BMW X5 plugs into normality
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Before we all drive EV's, a few technological and societal stepping stones need to beput in place. The BMW X5 xdrive40e is on the right track.
On the surface, the BMW X5 xDrive40e doesn't look much like a plug-in hybrid. That, of course, is its strongest asset.
Sure, the groundswell of interest in Tesla means a lot of people now want their electric vehicle (EV) and even their plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) to at least look Tesla-ish, if not actually be one.
But the key to wider market impact will be an unfussy sense of normality.
With EVs and PHEVs set to reach price parity with upper-range petrol and diesel models in the next four years, the main barrier to ownership will be lessened.
But the mainstream buyer still needs to be convinced the EV or PHEV they're told they need behaves exactly like the car they bought five years ago, only better.
Part of that normality is also entrenched in an effective network of fast-charge points scattered liberally throughout the national highway system.
This is a chicken-and-egg situation where the chickens are evolving and the eggs are being genetically modified in equal measure.
But this aspect of PHEV/EV ownership -- using one efficiently to travel beyond the bounds of the urban shopping and commuter route in a timely fashion - remains far from normal.
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For the mainstream new car buyer to adopt the idea of an electric vehicle as an everyday go-anywhere car, models like the plug-in X5 are important additions.
The BMW isn't the first of its kind. Mitsubishi's Outlander PHEV broke that particular mould some years ago and continues to be a popular choice.
While Toyota continues to put its eggs in the petrol-hybrid basket and Nissan New Zealand has deleted the genre-defining Leaf from the local model mix, it's the Euro brands that are now leading the charge. Pun intended.
In addition to the X5, BMW also sells a plug-in 3 Series and a plug-in 7 Series executive sedan, as well as its iPerformance machines; the i3 city car and i8 hybrid sports car.
Arch-rivals Mercedes-Benz and Audi have their own growing fleets of PHEVs, while Volvo can't get its hands on enough T8 PHEV versions of the XC90 SUV.
Renault has cut to the chase, pushing pure electric vehicles to New Zealand's small but determined Francophile audience.
With the exception of BMW's iPerformance cars, all these models look exactly like their conventionally powered siblings, aside from an extra fuel flap ahead of the front passenger door where you plug it in to recharge.
The X5 xDrive40e looks like an X5. When you sit in it, it has all the sober cabin ambience and space you would associate with an X5.
It drives like an X5, right down to its xDrive all-wheel-drive rough road abilities.
It performs as you would expect on the open road, fits all manner of shopping and sports gear in the back and carries five in the comfort a normal SUV affords.
It doesn't even shout about being the plug-in version with myriad badges.
The X5's biggest competitor would have to be the Volvo XC90 T8, which is of similar proportions, about $15,000 cheaper and offers more power.
It has a Scandi-chic interior that shames the X5 into submission.
Although, with an electric-only range of 22km, the Volvo is hardly a weapon with which to tackle the back roads in wafty, efficient, electric silence.
Then again, the BMW only improves on the XC90's fuel-free-driving score by a scant 8km.
A combination of regenerative braking and coasting at open road speed should top the battery up, although plugging the car into a conventional socket in your garage overnight is the surest way to retain a meaningful charge.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV boasts an electric-only driving range of 50km and costs $60,000, making it a compelling alternative.
But then, would the same buyer be in the market for either the Mitsubishi or the BMW? I might be generalising, but I think not.
Inadvertently BMW's own turbo diesel X5 xDrive30d acts as another competitor for the 40e.
It's nearly $20,000 cheaper, offers up more torque (560Nm versus 450Nm) and boasts a slightly deeper boot, what with its distinct lack of a 100kg battery pack pushing the cargo floor up.
But with the diesel comes road user charges, the plug-in hybrid is faster off the line thanks to the instant torque of its electric motor and it also emits far fewer toxins; 78g/100km versus 156g/100km for the diesel.
BMW has done well with the price on this new plug-in hybrid electric option. Besides the electro-tech, $149,900 gets you a lot of car. It's still an X5 remember, so it comes packed with the premium feature-set you would expect of a German SUV.
The marketing bumpf for the X5 xDrive40e suggests a combined fuel economy figure of 3.4 litres/100km, which is sensational.
It would be even better if it was achievable.
That's not to say it isn't, but outside of a test track environment, real-world driving is never going to get you close.
A spec sheet comparison would suggest the turbo diesel X5 xDrive30d is the more efficient car, with a combined fuel economy figure of 5.9 litres/100km.
But then, is that a real-world score, too? No, it's not. Still, numbers in columns aside, this all adds up to the start of something.
The performance of the EV and PHEV models we'll be seeing here over the next two to three years will improve exponentially, as will our ability to recharge on the go in convenience and with reasonable rapidity.
The BMW X5 xDrive40e is still an early-adopters' conveyance.
But cars like it soon won't be.
And that's exciting.
BMW X5 XDRIVE40E
ENGINE:2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol (combined total power/torque of 180kW/450Nm)
Pro: A 'normal 'plug-in hybrid, X5 fit and finish
Con: Electric-only range not that impressive