery capacity for later, when you might be entering an urban area. Considering the electric drive is of little use on extended highway drives anyway, there’s no loss in turning it off.
BMW’s iDrive infotainment interface has been updated several times since the first confusing version debuted in the early 2000s. Today, it’s intuitive and easy to use. If you’re the least bit tech-savvy — in other words, the clock on your VCR (humour me) isn’t flashing 12 a.m. — you’ll be able to jump in and start using it while your owner’s manual remains in its shrink-wrapped, original condition.
The steering wheel has the typical BMW feel, with a thick, easy-to-hold rim and three-spoke design.
The seats are comfortable, yet hold you in place during spirited driving, and the woodgrain trim in the tester is far from cliché.
There is decent space in the cargo area, but missing are handles to fold the rear seats from the rear hatch.
That would be a handy add.
With roof-crush testing now a mandatory part of at least one rating agency’s top ratings, most vehicles now come with massive A-pillars. The X5 is no exception.
But the way BMW has pushed the base forward just a bit, and pulled the side mirrors back just a bit, gives you space to look past them. It’s not nearly the blind spot it is on some vehicles.
A base price of $74,950 means the xDrive 40e is a $6,450 jump from the gas version and a $4,950 jump from a diesel. The top of the X5 lineup, the xDrive50i, is $82,800.