2021 BMW X5 Review

2021 BMW X5 - Plug into the Ultimate Driving Machine


If luxury, versatility and comfort coupled with an environmentally-friendly twist tops a car-shopping priority list, Germany’s BMW bundles together such a list.  The long-established mid-size X5 continues as one of BMW’s top-selling products. Now in its fourth generation since its late 1990’s intro, X5 ranks as one of the first mid-size luxury-plated car-based crossovers (which BMW dubs Sport Activity Vehicles) arriving to the public marketplace.

As more and more automakers introduce cleaner energy opportunities, BMW embarks upon a second-generation of its plug-in electric vehicle (PHEV) selections, most notably, the 2021 X5 xDrive 45e (xDrive references BMW’s all-wheel drive system).

Advances allows 31 miles of pure electric travel (up 14 from the Gen One X5 40e) before seamlessly transferring over to a potent 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder turbo providing some 370 additional drive miles. This premium-fuel-recommended engine replaces a four-cylinder opportunity in the previous-generation.

The 31-mile all-electric range is the most available from any BMW PHEV and near the top of the luxury segment; but short of such non-luxury offerings as Ford’s 2021 Escape PHEV (37 pure-electric range miles). Keep in mind PHEV and EV electric mile estimates tend to increase during mild weather while decreasing during heavy HVAC usage.

Whether in all-electric or hybrid mode, X5 offers a quiet experience inside the people pod with a ride quality superior to any PHEV or EV (electric vehicle) tested during the past decade. Due in part to the X5’s standard Dynamic Damper Control System, utilizing electronically-controlled shock absorbers that sharpens handling dynamics coupled with two-axle air suspension.

The emerging PHEV segment encompasses a variety of available all-electric ranges and performance levels.  One advantage of PHEV’s when compared to all-electric vehicles (EVs) at this point in time; their ability to reduce ‘Range Anxiety.’ While all-electric vehicles provide some 250 miles of emission-free travel, locating a convenient ‘re-charge opportunity’ may prove problematic.
At home X5 charging with a conventional, readily available 120-volt socket (also known as Level 1) takes about 15 hours from a depleted under-floor lithium-ion battery pack; a slightly longer time compared with similar PHEVs.  Desiring a quicker charge time?  Investing in a Level 2 charger (240 volts) cuts that to under 5 hours.  While PHEV owners may debate the merits of level 2 garage installation, it’s a must-have for EV owners as Level 1 ‘trickle charge’ could take up to 54 hours.

Another current challenge reveals itself in the availability of Level 2 or high-speed DC fast-charging opportunities outside of home garages and major metropolitan centers where commercial EV charge centers are quickly multiplying (most notably in select Wal Mart lots).  During a visit to Michigan’s up-north Sleeping Bear Dunes, the lack of Level 2 charging options in the hamlet of Glen Arbor was apparent.  The closest compatible Level 2 charger resided 30 miles east at a Traverse City Meier Super Store.

While starting at $65,400, keep in mind, this charged Bimmer qualifies for the Federal $7,500 alternative-fuel tax credit redeemable during income tax season. Currently, Illinois offers no monetary sweetener when plugging in to alternative power (it once existed, but got phased out in 2014), but that may change as additional federal incentives covering cleaner-energy vehicles gain traction in Congress and more states jump on the bandwagon.

The bottom line after a comparatively reasonable $995 destination charge reached $81,695.  The extra $16,000 or so largely consisted of three option packages: a $1,700 driver assistance Pro Package, $4,050 Executive Package and $5,500 M Sports Package (larger 21-inch wheels).

The price of admission includes three years of BMW Ultimate Care, a maintenance program absorbing oil and air filter changes, spark plug issues, brake fluid and OBD computer vehicle checks.  

Inside, the 2021 X5 dashboard borrows familiar and eye-pleasing cues utilized in fellow newer-generation Bimmers. Thin, red, pen lighting stretches across the mid-dash, merging with all four side doors.   The latest generation of iDrive (iDrive7), BMW’s human-tech interface experience includes the largest digital displays within its lineup combining a 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 12.3-inch rectangular flat touch screen gracing the center dash with a quick recalculating navigation system.

Apple CarPlay and new-for-2021 Android Auto Smartphone compatibility come standard. In addition, a greater number of music streaming services including Spotify and Amazon Music are available to both Apple and Android users. Prewired SiriusXM satellite radio comes with a one-year subscription and wireless Smartphone charging remains part of an option package.  When activating the dashboard-mounted electronic push-button start/stop, both screens explode with bluish cosmic graphics.

The touch-sensitive center screen also interacts with a large tactile twist and a half-dozen push buttons between the front buckets.  Optional gesture controls (part of the Executive Package), serve as a novelty, but not always as dependable as simple control knob push/twist or secondary steering wheel controls.
The high-voltage, under floor, lithium-Ion battery pack grows to 24 kWh, double the previous generation’s 12 KWh capacity motivating a single electric motor. BMW designs well-marked push buttons between front buckets when choosing among several driving modes.  For example, during in-town travel, all-electric mode offers the most bang for the buck as stop-and-go driving benefits with no tail pipe emissions.  When on the highway, opting for Sport mode stretches the gas dollar through primary use of the IC engine. The default gas-electric hybrid mode maximizes fuel economy through a regenerative process as brake friction gets captured and stored as electricity for later reuse.

Row two includes plenty of head room and all four doors sport handy ceiling handles when entering. Leg room remains average with two adults enjoying the ride a majority of the time, three in a pinch.  Plug-in Smartphone ports are accessible via front seat headrests. The X5 45e comes strictly as a five-seater; four other ICE X5 trims offer a third-row option. Backrests fold down in a 40/20/40 symphony allowing more cargo options to the hatch area. The standard 18-foot yellow Level 1 power charger stores under the hatch floor when not in use.  

A stubby electronic gear-shift knob locates between front buckets and manages the proactive ‘Sport Steptronic’ eight-speed automatic transmission sending power to all four wheels with a gentle nudge forward for reverse and back for drive.  ‘Park’ is found via a push button on the knob itself.

From an extended vantage point, this X5 provides few visual hints of its PHEV status, resembling a conventional gas-powered X5 save for the electric plug port door on the front driver’s side fender. The grille returns a sizeable twin-kidney port grille with the circular blue and while medallion atop and between. Flanking this; adaptive LED lights.

Large side windows provide good sight lines for drives (combined with a slightly higher seating position found in sedans or coupes). The power rear hatch includes a split design, with a small bottom edge folding down to create a load ledge. Dual, rectangular, inboard, chrome-like exhaust tips adorn the lower back region. A side character line stretches from the wrap-around tail lamp to the rounded front wheel well with a slight step down on rear doors.

A suite of standard radar-based safety nuances bundle together within BMW’s ‘Active Driving Assistant;’ all but active cruise control with automatic stop-and-go functions, which comes optional.

Tucked in the northwest corner of South Carolina’s hill country one finds BMW’s sprawling five-million square-foot Spartanburg assembly mega-plex. It’s the German automaker’s largest production plant with an annual capacity to churn out 450,000 units and home to all X5 production, including our PHEV tester. In addition to X5, a multitude of other BMW-badged Sport Activity Vehicles churn out of Spartanburg including X3, X4, X6 and X7. The sprawling campus, BMW’s sole U.S. plant, celebrates 30 years of operation in 2022.

2021 BMW X5 45e
Price as tested: $81,695
Gas Engine: 3.0-liter turbo inline six
Electric Range:  31 miles
Combined Horsepower: 389
Wheelbase: 117.1 inches
Overall Length: 194.3 inches
Overall Width:78.9 inches
Overall Height: 68.7 inches
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg combined city/highway
Curb Weight: 5,627 pounds
Assembly: Spartanburg, South Carolina

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.