In the automotive landscape there's been an influx of "green" vehicles.
Whether they're diesel, electric, hybrids or plug-in hybrids, it seems as though a lot of companies are attempting the spaghetti method when it comes to offering products. Throw it out there and see what sticks.
Our subject, BMW, has done everything: diesel, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Obviously every variant has its pros and cons, and it's time to optimize each to see which will gain the most market adoption. While the company has produced the i3 and i8 cars and the ActiveHybrids, they're low volume.
2014 New York Auto Show
The good news is that it appears X5 buyers are open to alternative energy products. Take, for example, sales for year end 2012 where the diesel variant racked up over 23 percent of sales. So, how do you continue to scale?
It seems that the X5 eDrive may be the answer. BMW provided us with the opportunity to drive the only prototype in the U.S. to give us a taste of what's up ahead.
Equipped with a four-cylinder motor good for 240 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque, it is also powered via an electric motor that makes 95 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque. Combined, you're talking about 270 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque. Though we were secluded to running laps around BMW North America's ring road, it was apparent that there was enough room to get a good feel for what's coming down the pipe. Long story short, power is more than adequate. To really understand what you're getting into, you have to go through the five driving modes.
2014 New York Auto Show
As in every BMW you have the rocker switches near the gear shifter to put you into one of three modes: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport. In the eDrive you have two new modes: MAX eDrive and Save Battery.
When you're operating the vehicle in any of the three standard modes, it feels pretty much like the X6 ActiveHybrid I drove years ago. At startup, the motor is in electric mode and it will do its best to stay there unless you goose it and it requires more juice. When you let off the throttle there isn't any of that electric "go kart" feel. The X5 eDrive will just coast effortlessly, which is something you can get BMW's standard cars to do in Eco Pro.
What you actually want to hear about is the MAX eDrive button. If you're purchasing a plug-in, likely you'll want to eek out the most efficiency and that is precisely what this is for. Putting it into this mode full time essentially makes the X5 an electric that's drawing power from its respective battery pack. You feel a bit of resistance when you let off the throttle but it's no where near the same experience in a traditional electric vehicle. It's minor. You can still coast albeit you will need to dial in some throttle to maintain momentum. The eDrive can go up to speeds of about 75 mph before the gasoline motor kicks in.
According to BMW representatives on-site, the X5 eDrive is currently good for approximately 15 miles of purely electric driving. If you see the press release, it's stating 20 miles. You say tomato, I say tomahtoe. Either way you slice it, I personally think this is far too low. It should be at least 40 miles. Though BMW is quick to point out in its slides that 80 percent of X5 drivers keep their travels below 20 miles, what about the potential conquest sales that could happen when this product ships?
Perhaps its low electric range is why the company has implemented its Save Battery mode. This mode is set so the vehicle maintains the battery charge for later use. So, if a driver knows they're coming across an uphill climb for a few miles and they know later in their journey they will be in a major urban center with traffic jams, they can save the electric charge for later. Pretty smart thinking as I don't recall driving a hybrid or plug-in hybrid with this capability previously.
Aside from a bit of hesitation on acceleration and occasionally feeling the car trying to figure out which motor should be used, the X5 eDrive is pretty much what you'd expect in an X5. The good news is that the folks on hand noted there is still quite a bit of testing to go before this product is finalized and ready to go. Obviously, more refinement will need to be dialed in.
After doing rounds with two other individuals, it's pretty clear that there is a lot of potential behind this plug-in solution. Of course it isn't perfect but there's still a bit of development to do. I think it will come down to how BMW prices this variant over its more traditional cohorts sporting the X5 nameplate.
The Good:- 15 miles of pure electric driving
- Operates nearly like a standard X5 — There's still a Sport mode so this X5 isn't totally neutered
- Zero resistance in standard modes, which means you can let the vehicle coast on country roads, and a touch of resistance in MAX eDrive — no "go kart" feel
The Bad:- 15 miles of pure electric driving — not sure about you but I'd like to be able to travel MORE than that on a pure, electric charge
- An estimated 450-650 pounds EXTRA weight added due to the electric tech
- Pricing will, ultimately, decide whether or not buyers will adopt — given the technology, I doubt it will be cheaper than a diesel
The Lowdown:- Considering this is a prototype, it was a relatively impressive experience. Ultimately, buyers will decide with their wallets and if other plug-in solutions are an indicator, it will not be cheaper than other alternatives. With only 15-20 miles of pure electric driving, it will have an extremely high break-even point.
2014 New York Auto Show