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2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV Review: Value Proposition

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV.

The BMW X5 is a pioneer. It was one of the first luxury SUVs, really, and along with the Mercedes M-Class it beat the first Porsche and Audi models to market by a number of years. And over the years, buyers have bought enough of the X5 to make the model the second-best selling BMW in Canada after the X3 (2020 figures).

Not one to rest on their laurels in 2021, BMW has brought the xDrive45e plug-in hybrid version to North America for the first time, and it presents a really tantalizing option if you’re considering an X5, or a luxury SUV in general, and you want to be able to run on electricity at least part of the time.

The 45e starts at $83,500, which puts it pricewise between the xDrive40i and xDrive M50i in the lineup, but there’s more to it than that. You see, adding many of the features that come standard with the 45e – the four-corner air suspension, for example, on hand for auto lowering when at speed for better aerodynamics and fuel economy – to the xDrive40i will pull its price even with the 45e’s, and you don’t get all the fuel-saving benefits of the 45e plug-in powertrain.

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2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, profile
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, profile

Speaking of those benefits: BMW claims that you can get 48 km of EV range on a full charge from its 24-kWh battery. I never got more than 38 km from a single charge, but I was in adverse conditions and in the end, the real-world range I ended up getting was roughly on par with what the computers were telling me I would get. Case in point: a 40-km round-trip drive to my in-laws’ place on a crisp Sunday morning had me in EV mode for 37 km. That number, of course, could actually improve if the traffic was worse, because slowing down in a PHEV or hybrid will return some charge to your battery, delivering more EV range. My sister-in-law works about that far away from her house, so if she were able to plug in at night and spent the week driving mainly to work, she could be on EV power the whole time.

In addition to the electric motor, the 45e also gets a turbocharged inline-6 that works with the EV motor for a combined output of 389 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. It weighs 300 kg more than the xDrive40i, but it makes more power and torque so one wouldn’t call the 45e slow by any means, especially if you activate Sport mode and really start exploring the depths of the powertrain. In this mode you’ll be spirited down the road at quite a lick and there’s even a proper exhaust note as accompaniment.

Thing is, you have to think that in a plug-in variant of a vehicle, on-road performance is probably not as high on a buyer’s punch list as it would be in, say, the M50i version. Indeed, buyers in this niche are more likely to keep an eye on the bang-for-your-buck element, even if what they’re driving is an $80K+ SUV.

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, front
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, front

To that end, BMW has provided a suite of powertrain settings that are here to help get the most out of your plug-in. Accessed via buttons marked Hybrid and Electric mounted on the driver’s side of the shift lever (finished in a bright crystal on my tester, part of an $850 option package that also gives the same treatment to the iDrive wheel and engine start/stop button), these settings help the driver guide the computers that are deciding what’s powering what in the 45e.

Hybrid is basically what would be Comfort mode in other BMWs and the powertrain uses both the gas and EV motors to provide efficient progress. The Electric button puts hands the reigns over to the EV motor; save that for in-town traffic when the EV motor is less strained.

There’s also an Adaptive mode that kind of pivots between the two modes when it senses the driver’s inputs and it’s in this mode that the navigation actually takes into account the road ahead on your route, and can pre-stage the drive systems to give you the most efficient progress.

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, interior
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, interior

Finally, there’s the button marked with a battery just above the rest. Pressing that button will allow you to set a target charge value for your battery and when that button is depressed, the 45e will automatically lock out and start charging the battery once the desired “percentage remaining” value has been reached. This way, you can let the engine charge the battery when the gas engine is at its most efficient – say, on the highway – so you can save charge for when EV power is most needed – say, upon re-entering a city after a long weekend away. It all takes a bit of getting used to, but I found it became fairly routine the more I drove the xDrive 45e.

Otherwise, the experience behind the wheel and inside the 45e is very similar to that of a standard X5; there’s as much room for occupants in the cabin as in the 40i (though you can’t get third-row seating because the EV running gear eats up that space), the cargo area is hardly affected because the battery is located partially under the second row of seating and you still get the great two-piece tailgate that makes accessing the cargo area easier.

Plus, you’ve got the great ride and handling that the X5 has always been known for, augmented here by the self-levelling suspension that can also be adjusted manually by the driver.

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, three-quarters rear

To be perfectly honest, I see no reason why a customer shopping for an X5 wouldn’t default to the 45e, short of any cash-back incentives BMW dealers may place on the xDrive40i. We’ve talked about the cost savings, the power is clearly there, the interior with its great materials and drum-tight build quality is perfectly befitting of a luxury SUV and you still get the fastest, most up-to-date version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment tech with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support.

That adds up to a winning proposition and I wouldn’t be surprised if the 45e replaces the 40i as the entry-level X5 sometime soon.

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, charging port
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, charging port

We like

EV powertrain a great value-add
Good power
Interior fit and finish
    
We like less

Never gained full charge as claimed by manufacturer
Heavy
    
The competition

Lexus RX450h
Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring
Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, rear
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV, rear
Photos:D.Heyman
2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV pictures