Our journey with plug in hybrid electric vehicles started with the purchase of an Audi A3 e-tron early in 2016. We loved its smoothness, refinement and the convenience of being able to charge the car from home. The A3 e-tron was a great car, but as we transitioned into our early retirement phase, we wanted to do more driving holidays, so we needed a bigger car and one that could swallow up long distances in comfort. Out went our A3 and in came the BMW X5 40e.
There have been many reviews of the X5, so I thought I would focus this review on the hybrid drivetrain and my experiences with its efficiency. With some people concerned about the range of purely electric vehicles and long-distance remote travel, we may see greater interest in PHEVs while charging infrastructure develops.
The X5 40e has a 180kW/350Nm four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol engine teamed with an 83kW/250Nm electric motor which is housed within the ZF 8-speed transmission. The hybrid power plant is a little ripper and has a combined power of 230kW/450Nm, which I’ve found to be totally adequate for safe overtaking and accelerating to freeway speeds. The claimed 0-100km/h time is 6.8 seconds. The Li-ion battery has a capacity of 9kWh and is located beneath the rear cargo area.
Given the X5 40e is a full time 4WD SUV weighing in at 2.3 tonnes, it’s never going to win top prize in the efficiency stakes. Electric range is only around 28 km, but can be a little more in hotter months while down to 25 km in colder months. While this doesn’t sound like much, I would estimate that 90% of the total distance I travel within the Melbourne metropolitan area is done purely in electric mode, and what a pleasure it is. I can float along in smooth silence at highway speeds and the experience is utterly relaxing apart from other road users and meal delivery scooters. The X5 40e offers configurability of driving and regeneration modes, however the maximum coasting regenerative braking level is mild and one-foot driving via the throttle only is not safely possible. It would have been great if BMW could have used the paddle shifters to allow the level of regeneration to be adjusted instead of gears, as I never use the shifters for manual gear changes. Accelerating in electric mode is smooth and gear changes are pretty much imperceptible. Transition between the regenerative and disc braking is managed well, however braking at parking speeds is not as progressive or smooth as I would like.
BMW and ZF have managed the integration between the internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric motor superbly and engagement of the engine is smooth and mostly un-noticeable apart from the rev counter and engine din. Even with an apparently depleted battery, the ICE and electric motor/generator are always working. The control system leaves a percentage of the battery available for heavy acceleration (say overtaking) and then recharges the battery via the ICE or regenerative braking. The start-stop function works well in this configuration of car as the electric motor normally takes on the initial inertia and then the ICE cuts in – great for parking and heavy start-stop traffic. The start-stop function is aggressive and will shut down the ICE and engage the engine clutch - even at highway speeds - within one to two seconds after backing off the throttle. At a steady 100km/h the ICE revs at 1500rpm and is inaudible above the low levels of wind and road noise. This is a really refined cruiser.
Okay, so just how much petrol does the X5 40e use? Well, it’s theoretically possible to use the X5 40e continually within the metropolitan area using no petrol at all and this has pretty much been my experience. This obviously assumes short distance trips and access to charging facilities or a 240V wall socket. When travelling in town with a depleted battery, the 40e will use between 8.5-9 litres per 100 kilometres - more if you’re a leadfoot.
We live in an inner bayside suburb of Melbourne and have an 8.3kW solar array on our roof. We purchase 100% green power, but only need to do so during the winter quarter, the costs of which are more than covered from the credits we earn during warmer months (yes, we do get sun in Melbourne!). We mostly charge the car during the day and I’ve installed a diverter which only charges the car when there’s enough solar generation. The 40e can charge at a maximum of 3.5kW and a minimum of 1.5kW – this lower level is handy when charging from solar during winter months when solar output is lower (with a commensurate increase in charging time).
On the open road the benefit of a plug-in hybrid is diminished. Despite that, I’ve found the X5 40e to be remarkably fuel efficient, more so when travelling through mountainous country. We travel regularly from Melbourne to the Sunshine Coast and on a recent trip the X5 40e consumed 7.6L/100km over 3800 kms. On the same trip with a trailer in tow we recorded 8.6L/100km. Good figures in my opinion. On a holiday to Kangaroo Island the X5 40e consumed 7L/100km over 2400 kms, but we had the benefit of charging when on the Island.
It’s interesting to see how the hybrid power plant works in the hills. On a stretch of the Princes Highway between Buchen and Mallacoota the road partly travels through large and long winding hills. On this stretch of road the X5 40e, with a depleted battery at the start of the trip, covered 143km with 24 per cent of the distance covered (about 34km) using regenerated electric power at an average fuel consumption of 7.8L/100km.
The X5 40e has two trip computers, one which records over a maximum distance of 10,000kms. Average fuel consumption over the first 10,000 kms was 5.9L/100km and over the second 10,000 kms it was 7.7L/100km. It’s currently sitting at an average of 6.2L/100km. The simple logic here is that the more time the car is in suburbia, the lower the figure, and the more time it’s on the open road, the higher the figure. The X5 40e has an 85-litre tank and will cover over 1000km on the open road, assuming traveling at highway speeds. It also has a 2700kg towing capacity.
One area that has concerned me with the X5 40e is the ride quality on run-flat tyres (RFTs). Many of the X5 40es I looked at came with the M-Sports pack and 20-inch wheels. While the M-Sports pack is visually appealing, I found the ride compliance over sharp bumps to be out of character with the refinement and size of the vehicle. I was fortunate to locate a X5 40e with 19-inch wheels and found the ride quality better - this was the car I ultimately purchased. I subsequently acquired a set of X5 18-inch wheels with RFTs and the ride quality improved further. On the trip to Kangaroo Island however, I found the 18-inch wheels and RFTs did not work well on corrugated, unmade roads - just not enough compliance and too much jarring through the vehicle. I subsequently replaced the 18-inch RFTs with the same make of tyre (Pirelli Scorpion Verde), but a non RFT and I’m in ride quality heaven! I now float over those rough inland roads between Melbourne and Queensland and I haven’t noticed any deterioration in the handling of the car (though the car is a little tail heavy). As a downside, I now carry a can of goo and compressor, and on longer trips I carry a full-sized spare wheel – which consumes a fair slab of the rear cargo space if I’m not towing the trailer. Touch wood, no flats… yet.
The X5 40e is well-optioned and the leather dash looks superb. All the driving aids work really well – radar cruise, lane departure warning, blind-spot sensors, parking sensors and all-round cameras. Tech integration works seamlessly, and I’ve found the voice recognition to be fantastic. Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent and I like the fact that the car is not massive, but big enough to handle country roads confidently.
In terms of improvements, some would say a bigger battery for greater electric range would be ideal. Oddly, in my own case, a larger battery with (say) a 50km range would only offer marginal consumption benefits and you wouldn’t want it to come at the impost of greater weight. Perhaps as the energy density of batteries improves, this might be feasible. It would have been great if the engineers could have incorporated the battery underneath the centre of the vehicle as opposed to locating it underneath the rear cargo area as this has made the X5 40e a tad tail heavy.
Overall, I’m delighted with my X5 40e. It’s travelled almost 35,000km now and has been faultless. With my ‘special tyres’, the X5 40e is a super quiet and refined vehicle and a superb long-distance cruiser. I love the fact that I can charge it at home using my solar generation for next to nothing, tow a trailer when necessary and swallow up large distances in serene comfort. It feels safe and solid and it’s a nice place to sit in. Is it the perfect car, most likely not for everyone, but it just might be perfect for me.