The 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e—that’s the new plug-in hybrid version of the X5 sport-utility vehicle—is going to draw you in with its numbers: 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds; 14 miles in all-electric mode; 24 mpg combined.
The numbers add up to an alluring (and image-greening) idea: that you could charge up each night and have enough of a charge to make your (short) commute without the gasoline engine ever starting—and free of direct tailpipe emissions. Or if your daily driving distance is, as most commuters, quite a bit more than 14 miles round trip, you could potentially plug in at work or while shopping, and do most of your daily-driving tasks on purely via a near-silent EV mode.
But if you’re too focused on the numbers, we’d venture to say that this plug-in X5 isn’t the one for you.
By the time we’d finished a full week with the xDrive40e, we couldn’t shake the impression, based on the interface and based on the way the X5 defaults, that BMW engineers weren’t actually planning for you to *use* that plug-in capability daily.
Out with the mechatronic masterpiece, in with the modular
Before getting into why, here’s a brief outline of what’s under the hood. There’s a 2.0-liter inline-4, essentially the same engine that’s used throughout the BMW lineup, making the same 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. And plenty of familiar components, like BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system, using an electronic multi-plate clutch system to vary the torque that gets sent to the front or rear wheels.
What’s in between doesn’t at all involve the Two-Mode Active Transmission that was installed in the former X6 ActiveHybrid—a powertrain that BMW, modest as they are, still describes as a “mechatronic masterpiece.”
2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e - first drive review, May 2016Enlarge Photo
That masterpiece has been swept aside in favor of something simpler and lighter: an eight-speed plug-in hybrid automatic transmission from supplier ZF. This transmission, which packages a strong (111-hp) electric motor inside the transmission housing, replacing the torque converter completely, was designed as a plug-and-play [pardon] solution for automakers that wouldn’t take up much more space than an existing eight-speed automatic.
The X5 xDrive40e is the first model in the world to offer this transmission, part of a modular hybrid kit from ZF that’s to be used in mild, full, and plug-in hybrid models, perhaps from a range of brands and automakers.