CJ Hubbard | February 2014
Imagine: a BMW X5 that uses less fuel and emits fewer taxation-attracting carbon dioxide molecules than a BMW 1 Series. There must be people in boardrooms doing a little dance at the thought. What joy.
But you don’t need to imagine. We’ve driven it.
The car pictured in all its jazzy camouflage glory here is called the X5 eDrive – though most of the time the BMW technicians and engineers behind the project refer to it as the X5 PHEV (“Pee-hev”). That’s Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle and, ahh, we can see the penny has dropped.
What we’re dealing with here is an X5 with a not-so-dirty secret. For in addition to the regular combustion engine under the bonnet – itself a novelty, as it’s a 2.0-litre TwinPower turbo petrol, making this the first four-cylinder X5 – this SUV has an electric motor hidden in the gearbox, and a battery pack under the boot floor you can charge before leaving the house.
The electrification technology is taken directly from BMW’s i toy shop – the batteries are the same as those found in the i3 and i8, there’s simply fewer of them. Combined with the third-generation X5’s class-leading kerbweight and surprisingly sophisticated aerodynamics, the result is perhaps the best example of the breed we’ve yet driven.
And by breed we mean both plug-in hybrid and BMW X5.
What is the 2014 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV prototype like to drive?
The X5 eDrive is, at this stage, only a prototype. But the ambition is sincere, and at BMW’s Miramas testing facility in France, there are two identical examples available for us to sample. And while they’re limited to a test circuit driving only, this particular circuit is a lengthy ribbon of tight and twisting tarmac, packed with elevation changes. So not a bad approximation of a freshly resurfaced British B-road. Nice.
It’s quickly clear that this is a great plug-in hybrid. In “Max eDrive” it stays on the electric motor alone until you either run out of battery or stamp the throttle to the floor – at which point the petrol engine joins in, instantly, unfussily but with decisive thrust. Around town it’s doubtful you’ll need to trouble this very often, however, as the electric motor’s instant torque makes light work of the X5’s bulk.
Leave the system in the default setting, and it will choose the best time to use petrol or electric power – plot a route using the satnav and this intelligence will even go so far as to optimise its energy use accordingly. Depending on driving mode setting – Eco Pro, Comfort or Sport – the electric motor can assist or even boost the petrol engine’s performance. Alternatively, “Save Battery” keeps the electric juice in reserve for urban spaces and other low emissions zones.
What makes the eDrive such a good X5 is the redistribution of mass. It is marginally heavier than a standard X5, but the four-cylinder engine up front is mounted way back and low down in the chassis, which means you have less weight in the nose attempting to pull you straight on in the turns. Instead, the PHEV changes direction with a keenness the 3.0-litre X5 M50d leading us round Miramas can only jealously admire.
On paper, combined system output is around 200hp and 258lb ft; the delivery such that it feels far livelier in practice.
Is the 2014 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV prototype really more efficient than a 1 Series?
Although the X5 eDrive’s battery pack is smaller than that fitted in the i3 or i8, it still gives this full-size SUV enough oomph to cover approximately 18 miles on electricity alone. That’s 30km in European, a figure chosen by BMW because research suggests it would account for the vast majority of business commutes. A full charge is reckoned to take three to four hours on a regular domestic supply, much less using a dedicated electric car charger.
The idea that you can run on electricity for such significant periods does wonderful things for economy and emissions figures – especially in terms of the synthetic tests that govern the official results carmakers get to put in their brochures and advertisements. In the case of this X5, for example, BMW is looking at 89g/km and 72mpg. Even the 1 Series EfficientDynamics only manages 99g/km.
To expect 72mpg in reality is probably optimistic. But consider all the short, electric-only journeys you could do, and it starts to seem more feasible. On top of which, the eDrive gets an eight-speed gearbox, variable brake energy recuperation and the benefit of some remarkable aerodynamics. Working the air over every section of the X5, BMW has drag down to just 0.31Cd – a figure that seems almost unfeasibly low for such a large vehicle. Look closely at all the vents and the trailing edges of the bodywork, and you’ll start to appreciate how this has been done.
If you’re like us, by this point you’ll be struggling to see the downside to the PHEV approach. Admittedly, boot space is reduced a little, as the batteries had to go somewhere – but BMW is working hard to retain a flat loading area and not quite all of the under floor storage has gone.
The interior is every bit as swish as you’d demand from this class of premium vehicle, with the added bonus of a few extra buttons and some additional energy flow information displays for the central iDrive screen. And you still get the reassurance of xDrive four-wheel drive.
MR VERDICT: 2014 BMW X5 eDRIVE PHEV PROTOTYPE
There’s a snag coming – two, in fact.
The first is that the X5 eDrive is still at least a year from going on sale. Although this is also bad news for the competition, since it means BMW has another 12 months of refinements to make on a machine that already seems like a class-leading product.
The second is the inevitable price premium that this kind of technology demands. For business users – surely the primary target – this will be offset by a ridiculously low benefit-in-kind rating produced by that impressive fuel economy target and ultra-low amount of CO2.
- Porsche Panamera S e-Hybrid
- Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
- BMW X5 diesel
- Porsche Cayenne Hybrid
- Lexus RX450h
Specification 2014 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV prototype
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol with electric motor
Drivetrain eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Prices from £60,000 approx
Power 200hp (TBC)
Torque 258lb ft (TBC)
0-62mph 6.0 seconds (est)
Top speed 155mph (est)
MPG 72mpg (target)
CO2 89g/km (target)