Thursday 27 October 2016

Why you need a PHEV warning with this X5

Battery pack rules out third row of seats

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

BMW x5
BMW x5

I think it is only right that this review of the BMW X5 xDrive40e carries a PHEV warning. As you probably know, PHEV stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. The concept of the whole thing is brilliant; you can charge it at home or at the office so it gets you 30km or so on cheap, electrical charge.

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Then the engine kicks in and, while driving, charges the battery, too - just like a hybrid such as the Toyota Prius does.

But there is a catch, and considering the number of PHEVs in production or planned by so many carmakers, it is only right I bring that to your notice.

I did so a few weeks back with the Volvo XC90 plug-in and was praised and criticised (for being negative) in equal measure. But it is important and I hope you'll bear with me one more time.

Basically, my advice to you is not to buy this if you are just going to drive it as a 2-litre petrol. You are wasting money and ignoring an excellent piece of innovation.

I drove it to Belfast and back as well as extensively around Dublin and, like with the Volvo, never once plugged it in. I still got the equivalent of nearly 800kms. But I did drive unusually thriftily - almost as a nod to my laziness in not getting out the flex and plugging.

Had I bothered to even charge it before leaving for Belfast, when up there and even a few times back home, I could have added another 150kms to my total. That is what it is supposed to be all about. Obviously it is a more attractive proposition if you have a modest commute because you could, technically, get to and from work on a charge either side. You can top up the lithium-ion battery pack from your home power socket, public charging station or a BMW i Wallbox.

BMW claim this X5 is capable of 80mpg+ (petrol and electric). Of course that is unrealistic in every-day driving. But for an 'official' figure to even suggest it is attainable under studio conditions is an achievement for a large luxury Sports Activity Vehicle.

Okay, that's the preaching over. My conscience is clear: you have been warned. Buy a PHEV and plug in. Buy a diesel and don't.

The X5 PHEV has 4WD and combines a 2-litre 4cyl turbo petrol engine and an electric motor (within the 8spd transmission). It uses much of the technology from the i8 supercar and electric i3.

The engine and motor produce a combined total of 313bhp. The road tax is just €170 - yes, for a large SUV. Lots of city/smaller cars pay more tax. And by golly it can be quick: 0-100kmh in 6.8 seconds.

There are a few downsides. Because the battery pack is at the rear you can't have seven seats; there simply isn't the room. They say it adds balance to the car, but I'd say it is a weighty addition and if you are going to have it, then use it to cut your driving costs.

The other complaint came from rear-seat passengers. They said there was a lot of road/tyre and wind noise. I was completely unaware of it, which is one of the reasons I nearly always get someone to sit in when I'm testing, if only for half an hour.

In this case it was for the best part of a five-hour round-trip. I could not complain about wind noise. The sunroof may have contributed.

Other than that, there wasn't much to distinguish this from your 'conventional' X5: loads of room out front, excellent sporty chassis for taut handling and I thought the seats were exceptional. It remains a particularly pleasing car to drive. Perhaps it's less sharp in the handling than its predecessor generally, though my M Sport's adaptive suspension gave it great edge.

There is no getting away from this PHEV revolution. We just need to access it for the right reasons rather than pretending we're 'green' and showing off, benefiting from lower VRT, road tax and price.

Ironically, the X5's total emissions are just above the 75g/km grant barrier that would have knocked thousands more off its price.

But I bet you we'll see that technical barrier broken before we traverse the mental one of using PHEVs as they were intended.

Facts & figures

BMW X5 xDrive40e Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle (PHEV), M Sport.

1,997cc petrol engine/electric motor: combined total of 313bhp.

0-100 kmh in 6.8 secs, 3.4lit/100km (83.1mpg), 78g/km, €170 road tax.

Price from €80,690. Extras push it to €89,500. SEAI grant of €2,500 means test car costs €87,000.

Spec includes: cold weather package, seat heating, 20ins alloys, adaptive M suspension, reversing camera, panoramic sunroof, front sport seats, high-beam assist, surround-view, Harman/Kardon surround sound, internet, Bluetooth/USB/voice control.

My side of the road

Just an observation. We are 'booting' hundreds of euro down the drain. Here's why. We don't lift stuff into the boots of our cars, we shove it in, scratching the bootlip and bumper in the process. I see it any time I'm in a shopping-centre car park. Every scratch knocks money off your car's worth. So lift, or get someone to do it for you. A little effort will save a lot of money.

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