So you want a BMW plug-in hybrid. Well, the X5 45e is an excellent place to start, vastly superior to the 40e version it replaces. The 40’s gasoline contribution to the PHEV powertrain was BMW’s little 2.0-litre turbocharged four which, while a superb powerplant for some of Munich’s smaller products, was, even when mated to an electric motors, a little over-matched by the X5’s size and heft. The 282 horsepower version of the inline six is much better suited to the X5 45e’s 2,510 kilograms especially when combined with the 80-kilowatt electric motor for a total of 389 horses.
Indeed, the most impressive thing about the 45e is the silky smoothness of the powertrain. BMW has little experience in the hybrid realm — at least compared with Toyota — but the 45e melds gasoline and electric powerplants like it has the experience of 16 million vehicles (the number of HEVs that Toyota has produced since 2000). Engine and motor — that’s gas and electric respectively in case you haven’t been following the latest automotive terminology — meld in one absolutely seamless pas de deux, the electric motor’s vibe-free output almost matched by the perfectly balanced inline six. If you’re looking for an excuse to buy the plug-in X5 over any other luxury PHEV, it is this seamless blend of power that is the 45e’s best foot forward.
A little more disappointing — and probably only by comparison — is the X5’s performance in its EV mode. When the 45e came out, there were reports from Europe — whose lax WLTP rating system allows manufacturers to exaggerate both range and fuel consumption — that it could eke out almost 50 miles on electrons alone.
Not a chance! 40 kilometres were more like it in the coldest day of March. Maybe there’s 45 kilometres in it on a warm, battery-friendly summer day, but I think that’s about it. Considering there’s 24 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion onboard, that doesn’t speak to exemplary efficiency. In fact, it works out to about 60 kWh/100 km which is definitely not something to write home about. As well, unlike, say, a Toyota RAV4 Prime, where the electric motors are more powerful than it’s little 2.5L gas engine, here it’s the other way around, the 111 horses of electric power dwarfed by the gas engine’s 282-hp. It’s not really noticeable around town where there’s more than enough electric grunt to run in EV mode alone. But, at highways speeds, the gas motor sometimes has to jump in when the electric motor runs out of jam.
Of course, there’s more to any BMW than just electric motor and smooth operation. For one thing, the 45e sacrifices none of the X5’s Ultimate Driving Machine handling compared to its non-electrified counterparts. For another, it’s masterfully luxurious inside, the ride is comfortable and the infotainment system much improved over previous years. It is even, at least by BMW’s rather lofty standards, fairly affordable at $83,500. There’s not a lot out there offering better value in the luxury PHEV segment.
But there is something faster if you are willing to spend Porsche money. That, of course, would be either electrified version of the ubiquitous Cayenne. Now, to make this even remotely fair, I’ll eliminate the Turbo S E-Hybrid from the comparison — but isn’t it lovely to think of something with 670 horsepower as “green” — and stick with the lesser E-Hybrid version which is, frankly speaking, not that much lesser. Thanks to a 355-hp, 3.0 V6 Turbo and a 134-hp electric motor, Porsche says there’s 455 horsepower underfoot, good enough to scoot the big Cayenne to 100 kilometres an hour in just 5.0 seconds, about half a tick-tock quicker than the Bimmer. On the other hand, the Porsche’s battery is smaller with 17.9 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion, though that is an upgrade from last year’s 14.2 kWh version. Porsche is not saying exactly how far it can range on electrons alone, but it’d be a fair guess that, while it’s more than the previous model’s 20 klicks, it will be less than the BMW’s 40 km of electric autonomy. My estimate? 28 kilometres.
Like the BMW, there’s more to the Cayenne than simply hybrid powertrains. Like the X5, it’s a luxurious beast, though perhaps a little more Spartan in its hedonism. I prefer the BMW’s infotainment system, but for those who prefer physical buttonry to digital submenus, the Porsche does accommodate. They’re both roomy for passengers, but the Cayenne can carry more cargo… except when all the seats are down when it turns out the BMW is more commodious. And lastly, this Cayenne plug-in starts at $93,800 and the gap between the two will only widen as you add accessories since Porsche is the master of over-priced options.
Since I’m shopping plug-in, why not go all the way to a fully battery-powered EV? Three choices fit the bill here: Jaguar’s I-Pace, Ford’s Mustang Mach-E and Tesla’s Model X. The Jag is probably the best handling of the trio, weighing less than the other two and having better mass centralization. Unfortunately, its maximum charging rate — 100 kW — is not in keeping with its station and price nor its 90 kWh battery. To be perfectly frank, the I-Pace has become something of an orphan. Not many have been sold which may make service and parts availability an issue. If you want exclusivity at a relatively decent price — $91,000 — the I-Pace you park in your driveway will be the only one in the neighbourhood, that’s a good thing. If you crave affirmation — stand up all you Tesla cultists — you’ll be left sadly wanting.
So that leaves the Ford and the Tesla. Putting aside range — mainly because Tesla’s official range ratings are so exaggerated — the decision comes down to price, quality and size. The Ford excels in the first two but the Model X, despite both running on fairly similar wheelbases, is significantly larger overall and has 40 per cent more cargo capacity when the seats are folded. Surprisingly, other than in headroom, the X’s greater size does not offer the passengers noticeably more spacious seating. I suspect the choice would come down to pricing and/or charging. The Ford is significantly cheaper, the X’s $124,900 asking price far beyond even the top-of-the-line Mach-E’s asking price. On the other hand, the Tesla Model X charges faster — 250 kW versus 150 kW for the Ford — and there are plenty of Supercharger stations to support your Tesla-ing.
You want an X5, but without all the electrons. I’d go with the M50i version which, at 93,000, is the cheapest way you can get into a V8-powered X5 (the X5M, at more than $130,000, is just silly) and is just $9,500 more than the 45e. I would not bother with the xDrive 40i version since it is, at $77,500, just six grand cheaper than the fully-plugged in 45e. By that measure, the PHEV is truly a bargain.
The M50i, not quite so cheap, at least offers a boost in power to 523-hp and a deep throaty roar from its twin-turbo V8. Scooting to 100 kilometres an hour is a full second quicker than the 45e (and quicker than the similarly Cayenne E-Hybrid if you’ve been paying attention). All that said, I’d still take the 45e version. I like the idea of emissions-free motoring in town, even if it doesn’t result in dramatically better fuel economy, the PHEV has more than enough power and its powertrain is, if anything, smoother than BMW’s much acclaimed V8.