The Chevrolet Volt had its share of vocal critics when it debuted. Most of the criticism centered around General Motors' government-funded bailout, and the perception, at least among some politically right-leaning circles, that part of their support was contingent on getting behind the administration's environmentally-progressive agenda. Regardless of how you feel about the Volt, then or now, there's no question there are a lot more plug-in hybrids of all shapes and sizes, and there are getting to be more of them every day. The latest is the BMW Concept X5 eDrive, the brand's first plug-in hybrid SUV.
BMW is careful to call the vehicle a "concept," but almost everything except the powertrainon the X5 eDrive is standard-issue X5. In addition to being the first plug-in hybrid X5, it is also the first four-cylinder X5, powered by BMW's 2.0-liter I-4 and supplemented by a 95-hp electric motor. This is a major departure from BMW's previous SUV hybrid effort, a stomping 485-hp twin-turbocharged V-8 hybrid in the form of the X6 ActiveHybrid. Unsurprisingly, very few were sold, with few buyers seeing the need for an ultra-powerful hybridized $90,000 limited-utility fastback SUV.
With its plug-in hybrid drivetrain, the X5 eDrive is capable of up to 20 miles of all-electric driving, and a top speed of up to 75 mph in electric mode. Three driving modes can be selected by the driver, including Auto eDrive, balancing sporty dynamics with efficiency, Max eDrive (fully electric), and Save Battery, which stores up power for all-electric driving later. When full steam is called for, BMW claims the X5 eDrive is capable of 0-60 in less than seven seconds. Although European fuel economy standards are radically different from U.S. measurements, BMW claims an average fuel economy equivalent to 61.8 mpg on the European test cycle.
To some, the idea of an ultra-efficient, $60,000+ luxury SUV is somewhat puzzling. If you're truly concerned about conserving natural resources and being a frugal, sensible driver, just buy a Prius. But that hasn't stopped Porsche, BMW, or others from building extravagant, yet efficient plug-ins. And although not a perfect analogy, it certainly hasn't hurt Tesla in the popularity of its Model S sedan. While we see the appeal and first-adopter status of the Model S, the adaptation of a plug-in drivetrain to an SUV strikes us as little more than a check-off to satisfy government regulations. Who knows, the X5 eDrive could go on to become the best-selling X5, but based on the sales of other plug-in hybrids that are also offered with conventional powertrains, we kind of doubt it. But for the handful of earth-loving status seekers, the X5 eDrive will probably make them happy.