BMW revives the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) version of its X5 for a second outing, putting the petrol-electric running gear into the fourth-gen shell of the big, premium SUV. But a subtle alteration to the number in its model badge - from '40' on the predecessor to '45' here - hides a big change that has made this arguably the pick of the current X5 range...
In the metal
Well, the X5 xDrive45e looks very, very much like any other conventionally powered X5. This, though, is a good thing, because the Mk4 X5 (codename G05) is a handsome old beast and it's the reason we were so hard on the related X6 for its aesthetics. Seriously, looking at this or the coupe-SUV, and then thinking the X6 is better is just... wrong.
So, aside from a subtle boot badge and the extra flap on the front wing for the electrical charging port, it's pretty much as you were for the stately X5. Same on the inside, where the company's excellent but not faultless interior is enhanced by some additional hybrid-related displays and a few extra buttons for electrical drive modes, while much of the practicality of this family-oriented machine is preserved - it loses 150 litres of boot space, second-row seats up or down, to non-hybrid X5s. However, like the previous-gen X5 PHEV, you can't option up seven seats in this xDrive45e; it's a five-seat vehicle only.
What BMW has done here is the same thing that happened to the 7 Series PHEV during its recent facelift. The old 2.0-litre, four-cylinder TwinPower Turbo petrol engine has gone, replaced by a 3.0-litre inline-six turbocharged unit that's - quite frankly - much more like it. Power is up from a system peak 313hp on the old four-cylinder X5 PHEV to a much healthier 394hp here, while torque also leaps from 450Nm previously to 600Nm for the six-cylinder hybrid. This is good news, as the weight of the vehicle has also increased, from around 2.3 tonnes before to 2,510kg now.
Nevertheless, all the key numbers of the X5 xDrive45e are improved. Adding that straight-six power slashes a massive 1.2 seconds from the 0-100km/h time, while an enlarged 24kWh (gross, 20.9kWh net) lithium-ion battery increases the WLTP-ratified range of the PHEV to a maximum of 87km (it was 31km previously, and that was on the far less strict NEDC regime...) while reducing CO2 emissions from 77g/km to anything between 27- and 44g/km. The fuel consumption has been bettered from 3.3 litres/100km (85.6mpg) then to 1.9 litres/100km (148.7mpg) now, the X5 PHEV will do another 15km/h flat out in electric mode with a 135km/h ceiling and it's faster overall at 235km/h plays 210km/h on the old xDrive40e.
So does the above work? Oh, yes. It most emphatically does. And what none of these numbers can tell you is just how much more refined, pleasurable and downright rewarding the xDrive45e is to drive, when compared to its somewhat coarse, rough and ready ancestor. The thing is, even though downsizing is all the rage, there still ain't no replacement for displacement when it comes to a quality, refined drivetrain and that 3.0-litre straight-six petrol turbo is a gem, immediately making the X5 PHEV feel worth its significant price outlay. It's smooth and torquey and rev-hungry and nice to listen to, all in equal measure, which makes tooling around in the X5 xDrive45e a delight. It also makes this BMW, heavier than it was before, actually feel lighter on its feet and more engaging when you decide to drive it hard; good steering and impressive control of its mass mean it's pretty handy in the corners, while you won't doubt it has almost 400hp when you thoroughly press the throttle for the first time.
Of course, the 45e's real forte is driving silently around town, where its standard-fit, twin-axle air suspension with Dynamic Damper Control blesses the car with a cushy ride. We drove it for 75km out of the environs of a congested Munich and into the surrounding countryside - it did 27km on electric power alone in that time, with the range still showing a good 50km of zero-emissions driving still left in the battery, and the overall fuel consumption was... 9.6 litres/100km. OK, that's just 29.4mpg and not the most impressive, but as the remaining 48km of hybrid and petrol-powered driving was done at what can only be described as a brisk lick (including some 200km/h-plus stuff on the Autobahn), then we actually think 30mpg from a 2.5-tonne SUV capable of a 5.6-second 0-100km/h run is nothing short of remarkable. Or, put a slightly more useful way, if you drove it properly and sensibly, with lots of charging, we'd be mighty surprised if you couldn't get a regular 100mpg and more out of it.
Sure, ultimately you still can feel the weight of the X5 xDrive45e in the corners, and there's always a sensation of trying to reel in a lot of hard-charging mass when you use the (reasonably well-modulated) brakes, but overall this is a very likeable luxury SUV to travel about in.
What you get for your money
While not a cheap car at more than €80,000, BMW's level of standard specification is generous these days, so the X5 feels posh from the off. More than that, though, the quirk of our VRT laws means that the 45e is actually the cheapest new X5 of them all, costing €82,310 as an xLine and €86,940 as an M Sport. The next most inexpensive model after that is an xDrive30d xLine at €87,390, a vehicle with 130hp less than this PHEV.
Excellent work, this, by BMW, as fitting the six-cylinder petrol engine to the X5 PHEV was nothing short of a masterstroke. The resulting xDrive45e is a cultured, quiet and powerful SUV, that can return incredible economy figures and float along in near-silence one minute, and yet handle and go (almost) like a true BMW the next. Save for a slight loss of boot space, the inability to have seven seats and a background sensation of weightiness, there's precious little to dislike about this X5 and much to enjoy. It's undoubtedly the pick of the range on the Irish market.