Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are super- efficient for short commutes to work or quick trips around town. And research shows that fuel efficiency is a top consumer priority these days.
There are more than a dozen different plug-in hybrid electric models available now, joining an earlier generation of battery electric vehicles. Additional plug-in hybrids are expected from Toyota (Prius), Mitsubishi (Outlander), General Motors (Bolt), Hyundai (Sonata), Kia (Optima) and Chrysler (Town & Country). Vehicles’ electric-only driving ranges will vary.
While the market share of all hybrids is still small, the growth of alternative-energy vehicles has been spurred by a government requirement for automakers to improve their overall fleet-average fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025. The EPA mandate will further reduce U.S. oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
BMW is making a commitment to introduce plug-in electric hybrids across its product line to help the company meet the strict EPA standards. I wanted to drive one of the company’s new plug-in sport utility hybrids and was offered a 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e model for a week.
My 2016 xDrive40e plug-in combines a turbocharged 240-horsepower four-cylinder engine with an 100-horsepower electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery—all integrated into an 8-speed automatic transmission. Working in concert, the engine and motor put out 308 horsepower to get the vehicle from zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds. For manual shifting, the X5 is available with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
The hybrid also has BMW’s excellent all-wheel-drive system for maximum stability and traction.
The efficiency of the vehicle’s hybrid system jumped out at me from the window sticker: 56 MPGe, according to the combined electricity and gasoline fuel economy rating by the EPA for city/highway driving. The gasoline-only rating is 24 mpg. BMW says its plug-in XS model will go approximately 14 miles on pure electric power, with zero tailpipe emissions.
The lithium-ion high-voltage battery pack can be topped off from any 15-amp 120-volt outlet or from public charging stations. It takes about two hours and 45 minutes to fully recharge an empty battery pack using the charging cable provided in the trunk. The plug-in access portal is on the left side of the front fender. It’s the only noticeable difference from the exterior of the non-hybrid XS model.
Given its four-cylinder engine, I was anxious—and a little skeptical—to see how well this nearly 5,100-pound SUV would accelerate and handle. My skepticism quickly evaporated when I stepped on the pedal. The response was quick, strong and exhilarating during my entire week behind the wheel. The vehicle’s top speed is governed at 130 mph.
The powertrain has three modes. When you start the engine, the AUTO eDrive mode is engaged, with the engine and electric motor working quite efficiently in tandem. The electric motor alone is used for setting off. The engine cuts in at around
45 mph, or when you accelerate briskly. It’s a smooth transition.
The MAX eDrive mode is powered solely by the electric motor. This setting offers you a maximum range of 14 miles at a top speed of 76 mph. The third mode, SAVE Battery, allows you to save or build up the high-voltage battery’s energy reserves for later.
After I mastered those powertrain options I explored the three chassis settings: Comfort, Sport and EcoPro. All of them are on other BMW sport utility vehicles as well. The EcoPro setting shuts off the engine when your foot is off the accelerator, allowing the vehicle to glide without burning any fuel. Nice feature.
My test BMW plug-in hybrid was kitted out with many of the same luxury features and options you’ll find in its non-hybrid siblings, including cold-weather heating, a moon roof, surround view, park-distance control, a navigation system, an audio system, and many others amenities.
Driving the new BMW X5 xDrive40e was an enlightening experience. I learned a lot about how innovative technology is improving fuel efficiency options for consumers while also meeting more stringent government regulations for fuel efficiency.
The base price of my test vehicle is $62,100—$74,995 with options. The model has a 5-Star Safety Rating from the government. BMW provides maintenance on all factory-recommended service for the first four years or 50,000 miles.