2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e first drive review Page 2

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The fundamentals are all clearly here, with a 9.2-kwh lithium ion battery pack that can be charged to full in less than two hours with Level 2 (240V) charging or around 7 hours on a standard 120V household plug.

Tesla Model X rival? Definitely not.

Now as for that impression that we weren’t meant to tap into those all-electric capabilities, look at the interface; there’s not a lot of encouragement in it. Every time you start the X5 plug-in—even if there’s a full charge—it defaults to the AUTO eDrive setting, which runs the vehicle in a smart hybrid mode, using the electric charge generously when EV operation is deemed the most efficient, then turning the gasoline engine on at higher speeds, of around 45 mph or more.

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e - first drive review, May 2016

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e - first drive review, May 2016

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There’s really no way through menus or settings to have the xDrive40e default to being an electric vehicle when it’s fully charged up; you simply have to remember to hit the eDrive button on the center console with each start—but we'd advise avoiding the Eco Pro mode and its softened, laggy responses.

And the entire time you’re driving in pure electric mode, the big tachometer sits there at zero revs—reminding you that you don’t have to be such a spoil sport.

There’s also, by the way, a SAVE Battery mode, which lets you save or actually build back up a charge. We didn’t test this mode; but it’s only really of use in the U.S. if you’re driving into a major metro area, like New York or Washington, D.C., and plan to be moving at very low speed.

Quiet and underwhelming while the engine’s off

Secondly, the xDrive40e simply isn’t a lot of fun to drive in its all-electric mode. With its 111-hp electric motor acceleration happens at a reasonably brisk, silent rate up to around 30 mph, at which point you’ll find your right foot digging deep to get the sort of acceleration that’s considered normal for a vehicle like the X5. EV-only top speed is 75 mph, and it’s slow going leading up to that.

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e - first drive review, May 2016

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e - first drive review, May 2016

Enlarge Photo

Oh, just don’t floor the accelerator. Do so—push past the detent and hold it—and the X5 plug-in busts out of its pure-EV painted prison cell and goes back to AUTO eDrive mode.

Perhaps the strangest thing about driving the xDrive40e in its all-electric mode is feeling the transmission shift up through its gears, with motor power. Somehow it feels like just another assurance that BMW wants to be ready with the gasoline engine at any instant, and that it doesn’t trust the electrics to be all alone.

Just drive it—quickly—and you’ll be rewarded

As much as this vehicle feels like a poseur as an EV, it’s a fully fleshed out, well-engineered vehicle that’s perky and fun to drive in that AUTO mode it defaults to. Click over to the Sport mode and the system really comes into its own, with the electric motor providing boost like a supercharger and even acting to smooth shifts.

In this model, the entire system makes 308 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque.

The simplified, modular approach works just fine for performance. We found only two reproducible powertrain hiccups in our test vehicle; one of them was a part-throttle shudder during moderate acceleration in second or third gear. The other was simply a painful pause in power delivery if we were already accelerating lightly, without the engine on, and suddenly ordered up a lot more power. Hearing the engine crank (via what’s called an “integrated starting element” here) and be clutched into the mix was the mechanically transparent soundtrack to that experience.


 
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