We drove a $74,000 BMW X5 plug-in hybrid SUV to see if it's worth the investment -- here's the verdict

Matthew DeBord/BIStill a great SUV — the BMW X5.

  • The 2018 BMW X5 xDrive40e adds a plug-in hybrid option to a popular luxury SUV.
  • In practice, the system helps with fuel economy, but it doesn’t otherwise radically alter the vehicle.
  • Our confidence in the X5 as a compelling luxury crossover option was restored after a week with the vehicle.

As plug-in hybrids go, nearly 75 large is kind of a lot to pay. You can get a brand-new Prius Prime for less than $US30,000. The Prius, however, isn’t exactly luxurious or stylish.

And without question, you won’t be getting the ultimate driving machine. For that, you can take a look at BMW’s “e” lineup. And pony up the premium. We’ve sampled the 3-Series plug-in hybrid sedan and have been impressed. So we hopped at the chance to give the X5 SUV a shot. The X5, after all, is the built-in-South Carolina crossover that’s going to keep BMW in business in the US, as consumers increasingly favour SUVs over four-doors.

Our luxury midsize people-and-stuff hauler tipped the cost scales at just over $US75,000, after $US10,000 in options took control of the $US63,000-ish starting price.

Here’s what I thought after a week of tooling around:

The X5 has a crisp exterior vibe. But it doesn’t stand out too boldly in the burbs. Our test vehicle had a fetching “Space Grey Metallic” paint job. Overall, the X5 defines how a mid-size luxury SUV is supposed to look.

Matthew DeBord/BI

All bimmer from the front: sleek, slightly angry headlights and the signature double-kidney BMW grille.

Matthew DeBord/BI

And of course the legendary “propeller” badge, which isn’t actually a propeller.It’s the colours of the Bavarian flag.

Matthew DeBord/BI

Yep, you can plug in this X5. The hybrid system yields a combined MPGe of 56 miles; on gas alone, it’s 24, which isn’t bad.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The system conjoins a fairly small 9 kilowatt-hour battery drivetrain with a twin-scroll turbocharger, 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder engine that on its own makes 240 horsepower. The electric motor makes 111 hp, and the total output in 308 hp. It’s all piped to the the X5’s all-wheel-drive axles by an eight-speed transmission.

Fully charged, the system will give you 20 miles of all-electric motoring, provided you have that option selected. Otherwise, opting for Sport, Comfort, or Eco will put the hybrid system into assist mode, adding oomph to the gas engine. The nice thing about this setup is that you can plug the X5 into a 240-volt outlet and replenish the battery in a few hours. Fast charging isn’t needed. And you can always skip it and run the SUV more or less on gas only.

The front seats were comfortable and not over-bolstered. Also heated!

Matthew DeBord/BI

Plenty of room in the back! My kids had no complaints.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The cargo hold provides 34 cubic feet of space without dropping the rear seats. More than adequate for grocery store runs.

Matthew DeBord.BI

The panoramic moon roof is spectacular.

Matthew DeBord/BI

Yep, it’s a BMW. Anyone familiar with the ultra-purposeful, no-nonsense, minimalist driving configuration and the old-school analogue instruments will experience the X5 as nothing new.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The joystick shifter is, in a word, annoying. But one gets used to it. The transmission can be switched out of automatic into manual, so you can flick gears with the joystick or paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The knob-and-buttons to the right control the iDrive infotainment system.

Matthew DeBord/BI

iDrive has been around for a long time. It was once the laughingstock of the auto world. But these days, it’s among the best infotainment systems we regularly sample.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The navigation system worked fine for me, and you have all the connectivity you would expect in a modern vehicle: USB/AUX ports, Bluetooth, and a data hookup that can handle weather and news.

The audio system offered a premium vibe without using a high-end nameplate, and our tester came with an introductory SiriusXM satellite radio subscription.

The X5 also offers a wifi hotspot to support devices.

Managing iDrive can at times be a chore, with sub-menus tucked beneath sub-menus in a kind of decision-tree matrix that only a truly Teutonic engineering sensibility could appreciate.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The system is reliable and responsive, however. In fact, after testing numerous BMWs in the past few years, we’re yet to encounter a problem with the system.

So what’s the verdict?

Matthew DeBord/BI

Apart from a slightly over-stiff ride, which is nothing new for BMWs, the X5 40e is an absolutely first-rate SUV. I’ve personally always been rather fond of the Audi Q5, which goes head to head with the X5, but a week with the bimmer reminded me of why BMW has such a great reputation. The X5 is tremendous, the hybrid tech simply adds a nice extra perk in improved fuel economy.

The X5 platform has been around since 2000, and the third-generation rolled out in 2014. The whole point was to create an SUV that drove like a BMW, and in that the carmaker succeeded. Perhaps to a fault, as most of the affluent suburban road warriors who buy these crossovers will never push the vehicle into a corner to study how the frame flexes and suspension reacts.

Nor will they much care about the snappy 0-60 mph time of about six-and-a-half seconds. They simply want a BMW-calibre people transporter that carries with it an air of German luxury and harbours performance potential in the event that it’s called up to perhaps zip past a semi on the highway.

Drivers enjoy a host of safety assist features, including blind-spot detection, collision avoidance, lane-departure warning, and a head-up display. These were all useful, but in fairness, they are pretty much common nowadays on all luxury vehicles.

To be honest, I and my colleague Ben Zhang have been a little down on BMWs of late. We’ve been finding them competent as ever, yet sort of boring. Objectively, the X5 40e is more of the same, even with a “Canberra Beige/Black Dakota” leather interior and some lovely texture-grain wood trim.

Over the course of a week, however, I rediscovered the brand’s charms. Sure, I can’t complain too much about the sporty “M” cars. But in jaunts around my suburban home and on a few forays into New York City, I re-learned how to appreciate the excellence of BMW engineering. You can’t find much wrong with the X5, and the hybrid technology adds a nice extra layer.

As for the driving, the X5 continues to be one of the best SUVs for motoring pleasure. It simply inspires confidence.

There’s something to said for simply getting it right, year after year and after. And make no mistake, BMW continues to get it right.

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