Road Test: BMW Takes the Middle Path to Electrification

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by Kivi

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02.21.2021


5-Series PHEVs—The Ultimate Plug-in Machines?

The auto industry has been slowly transitioning
toward battery-powered transportation, but each company has its own way of
doing it. BMW, which jumped in early with the i3 and i8 in 2014, has been slow
to move to pure electrics, but now offers plug-in hybrid options on several
popular models, including the midsize 530e sedan and X5 xDrive45e crossover, both
of which I recently tested.

BMW electrification
BMW’s current and future EV path

Three Different Paths Towards Electric

Before diving into the two Bimmers,
let’s look at the different ways that car companies can approach the gasoline-to-electricity
transition, from all-in to not-quite-ready-yet, the middle path. I’m just
hitting high spots here to make the point.

All-in is how Tesla, a California startup, has done it since day one. First, they electrified a small two-seat sports car on a borrowed Lotus platform. Then, they took what they learned and introduced their mass market flagship Model S sedan. The smaller, more affordable Model 3 sedan and Model Y hatchback followed, putting Teslas—every one all-electric—into the hands of a much wider clientele.

Tesla Model Y
Tesla’s pure electric all the way

The middle path recognizes that electric
cars are not profitable yet (Tesla’s only made a profit based on sales of its
electric vehicle production credits), but companies like General Motors, Ford, Nissan
and Volkswagen don’t want to be left out in the future. Things started rolling about
a decade ago, when Nissan bravely introduced the all-electric Leaf
and GM brought out the clever Volt plug-in
hybrid
. Ford and VW electrified existing compact hatchbacks, replacing
engines with motors in the compact Focus
and Golf,
respectively. There are other examples, such as Mercedes-Benz’s
B-class EV
and more recent offerings from Audi.

GM debuted the all-new Bolt
EV
four years ago, and recently announced an
all-electric future
, with some desirable cars in the works, from the GMC
Hummer EV pickup
and Cadillac
Lyriq
 crossover as well as the Bolt
EUV crossover
. Ford is debuting its beautiful and powerful Mustang
Mach-E
now and has put a hybrid in
the F-150 pickup
, with a full EV version on the way. VW is finally rolling
out the excellent ID.4 crossover.
The Nissan
Ariya
crossover is imminent. So, there’s progress.

Another way to take the middle path
is to avoid EVs but proliferate hybrids. Toyota has taken this approach, spreading
its pioneering Prius hybrid technology across its model mix, including the Avalon,
Camry and Corolla sedans, and RAV4 and Highlander crossovers.  It’s also amortized the cost of the technology
by using it in numerous Lexus models.

Kia Niro PHEV
Kia’s plug in now, too

A few years ago, the Korean brands introduced
the Hyundai Ioniq and Kona and Kia Niro models that let you choose hybrid,
plug-in hybrid, or battery electric flavors. Both brands added similar choices
in their mainstream midsize sedans—the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima. Both
companies have recently committed to full lines of EVs over the next few years.

On the “just getting started” side
you’ll find worthy manufacturers like Subaru and Mazda, who don’t have the cash
to build an all-electric car. However, they are collaborating with larger
companies, such as Subaru has already done with Toyota on its plug-in Crosstrek
Hybrid
. Mazda just introduced an electric version of its MX-30 crossover,
but it’s not available in the U.S yet. It will be Mazda’s first EV in America
when it arrives, although we may only get a plug-in hybrid version that also uses
Toyota technology.

BMW’s Plug-In Hybrids

Getting back to BMW, it has its
plug-in hybrids and plans for new all-electric models, including the
i4 sedan and iX crossover
. Currently it offers the iX3 small electric
crossover in Europe. Today, you can contact your American BMW retailer and buy
or lease a 530e or X5 xDrive45e plug-in hybrid (or any of nine PHEV models—see note
at end of story). I drove both over the last few weeks.

2021 BMW 530e PHEV
Image comes standard

Unlike Tesla, BMW has no identity
to establish. Since the 1970’s they’ve built a reputation as “The Ultimate
Driving Machine,” and while that may not really apply anymore, the brand still
retains a lot of desirability and panache. While they slowly introduce new
members of their electric “I” vehicles, they have taken popular models and
cleaned them up a bit.

Both the X5 xDrive 45e and the 530e
plug-in hybrids retain gasoline engines and the components that support them,
like radiators, motor oil and exhaust systems, while installing a motor, battery
and an extra port to charge it. But unlike standard hybrids, which have small
batteries that charge only when you step on the brake pedal, a plug-in hybrid
lets you actively charge your car like an EV—for a limited range.

2021 BMW 530e plugest in
Pumping up the range

The 530e has an official EPA electric
range of 21 miles; the larger battery on the X5 provides 30. What this means in
real life is that if you’re willing to plug in your car  regularly, for most driving you can go
electrically, since statistically, most people don’t drive more than 40 miles a
day.

The upsides include lower CO2
emissions, smooth, silent driving and no range anxiety. Once you get past the
local electric range, the car converts into hybrid mode and uses gasoline or
electricity as efficiently as it can. That means on a freeway trip, if you’re
not in stop-and-go traffic, you’ll be using mostly gasoline, while in town,
with frequent braking, you may be mostly electric, even if the electrons you
put into the battery overnight are used up.

The 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e Crossover

My Arctic Grey Metallic test unit
came packed with extras, making it a seriously luxurious ride. Inside, it wore
the Ivory White Vernasca Leather—“non-animal-derived “SensaTec” seating
marterial is standard.

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV
More power, but more range

The 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e is a
second-generation model, updated significantly from the previous X5 xDrive40e.
A more powerful six-cylinder turbo engine replaces the 2.0-liter four from the
old car, and the battery doubles in size to 24 kilowatt-hour (kWh). That means
you get up to 30 miles of electric-only range vs. just 12 before (I saw my
gauge read “32”). That’s significant, because it means a lot more of your local
driving will be electric-powered.

The combined horsepower, with the
electric motor, is 389 horsepower (hp), a bump of 81 from the old car. Torque
jumps as well, to 443 pound-feet (lb.-ft.), a rise of 111. That lets the
5,672-pound hauler sprint from 0-to-60 in just 5.3 seconds.

It takes four hours to charge the
battery from empty to 80 percent and 5.3 hours to fill it to 100 percent using
a Level 2 240-volt charger. Using standard household current takes considerably
longer (13.3 and 17.7 hours respectively). As a plug-in hybrid, it will never
need an emergency charging stop while traveling.

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV
Smarts inside to power the tech

The crossover comes standard with
BMW’s Intelligent xDrive all-wheel drive system and an eight-speed Sport Steptronic
transmission. It’s smart enough to adjust for your route and driving situation.
The double wishbone front and five-link rear suspension are designed for
comfort as well as traction when surfaces are less than ideal. The two-axle air
suspension balances loads.

The interior looks rugged and
luxurious like a BMW crossover should. It features Live Cockpit Professional,
with 12.3-inch screens for the instrument panel and in the middle of the dash,
where you can control all the sophisticated BMW driving and entertainment
options.

My test week was during a quiet
February, and with nowhere to go, I took no long rides. But, with its gorgeous
chairs, crystal shift knob, and sparkling trim, the car felt quite posh when I
did drive locally.

Three Drive Modes

There are three drive modes—Hybrid,
Electric and Sport. Hybrid, the default, electronically monitors the route and
the road and selects the most efficient or performance-oriented balance of gas
or electrons. Electric—my choice—is selectable from a center console button,
and I had to do that every time because of the default Hybrid setting.

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e PHEV
Different modes to get you there

The car can go up to a law-breaking
84 mph on electricity alone, so short freeway hops work just fine. On longer
trips you’ll end up in Hybrid mode. If, for some reason, you want to storm back
roads for fun, the Sport setting keeps the engine on all the time for extra
power.

Since this is nominally an off-road
vehicle, you can set five levels of ride height. Although I had no need to use
this, it could come in handy for clearance when you leave the highway.

Fuel economy per the EPA is 50 MPGe
when you’re using electricity, but it drops way down to 20 mpg with gasoline-only.

The X5 xDrive45e base prices at
$65,400, but my tester, loaded up with numerous options, plus $995 shipping
from the Spartanburg, South Carolina, factory, came to $81,695. That’s a lot,
but it’s a lot of car, too.

The luxury crossover segment is
becoming highly desirable these days—low slung sedans are no longer the rage.
This car, with its rugged but sophisticated styling and pretty much anything
you could want, will fill anyone’s needs and then some. As a plug-in hybrid, if
it spends most of its time on local runs and gets charged up regularly, it will
function as an EV much of the time. But with all-wheel drive and a gas engine,
it will take you to the ski destination of your choice painlessly.

The 2021 BMW 530e Sedan

The BMW 5 Series has enjoyed a long
and happy life in the BMW lineup. The 2021 model marks the seventh generation
of the “executive size” sedan that debuted in 1972. Larger than the compact 3-Series
and smaller than the grand 7-Series, it’s perfect for any driving occasion.

2021 BMW 530e PHEV
The PHEV middle child

The 530e brings plug-in hybrid
power. While both the standard 530i and the 530e have 2.0-liter gas engines,
the 530e gets an electric motor with 107 hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, making
the “e” more powerful, with a total of 288 combined hp and 310 lb.-ft. of
torque. The “e” gets from 0-60 0.2 seconds faster as well, at 5.7 seconds.

While the EPA gives the 530i
gas-only car fuel economy numbers of 25 mpg city/33 highway/28 combined, the
530e gets 64 MPGe with electricity and gasoline and 26 miles per gallon with
gas only. EPA Green scores are 7 for Smog and 8 for Greenhouse Gas.

The 12-kWh battery is tucked out of
sight, but it does steal 4 cubic feet of trunk space, while adding weight that
makes the 530e about 450 pounds heavier than the 530i.

2021 BMW 530e PHEV
All the leather & performance you’d expect from BMW

However, it’s still the same 5-Series
experience, except you can drive locally without burning gas! With 21 miles of
range, the car functions as an electric car around town and for short freeway
commutes. You can charge it up at home, at work or while shopping at Whole
Foods.

My tester wore a brilliant Phytonic
Blue Metallic and featured Ivory White Nappa leather within. BMW leather always
smells nice and conveys a premium feel. My tester had a number of packages that
added to the luxury and comfort. Driving Assistance Plus includes Extended
Traffic Jam Assistant, which, as I am working from home, I didn’t get to try. The
Shadowline Package adds extra lighting. The M Sport package brings performance
and design upgrades, including variable sport steering, the M Sport suspension,
special 19- or 20-inch upgraded rims and an aerodynamic kit. The Parking
Assistance Package would have made parking easy, if I had needed it. The
Premium Package includes pleasures like a Harman-Kardon audio system and
gesture control.

2021 BMW 530e PHEV
Subtle changes outside

As with any BMW, you can go wild
with optional features. My tester base priced at $57,200, but with options plus
shipping came to an eye-opening $70,485. For comparison, the base price of the fossil-fuel-only
530i, pre-shipping, is $54,200, $3,000 less than the 530e.

All 5-Series models receive some
subtle updates this year, including a larger, taller set of twin kidney grilles
along with resculpted LED headlamps up front. Trapezoidal tailpipe finishers
perk up the tail end. Inside, Live Cockpit gives you generous 12.3-inch instrument
panel and dash center screens. This blends modern computer screen controls with
some of the classic feel of the BMWs drivers have loved over the decades.

Most EVs, being silent, can
surprise unsuspecting walkers. So, BMW offers Acoustic Protection for
Pedestrians, which makes what BMW calls an “unmistakable sound” at up to 19
miles per hour to warn the inattentive.

The 530e does its electric driving subtly,
but cruising in it in silence can put you in your happy place, even if it’s not
for an extended time. Soon, you’ll be able to enjoy an all-electric midsize
sedan from BMW—the i4. Stay tuned.

Make
sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be
notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

Story by Steve Schaefer. Photos by
BMW.

Note
on BMW PHEV models; the lineup includes:

BMW
330e

BMW
330e xDrive (all-wheel drive)

BMW
530e

BMW
530e xDrive

BMW 745e xDrive

BMW X3
xDrive30e

BMW
X5 xDrive45e

BMW i3 REX

BMW i8

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Road Test: 2021
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Road Test: 2020
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Road Test: 2020
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News: Lexus UX
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Road Test: 2020
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Road Test: 2020
Lexus UX 250h Hybrid

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles
from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are
based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address
issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition,
we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or
technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation,
lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of
vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our
focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which
leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We
also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg
vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on
advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any
feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for
alternative viewpoints

The post Road Test: BMW Takes the Middle Path to Electrification first appeared on Clean Fleet Report.



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