It might seem antithetical, but BMW can build a fantastic luxury isolation tank.
Bluster all you like, but the automaker that built the E31 8 Series and E46 3 Series is gone for good, replaced by a BMW that understands today’s consumers want power and handling, sure, but are willing to compromise overall driving dynamics slightly for style and comfort. And while the 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e may not offer the sparkle of those legends, it shows the company can still hit the bullseye even when chasing a moving target.
The Bavarian plug-in hybrid midsize SUV (they call it a Sports Activity Vehicle) competes in a small class, including the two-row Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid and Range Rover Sport PHEV, as well as the three-row XC90 T8 Plug-In Hybrid and Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring. Among this varied set, the BMW earns high marks for its smooth powertrain, excellent highway ride comfort, and posh interior, as well as competitive pricing that’s right in line with Volvo and Lincoln, but much lower than Porsche and Range Rover. It also doesn’t deprive its driver of such BMW-expected virtues as a balanced chassis, plenty of power, and Teutonic style.
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In no area does BMW polarize more than styling, but the X5 is one of the more conventionally handsome vehicles in the company’s repertoire. Conjoined-kidney grilles and squinting, four-element headlights immediately convey the SUV’s heritage, although the current X5 gets an unusual shoulder crease that splits in two just above the rear wheel, instead of BMW’s formerly common single horizontal body line. The narrow taillights are another concession to current trends, though the LED accents within the enclosure keep their Bavaria-spec L shape). The X5’s signature sloping rear hatch remains, as does a modern version of the Hofmeister kink.
Slipping behind the wheel, it’s clear that you’re riding in a modern Bimmer. A trapezoidal infotainment display butts up against a digital instrument cluster, both standard on the xDrive45e and measuring 12.3 inches across. It seems that BMW’s interior decorators spent lots of time brushing up on high school geometry before putting pen to paper, with a climate control binnacle and vent shape that matches that of the “Aluminum Tetragon” trim on the dash and center console. The overall design isn’t to everyone’s tastes (your author, ever stuck in the past, prefers the more austere cabin of the E39 M5), but most people love it.
Our M Sport-equipped tester includes gorgeous Y-spoke 21-inch wheels, more aggressive bumper and rocker panel designs, and body-color (instead of plastic-clad) accents. Inside, there’s a pleasantly thick M-branded steering wheel, set off from a SensaTec faux-leather dashboard and door panels. Like all of the brand’s greatest vehicles, the modern X5 shows undeniable attention to detail, with excellent panel gaps inside and out, plus extensive leather and soft-touch materials in the cabin. This tester also gets a crystal shift knob and glass iDrive controls that impressed everyone on board.
Those wonderfully unusual interior materials are but one contributor to the X5 xDrive45e’s imperious on-road comfort. The multi-mode shocks and self-leveling air suspension provide a smooth ride, even over pockmarked roads and concrete expansion joints, without sacrificing body control or subjecting passengers to floaty motions. The front and rear seats are supportive and comfortable for long hauls (and heated in the four outboard positions). Meanwhile, the pilot and shotgun get treated to a heated steering wheel and armrest, seat ventilation, and multi-contour massage functionality that actually does a decent job of easing tired muscles.
The measuring tape reveals 39.8 inches of legroom and 40.8 inches of headroom up front, with 37.4 inches of legroom and 38.7 inches of headroom in back. Those numbers are competitive with all of its rivals save the larger Aviator, but you’re not likely to hear complaints from anyone riding in the back of any midsize luxury SUV. The BMW boasts a maximum of 72.3 cubic feet of cargo room, more than the Porsche Cayenne (56.8), Range Rover Sport (61.3), and Volvo XC90 (64.1), but again, the Lincoln beats all with 77.7 cubes. Notably, the X5 PHEV doesn’t get an optional (and tiny) third-row seat like its gas-only siblings.
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BMW’s modern tech suite is absolutely beautiful to behold, with sharp graphics appearing on both the center display and the digital instruments (which are extensively reconfigurable, by the way). Passengers can interact with the iDrive 7.0 infotainment system by an accurate and quick-responding touchscreen, natural-speech voice prompts, or the console-mounted knob with an embedded trackpad on top. BMW’s corporate iDrive system gets better every generation, but the most modern version still has too many tiered submenus, so quick adjustments to the drive mode, audio system, or navigation are something of a chore.
However, that’s really the only complaint we can levy at the X5 xDrive45e’s tech suite, and it’s one that might be solved with an over-the-air update sometime in the future. Otherwise, there were lots of productivity and convenience toys, including our example’s wireless charging, wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, gesture controls, and upgraded Harman Kardon audio (all included in the optional Executive package). The sound system is a solid piece of engineering, though we noted some hissing when streaming audio via Spotify or Apple Music. Range Rover’s Meridian and Porsche’s Burmester systems are cleaner.
With a route active on the navigation system, the plug-in X5 uses road information to decide how best to use electric and internal-combustion power. For example, it might opt to use EV mode more frequently in town, where fuel savings and emissions reductions will be most effective. If the route includes high-speed highway driving, the X5 will primarily use its gas engine for propulsion, even charging the EV battery in low-load situations or when coasting downhill.
It’s a shame that BMW’s former raison d’etre has become one of its least impressive traits, but in the case of the X5, performance just isn’t a huge priority. Our chief complaint rests on the brakes, which can’t quite manage the handoff from electrical regeneration to friction braking very smoothly. The brake pads abruptly engage with light pedal pressure at about 20 miles per hour, resulting in some embarrassing head toss when approaching a traffic light from half a block away, for example.
Even on this M Sport model, handling definitely leans toward comfort instead of performance. To the X5’s credit, body motions are well-controlled and there’s plenty of grip, but there’s little steering feel nor anything else to encourage hard, enthusiastic driving. Those who love an early-morning canyon blast would be much happier in the admittedly more expensive Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid.
However, the X5 does carry on one family tradition with vigor. Its powertrain is likely the smoothest of any electrified vehicle in this category thanks to one BMW hallmark – its 3.0-liter inline-six engine. Bolstered by a twin-scroll turbocharger and an eDrive electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission, the powertrain makes a combined 389 horsepower and 443 pound-feet. The X5 provides that thrust with zero histrionics, thanks to instant EV torque off the line that relents to easy turbocharged power at higher speeds. The eight-speed automatic is near-telepathic too, making the shift paddles redundant.
Every BMW X5 comes standard with automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring, while our tester came with the Driving Assistance Professional package. At $1,700, the feature is a must-have for any traffic-prone commuter, comprising lane centering, stop-and-go functionality, automatic lane changes, and Evasion Aid (which works by monitoring the reactions of pedestrians and other drivers to potential hazards). It’s not hands-free, but it’s still great at reducing driver fatigue and building in an additional layer of road safety.
The X5 xDrive45e comes with a full complement of airbags and electronic stability controls, as well as BMW LaserLight LED headlight technology with automatic high beams.
The BMW X5 xDrive45e has an EPA-rated EV range of 30 miles per charge, which contributes to its 51 miles per gallon equivalent rating. But here’s the kicker on the plug-in hybrid X5. When running on hybrid power, it actually gets worse fuel economy than either of its gas-only inline-six X5 siblings, at 21 mpg combined (versus 24 mpg for the rear-drive sDrive40i or 23 mpg for the all-wheel-drive xDrive40i). That’s a hard pill to swallow, particularly since the electrified vehicle’s added weight negates any additional power it offers. Like other plug-in versions of conventional vehicles, nightly charging is essential for cost savings.
That sacrifice in hybrid fuel efficiency was a deliberate move on BMW’s part, since the larger, heavier battery yields a much longer EV range than its four-cylinder predecessor or any other luxury hybrid SUV. The Porsche Cayenne will do 16 miles between charges, the Range Rover Sport and Volvo XC90 can eke out 18 miles, and the Lincoln Aviator goes 20 miles. Keeping the X5 juiced up will also prevent the wallet hit that comes with its premium fuel requirement.
Along with its roots in inline-six power, the BMW X5 doesn’t forget the famed Bavarian art of expensive optional extras. The xDrive45e starts at a reasonable $65,400, comparing nicely to the $63,450 Volvo XC90 Recharge and undercutting the $69,070 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring, $81,800 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, and $83,000 Range Rover Sport PHEV. But a long list of optional extras and a $995 destination charge ballooned our tester’s price to $81,695. Still, even extremely well-equipped, the X5 is cheaper than a stripped Range Rover or Porsche.
The M Sport package is far and away the most expensive piece of kit on our tester, costing $5,500, plus $950 for the upgraded 21-inch wheels (20s are standard) and $650 for a brake upgrade with blue calipers. Folks on a budget could probably skip all three and not lose out much in the way of performance or handling verve. However, the $4,050 Executive package includes lots of nice-to-haves on a vehicle in this class, including a panoramic roof with LED accents, rear window shades, four-zone climate control, adaptive LED headlights, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and wireless charging. We’d also spec the Driving Assistant Professional pack.
Equipped with less vanity and an eye toward features, a luxurious plug-in BMW X5 would cost about $75,000, making it more attractive to Volvo and Lincoln cross-shoppers. Meanwhile, those who might otherwise find themselves in the Range Rover or Cayenne would appreciate the value proposition of an X5 with M Sport styling (plus a spare used Miata for canyon runs). In any case, this 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e is a wonderful vehicle, excelling on the basis of its turbine-smooth powertrain, peerless interior fitments, lavish tech and safety suite, and excellent on-road comfort. This is the new BMW, and it’s not all that bad.
- Land Rover Range Rover Sport PHEV: Not Rated
- Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring: 9.2/10
- Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid: Not Rated
- Volvo XC90 Recharge: 8.7/10
Gallery: 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV Review
2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e