Big sport-utility vehicles may yield plenty of room and power, but they aren’t exactly known for delivering great mileage. Now, BMW wants to change that equation with a new version of its SUV – make this Sport Activity Vehicle – the X5.
While production plans are still up in the air, the maker offered a handful of journalists the opportunity to drive the X5 Plug-in Hybrid prior to the official opening of the 2014 New York Auto Show at the company’s U.S. headquarters in North New Jersey. And if the prototype is any indication of what may follow, a potential buyer might expect to see fuel economy in the range of 40 miles per gallon.
For now dubbed the Concept X5 eDrive, the battery-based plug-in would provide an alternative to the current diesel-powered X5 – but industry planners say the two high-mileage systems would have distinctly different niches: plug-ins better for commuting, diesels for regularly drive longer distances.
In its current form, the Concept X5 pairs a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engine with a 95-horsepower electric motor drawing power from a 9 kilowatt-hour battery pack. The gas motor serves only as a so-called “range extender,” meaning it can’t directly drive the wheels but only provide energy to the electric motor or offer an assist when additional power is needed. Together, they can produce 270 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque.
That would provide enough energy to travel an estimated 20 miles on battery power alone despite the 5,000-pound heft of the prototype, about 500 more than a conventional X5. Meanwhile, it could travel at speeds of up to 75 mph in battery mode alone.
A growing number of cities around the world are putting restrictions in place on conventional automobiles – London has a congestion charge, for example, while Beijing restricts the number of new vehicle registrations allowed each month. But both cities make exceptions for zero-emissions vehicles, a strategy that many experts believe could encourage the growth of electric vehicles in the years to come.
“It totally makes sense” to come up with a vehicle like the X5 plug-in, said BMW official Manfred Poschenrieder.
But there are trade-offs. Weight is a major factor, but the big battery pack also forces BMW to raise the cargo floor of the X5 by about an inch. And if competitors’ plug-in hybrids are any example, a production version of the X5 eDrive would likely be thousands of dollars more expensive than the gas version, and even the more costly X5 diesel.
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But there are a growing number of makers who expect to see demand for plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs grow. General Motors launched the Chevrolet Volt three years ago and, among others, Audi is set to introduce what it calls an e-tron version of the all-new A3 small car in the coming year.
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Owners would be able to charge up the X5 eDrive in about four hours from a wall socket, or less than two using a 220-volt charger.
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While BMW has been betting big on diesel power – like German rivals Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen – it is also starting to put its development dollars into electric propulsion. It has launched a number of conventional hybrids recently, including a version of its flagship 7-Series sedan.
More significantly, it is just rolling out the i3, a pure battery-electric city car that is the first product from the new brand-within-a-brand dubbed BMW i. It will be followed by the i8, a plug-in sports car.