Amazing how quickly time and technology change things. It used to be an EV was a golf cart, and a hybrid was one of the agrarian looking Toyota Prius models. The good thing is, there are a lot of talented engineers that work for the automakers, and the vehicles we get today are exciting and fun – no matter what may be under the hood. And a perfect example of today’s performance hybrid is the 2021 BMW X5 with the all-new 45e plug-in hybrid system.
If you were expecting something for the Birkenstock and Bean Sprout crowd, the X5 will surprise you. It’s big, bold and sporty. While we feel the latest generation of X3 has gone a bit smooth and soft, the X5 retains the sharp-creased lines it has had in the past.
Up front, the BMW kidneys are super-sized like the BMW 430i we recently tested, but it seems to work well with the aggressive, larger than life feeling it projects. Also like our 430i, our tester was an M Sport model, which adds huge intakes that help balance things out. We especially liked the signature LED headlights, which glow a cool blue as running lights – a subtle hint to the hybrid powertrain under the hood.
The profile is equally sporty, with muscular fender bulges, scooped-out doors, and an aggressive shoulder line that give a coupe-like stance. And the optional 21-inch M Y-spoke bi-color wheels may just be the most gorgeous set of kicks we’ve ever seen on a BMW. Made all the tastier with the optional Sport Brakes with blue calipers poking out between the spokes.
Out back, it’s traditional BMW M Sport, with wraparound LED taillights, scooped-out rear panel and massive dual exhausts poking out from under the blacked-out fascia. The proverbial cherry on top was the X5’s gorgeous Arctic Grey Metallic paint. Rich, upscale, it shifts a little depending on the light. It made our tester look like a million bucks! One beautiful SUV!
First Class Accommodations
Inside the X5 is a thriller as well. Taking a page out of stunning high-end interiors like those found in the Volvo XC90, the big BMW gives away a little bit of sport but trades full on in elegance. That impression is highlighted by the Ivory White Vernasca leather, which is gorgeous – but we still question white leather in a vehicle that’s going to be hauling kids, dogs, gear, and more. When it looks this good, it might be worth it!
Also worth the trouble is the optional M Sport Package, which includes supportive sport seats, a thick M Sport steering wheel, anthracite headliner and SensaTec (faux leather to you and me) Dashboard. The optional Multi-contour front seats are superb, and a bargain at $750. We were also spoiled by heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel – and get this – heated armrests!
Our tester was a very spacious and comfortable 2-row model – a 3rd row seat is optional, but should just be for kids. There’s plenty of cargo spacious with the 2nd row up, and the easy to fold rear seats open up a huge cargo bay. It should be noted that you do lose a few cubic feet of cargo with the Hybrid’s battery pack, but we barely noticed. You will notice the X5’s clamshell tailgate – nice, since it makes a smaller door that swings up, and the lower gate powers down. Fancy.
Instrumentation falls in line with current BMW school of thought, like our recent 430i Coupe. A full digital dashboard – yes it still has the counterclockwise tach – and massive touch screen info-tainment system. Both displays are a generous 12.3 inches. While BMW’s iDrive controller is excellent and easily understood, we found it even easier to just use the touchscreen to access most of the key features. Our tester also had gesture control where you wave your hand in front of the screen to activate featues, but we didn’t find it especially useful. We’re old-school – a touchscreen is just fine.
All the latest connectivity is included, and we especially loved the wireless Apple CarPlay (Android Auto is standard too). Thanks to the optional Executive Package we found plenty more to love, including panoramic roof, head-up display, wireless charging, gesture control, Wi-Fi hot spot, 4-zone climate control and more. It’s good to be an executive!
Performance Hybrid – with the Emphasis on Performance
Driving is a revelation. While the industry is slowing rethinking hybrids to include performance like our recent RAV4 Prime, it’s been rare that an enthusiast would opt for the hybrid model. The xDrive45e could change all that.
Under the hood is a 282 -hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six, which combined with a 112 hp electric motor creates an impressive 389 horsepower. Nice number, but the real clue to its nature is the mountainous 443 lb.-ft of torque, which makes the X5 jump off the line like a muscle car, and that six-cylinder sounds so sweet being revved. Okay, maybe you’re thinking green. In that case, you’ll appreciate that the 24.0-kWh battery pack can provide up 30 miles of electric-only driving range. You can even go up to 84 mph in EV only mode.
We never got close to that – we were having too much fun sending all that power to the standard all-wheel-drive through the excellent 8-speed automatic. 0-60 in the mid 5’s is pretty exciting in a big SUV like this. And when you put the X5 in Sport, or just nudge the automatic transmission to Sport and the hybrid display on the dash switches over to a 7,000 rpm tachometer. Love that!
If you really live for the hot rod experience, the turbo V6 non-Hybrid XDrive 40i hits 60 mph in under 5 seconds, but the big gun is the V8-powered M50i that hits 60 mph in under 4 seconds. Incredible. You won’t be able to match the efficiency of the X45e, though.
The X5 is also great fun on a twisty road. It may look like a big bus, but at its heart this is a sport sedan. The ride is excellent and well controlled – the adaptive suspension doles out everything from creamy smooth, to enthusiast-worthy Sport settings. We’ll go with Sport Mode, thanks – it dives into turns with aplomb, and the steering feel is excellent. Our tester’s optional Sport Brakes were strong partners, with good feel and loads of stopping power. All combined, BMW has gotten its chassis Mojo back!
When you’re pulling family-wagon duty, you’ll appreciate standard safety features including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert and standard lane departure warning. Our tester also had the Extended Traffic Jam Assistant to help in the stop-and-go that we all have to deal with in the daily commute.
Big SUV, Big Price?
Like most European models, it depends how you option it. Your best bang-for-buck is the XDrive40i, starting at $61,700 (a 2wd version is $2,300 less), and it’s a super strong competitor to Audi’s Q5 and Volvo XC90.
The Plug-in Hybrid X5 xDr45e starts at $65,400, but our tester was loaded like we won the Powerball, with goodies including Driver Assistance Professional Package, Executive Package, M Sport Package, M Sport Brakes, and other nice things like Multi-Contour Seats, front and rear heated seats, heated armrests, heated steering wheel and more. Add in $995 for destination, and we rang the bell at an eye-watering $81,695.
The Europeans have embraced plug-in hybrids, so you could look at the Volvo XC90 T8 comparable at $79,210. It’s a little less, but you’ll only get a paltry 19 miles of EV range. If you live for luxury and design, we’d opt for the Swede. If you’re an enthusiast, the BMW’s performance wins the day.
Thrilling Performance, pure EV range, style and luxury. The 2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e is the ultimate driving plug-in hybrid SUV!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.