Brave new whirr

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - First Drive - CRAIG DUFF

THERE are some se­ri­ous machi­na­tions hap­pen­ing be­neath the body­work of the X5 40e, BMW’s first plug-in hy­brid.

A reg­u­lar-look­ing wagon from the out­side, the 40e is the Bavar­ian out­fit’s ac­knowl­edg­ment that plug-in tech­nol­ogy is a smart, short­term so­lu­tion to elec­tri­fy­ing cars.

There’s a sim­i­larly aug­mented 3 Se­ries sedan on the way. Both will be sold here in May un­der the iPer­for­mance moniker to de­note their hy­brid sta­tus.

There’s plenty of up­side to own­ing a plug-in BMW if you’re an ur­ban com­muter.

Not only does the big SUV have an of­fi­cial elec­tric-only range of 31km but also the boost it pro­vides to the 2.0-litre petrol en­gine pro­pels the 2.2-tonne ve­hi­cle to 100km/h from rest in 6.8 sec­onds.

The down­side is the hy­brid driv­e­train has a mul­ti­tude of op­er­at­ing modes, all of which af­fect how it drives and re­cov­ers energy and all of which will take time to de­ter­mine which is best in any given traf­fic and ter­rain.

In out­right terms, buy­ers will be asked to pay the same money as the pre­mium diesel ver­sion, the $118,900 X5 40d, for a hy­brid with the per­for­mance of the $102,900 X5 30d.

To sweeten the deal, the 40e mir­rors the 40d for equip­ment (how much elec­tric­ity does a 16speaker Har­man Kar­don au­dio setup use?) and adds adap­tive damp­ing with rear air sus­pen­sion to help counter the ex­tra weight of the mo­tor and bat­tery pack.

The 9kWh lithium-ion bat­tery pack is mounted un­der the cargo area and trims 40mm from the avail­able depth — the only real com­pro­mise, this might af­fect 5 per cent of po­ten­tial buy­ers. At 500L, there’s still plenty of room for the golf clubs in the boot. ON THE ROAD There’s lit­tle to in­di­cate the X5 40e isn’t a con­ven­tional car. That im­pres­sion is re­in­forced when un­der way … un­til you re­alise the in­su­la­tion isn’t that good and the car is mov­ing vir­tu­ally silently.

It’ll do this for what BMW says is about 25km of real-world driv­ing. Driven as though the throt­tle was jagged glass and the driver was bare­foot, Carsguide’s com­pan­ion man­aged 27km of al­most pure elec­tric motoring through the sub­urbs (the en­gine kicked in a cou­ple of times on up­hill climbs).

The ride on the adap­tive sus­pen­sion is bet­ter at soak­ing up city-speed lumps than in a reg­u­lar X5 and the com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors make this a rea­son­ably at­trac­tive ur­ban run­about.

Given that the av­er­age daily work com­mute is 31km, it should be pos­si­ble to make the trip us­ing less than a litre of petrol; some will make it all the way.

The of­fi­cial fuel use is 3.3L/100km. Long-dis­tance hauls are still the pre­serve of the diesels in the fam­ily and BMW reck­ons driv­ers with those in­ten­tions will be steered away from the 40e. The hy­brid is still a great week­end ve­hi­cle and the 2.0-litre en­gine doesn’t strug­gle with the X5’s weight af­ter the bat­tery charge has been de­pleted.

That bat­tery can be fully recharged in about five hours from a reg­u­lar house­hold power point us­ing the sup­plied ca­ble (lo­cated un­der the cargo floor where the emer­gency spare wheel would nor­mally be found).

An “iWall­box Pure” home fast charger halves the recharge time and costs $1750 plus in­stal­la­tion.

Op­er­at­ing the 40e is as sim­ple, or com­plex, as the driver chooses to make it. An “eDrive” switch tog­gles be­tween run­ning on elec­tric only power, let­ting the com­puter de­ter­mine which mo­tive source is most rel­e­vant or fus­ing the en­gine to save the bat­tery charge.

All modes mesh with the three “driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence” set­tings com­mon to Beemers — Eco Pro, Com­fort and Sport — and with the eight-speed auto’s shifter once it is flicked across into sport mode.

Eco Pro en­cour­ages coast­ing by shut­ting down the en­gine to save fuel and re­strict­ing the out­put of the air­con and seat heaters, while Com­fort re­stores full power to the in­ter­nal sys­tems and helps re­gen­er­ate the bat­tery when brak­ing.

Sport de­liv­ers max­i­mum re­gen­er­a­tive ef­fort. It still isn’t as sav­agely ef­fec­tive as in the i3, which rarely re­quires use of the brake pedal be­cause the mo­tor is so ef­fi­cient at re­tard­ing speed the sec­ond the driver lifts off the ac­cel­er­a­tor.

Per­son­ally, I’d leave the eDrive switch in auto, the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence but­ton in Com­fort and flick the trans­mis­sion lever to sport when I want the ex­tra kick. VER­DICT The 40e is the lat­est ex­am­ple of how the pre­mium for hy­brid cars is com­ing down, mak­ing the ve­hi­cles at­trac­tive in their own right rather than as a philo­soph­i­cal state­ment.

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