Luke Ottaway's picture

BMW X5 plug-in to bring latest efficiency tech to New York Auto Show

BMW has announced they will bring an updated concept of their plug-in hybrid X5 eDrive model to the New York International Auto Show later this month. The automaker says the production version will achieve outstanding efficiency for a hybrid vehicle its size.

According to a BMW press release, the X5 eDrive concept has undergone some tweaks since its debut in Frankfurt last year and it looks to be impressive. The concept the company will bring to New York is more than a year away from production and will likely debut for the 2016 model year, but no doubt plenty of people will excitedly await its arrival based on the preliminary specifications.

Though no mass-production SUV on the horizon will be able to compete with the upcoming Tesla Model X in efficiency, the X5 eDrive uses all of BMW’s EfficientDynamics expertise to give it its best shot. Adding a 95-hp electric motor to the rear axle to complement the relatively thrifty twin-turbo 245-hp engine means the X5 eDrive will launch from 0 to 60 in under 7 seconds.

On the European test cycle the vehicle achieved what BMW says is the US equivalent of an excellent 62 miles per gallon, though that number may come down to earth somewhat when the EPA puts it through its paces. There is also an inherent difficulty in predicting the real-world fuel consumption of plug-in hybrids.

If all-electric mode is desired, BMW claims a local emissions-free range of 20 miles and a top electric speed of 75 mph. The projected range indicates battery capacity will be in the neighborhood of 10 kWh; the battery will be packaged under the cargo area and the on-board charger will accept charge rates up to 7.4 kW.

Where BMW truly innovates, however, is in the control strategy of this hybrid powertrain. The X5 eDrive will offer several driving modes: the relatively standard Comfort and Sport settings, but also an Eco Pro, Max eDrive, and Save Battery mode.

The Comfort and Sport settings split the power between the engine and motor depending on driving conditions in the manner of a typical hybrid. Max eDrive switches to exclusively electric power while Save Battery mode reserves the battery power for later use; say, for city driving at the end of a road trip. Eco Pro mode encourages ultra-efficient driving, offering an analytical tool that coaches drivers on how to get the most out of their gallon of fuel.

The coolest part of BMW’s hybrid system, however, is the Proactive Driving Assistant. It essentially is always looking ahead to determine how to navigate the next stretch of roadway using as little fuel as possible; it monitors driver input and uses a combination of navigation and sensors to suggest the most efficient route and plan ahead for variables like traffic, hills, and curves to optimize the shift schedule and power split between the engine and motor to obtain maximum efficiency. Green Car Congress gives an excellent explanation of this system here.

The BMW X5 eDrive will offer an enticing combination: performance characteristics of a BMW with efficiency superior to a Prius, including an all-electric mode for the 80% of trips that BMW estimates (based on data from its existing X5 customers) to be within the electric range. The proliferation of workplace charging will further increase owners' effective all-electric range.

The major and obvious knock on the X5 eDrive, which is no fault of its own, is that once again we will be seeing an excellent plug-in vehicle essentially reserved for the wealthy. The starting price for a base X5 is around $52,000, so count on the plug-in version to be $58,000 at the least.

The existing X5 also sells only about 40,000 vehicles per year in the United States, so the plug-in version won't see enormous sales volumes. Obviously it is not a vehicle intended for everyone, but those lucky enough to afford one will get an excellent car that might just give the Tesla Model X a run for its money.


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