2021 BMW X5 Plug-in Hybrid Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | May 14, 2021

Introduction - Find the best BMW deals!

The BMW X5 is one of the most popular midsize luxury SUVs in America. Last year, BMW sold more of them than Acura did MDXs, Dodge did Challengers, Ford did Mustangs, Nissan did Pathfinders, and Toyota did Siennas. In the segment, only the Lexus RX rolled off of showroom floors faster in 2020.

For 2021, BMW makes numerous minor changes to the X5 lineup and one significant improvement. The new X5 xDrive45e is a plug-in hybrid electric version (PHEV) of the SUV, and it gets a new drivetrain with more power and more than double the electric driving range. It replaces the previous-generation X5 xDrive40e, and because it supplies plenty of performance, it also replaces the X5 xDrive50i.

Otherwise, BMW makes the following changes to the 2021 X5:

  • Expands the X5's infotainment offering with standard SiriusXM 360L satellite radio with a one-year All Access trial subscription, new wireless Android Auto (in addition to the existing Apple CarPlay), additional integrated applications, and enhanced cloud-based BMW Maps technology
  • Adds remote engine starting to the Convenience Package
  • Makes the Harman Kardon sound system exclusively available in the Premium Package
  • Offers a new Drive Recorder system that stores up to 40 seconds of video from the front and rear cameras
  • Upgrades the driving assistance technology with standard cyclist detection, while the available evasive steering assistance now reacts to pedestrians
  • The Off-Road Package, rear-seat entertainment system, heated and cooled cupholders, soft-close automatic doors, and a few other features are no longer available

In addition to the new X5 xDrive45e, BMW continues to offer the X5 40i with rear-wheel drive (sDrive) or all-wheel drive (xDrive). For 2021, these gain new mild-hybrid 48-volt electrification technology. The sporty X5 M50i is also available, as is the performance-tuned X5 M. Prices for the X5 sDrive40i start at $59,400 before you add a single option, and that doesn't include the reasonable $995 destination charge.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2020 BMW X5 xDrive40i. This review focuses on the new X5 xDrive45e plug-in hybrid model, which is significantly improved. We'll also cover some of the general updates to the 2021 X5 and discuss how they potentially impact this SUV's overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the BMW X5 - Find the best BMW deals!

2021 BMW X5 Plug-in Hybrid Gray Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 69% of BMW X5 owners are male (vs. 63% for the segment), and the median age of an X5 owner is 57 years (vs. 56).

Owners say their favorite things about the X5 are (in descending order) the:

  • Powertrain
  • Driving feel
  • Exterior styling
  • Interior design
  • Feeling of safety

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the X5 are (in descending order) the: 

  • Driving comfort
  • Setting up and starting
  • Getting in and out
  • Infotainment
  • Fuel economy

In the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the X5 ranked number three out of nine midsize premium SUVs.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the BMW X5 - Find the best BMW deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a BMW X5 xDrive45e equipped with the following options:

  • M Sport Package
  • Executive Package
  • Luxury Seating Package
  • Parking Assistance Package
  • Driving Assistance Professional Package
  • Arctic Gray Metallic paint
  • 21-inch wheels with performance run-flat tires
  • M Sport brakes with blue calipers
  • Ivory White extended Merino leather
  • Heated front and rear seats, steering wheel, and armrests

The test vehicle's price came to $83,045, including the $995 destination charge to ship it from BMW's South Carolina factory to your local dealership. 

The X5 plug-in hybrid is eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500, plus state and local incentives where they are available. It may also qualify for high occupancy vehicle lane (carpool lane) access with only the driver aboard.

BMW X5 Plug-in Hybrid Specs and Ratings

2021 BMW X5 Plug in Hybrid Plugged In Charging

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Understandably, the previous BMW X5 xDrive40e was a tough sell. It offered just 14 miles of electric driving range from a 12-kilowatt-hour battery, perhaps not enough to justify its price premium. 

The first X5 PHEV also used a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine. With the electric drive motor, the total output measured 308 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. That was enough to accelerate to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and to tow nearly 6,000 pounds, but BMW knew there was room for improvement.

Now, the 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e arrives with a silky-smooth 3.0-liter turbocharged inline 6-cylinder gasoline engine. A larger 24-kWh battery is double the size of the previous model's 12-kWh pack and supplies an estimated 31 miles of electric driving range, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Total system power now measures 389 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, fed to BMW's rear-biased xDrive all-wheel drive through an 8-speed sport automatic transmission. 

Drivers can choose from three driving modes:

  • Hybrid mode is the default mode each time you restart the SUV, and it allows for electric driving up to 68 mph as long as you're taking it easy on the accelerator pedal.
  • Electric mode switches the powertrain to purely electric driving at speeds up to 84 mph, an improvement over the previous 75 mph. Push the accelerator past the "kick-down" point (you'll feel it as momentary resistance in the pedal), and you'll activate Hybrid mode for extra power when necessary.
  • Sport mode ensures the gas engine is running at all times for rousing performance.

Is there a downside to the new plug-in hybrid powertrain? Yes. The new 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e is not as efficient as the previous X5 xDrive40e.

The old X5 plug-in hybrid boasted the following ratings from the EPA:

  • 59 kWh/100 miles using electricity
  • 56 MPGe using electricity and gasoline
  • 24 mpg using gasoline in hybrid mode

The new X5 plug-in hybrid earns the following EPA ratings:

  • 63 kWh/100 miles in Electric mode
  • 50 MPGe in Electric mode followed by Hybrid mode
  • 20 mpg in Hybrid mode

Is the efficiency trade-off worth the added power, smoothness, and driving range provided by the new X5 xDrive45e? In my opinion, yes.

Also, note that compared to other X5 models, the X5 PHEV suffers a slight decline in cargo space. Measured behind the rear seat, the volume shrinks 0.8 cubic feet. Fold it down, and you lose 1.1 cubic feet.

Changes for the 2021 BMW X5

In addition to the new PHEV powertrain, the 2021 BMW X5 lineup sees a few changes primarily related to the infotainment and advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS).

The excellent iDrive 7.0 infotainment system continues to offer a touchscreen, steering wheel controls, voice recognition, and traditional physical iDrive controls on the center console. You can even get gesture recognition for stereo volume and radio station tuning, but it is hit-and-miss in terms of its effectiveness.

This year, SiriusXM 360L satellite radio and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard in all X5 models. BMW also provides integrated access to Google Assistant, Google Maps, and popular online music streaming and chat services.

With navigation, enhanced cloud-based BMW Maps technology offers dynamic re-routing based on traffic and road hazard data. In part, it draws upon information shared to the cloud by other BMWs traveling in the same vicinity. The Premium Package now includes a good-sounding Harman Kardon premium sound system.

BMW's standard Active Driving Assistant package of ADAS adds cyclist detection to the forward-collision warning system for 2021. The optional Driving Assistance Professional package adds pedestrian sensitivity to the evasive steering assistance system.

Finally, a new Drive Recorder is part of the optional Parking Assistance package. It records and stores up to 40 seconds of front camera and rear camera video. In the event of a collision, it stores the 20 seconds of activity around the moment of impact, which could come in handy when determining who is at fault in an accident.

How Far Does a BMW X5 Plug-in Hybrid Go on Electricity?

2021 BMW X5 Plug-in Hybrid ePower Driving Monitor

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

To find out how far the new X5 plug-in hybrid can travel solely on electric power in the real world, I set off from home with a full battery charge and in Electric mode. I live in a mountainous region, so I kept my driving to our local valley and tried to limit variance in elevation.

According to the X5 PHEV's instrumentation, the SUV had 34 miles of charge upon leaving my home. It traveled an indicated 32.5 miles before the battery reached its minimum state of charge and switched to Hybrid mode. However, on two occasions, the gasoline engine did engage to provide extra power.

The first time this happened, I had just turned right onto a wide 4-lane suburban boulevard and was slowly making my way up a mild grade when traffic came rushing up behind me. I pushed the accelerator too far and briefly engaged the Hybrid mode.

Later, on a local freeway, the X5 actually began losing speed on an incline leading to a mountain pass dividing my region from a lower adjacent valley. I had no choice but to push beyond the "kick-down" point to engage the gasoline engine.

In each of these situations, the gas engine remained on for only a short time. But its assistance undoubtedly boosted the X5 xDrive45e's indicated driving distance in Electric mode, so I'd say the EPA's 31-mile estimate is accurate.

The BMW X5 xDrive45e is Fun to Drive

With a plug-in hybrid's battery pack and electric motor comes added weight, snugged low in the platform and helping to reduce the vehicle's center of gravity. This added weight can also wreak havoc on the ride and handling qualities, so to combat this, BMW beefs up the X5 xDrive45e's suspension.

Baked into the base price, the standard 2-axle air suspension with dynamic damper control nearly erases the typical adverse effects of the extra weight on the ride and handling. Plus, it raises or lowers the SUV by 1.6 inches in either direction, making it easier to load in the lowest setting and adding ground clearance should you venture off-road. 

The test vehicle also sat on 21-inch wheels wrapped in 275/40 run-flat performance tires, which undoubtedly contributed to its entertaining driving dynamics on the testing loop. 

Overall, the added weight isn't a liability. This version of the X5 proves athletic and predictable, with impressive grip, body control, steering response and precision, and braking feel and performance. The driver enjoys an elevated position behind the steering wheel, but the X5 xDrive45e suffers almost no head toss or excessive body movement. 

Also, on the rumpled pavement of the 405 freeway through West Los Angeles, the X5 PHEV steamrolled the surface flat, eliminating the "hop" in the ride that I've commonly felt in other vehicles.

Granted, modern BMWs are not as viscerally analog as they used to be, but they remain a blast to drive in a digital world. Especially given its size, height, and weight, the X5 plug-in hybrid is a skillful performer on pavement. It even averaged 22 mpg on the test loop, driven entirely in Hybrid and Sport modes. That's better than the EPA estimate of 20 mpg in combined driving.

The ADAS can be intrusive, though, and especially the aggressive lane-keeping assistance system. Also, during light rain, the BMW issued a message regarding the reduced effectiveness of the ADAS. Then the message disappeared without telling me if things were back to normal.

Note that during a week-long test, whenever I returned home with the X5, I plugged the SUV in to recharge it. At the 200-mile mark, nearly 75 of my total miles traveled were on electricity, and the SUV had consumed no more than an indicated 30% of the fuel in its gas tank. Keep the battery topped off, and a full tank of fuel should last you a pretty long time.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best BMW deals!

2021 BMW X5 Plug-in Hybrid Gray Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

BMW is walking a fine line during the automotive industry transition to electric and autonomous vehicles, trying to implement those technologies while retaining its reputation for building ultimate driving machines.

With the 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e, the automaker gives its midsize SUV a decent electric driving range, impressive power, and, in the proper specification, thrilling dynamics combined with an occasionally aggressive technological safety net. 

The result is a much-improved example of the plug-in hybrid vehicle and a fittingly athletic member of the BMW family.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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