2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e Review: Electrification gives the X5 a boost but it’s not enough

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

The new plug-in hybrid variant of the BMW X5 gets its electrified components right, but other features wrong.

The BMW X5 is very nearly a perfect luxury SUV in many regards. It blends the utility of a true SUV with the power and performance of a modern day crossover. It’s been a staple of the BMW lineup for generations now, improving with each refresh.

What makes the BMW X5 so good each go-round isn’t an absolutely loaded-up, tech-heavy cabin. It isn’t the fuel economy or split liftgate utility or comfortable seating, though it has all of those. It isn’t even the fuel economy. The 2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e combines every one of those factors into a fabulous two-row SUV package, but there is more than one catch.

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The car looks like a bigger X3 or a smaller X7. Either way, it’s not unique.Photo courtesy of BMW

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The problem with the BMW X5 is that it’s just never as good as I want it to be. I want to like it more, but I just can’t get there with it. Some of that may be the sameness factor. The X5 looks like it is wholly a product of the BMW parts bin. The exterior is just a bigger X3 or smaller X7. It’s fine, it’s just not unique, even when equipped with the M Sport package, which adds black accents to the exterior.

The sameness issue persists in the interior, where nearly every switch, dial, and display has been brought over from the BMW parts bin to execute a design that looks like it could have been pulled from nearly any of the brand’s cars or SUVs.There’s an abundance of dark plastic that easily collects dust and drop from liquid but there’s also plenty of leather and soft-touch surfaces.

The X5 xDrive45e’s plug-in hybrid powertrain is new for the 2021 model year. It gets 389 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque from its 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, which is paired with a 24-kilowatt-hour battery. The battery affords 30 hours of all-electric range and helps with the car’s acceleration off the line. To take full advantage of the extra get up and go, you have to press firmly on the accelerator and hold on. The X5 then takes off, making pulling out into traffic and getting up to speed a breeze.

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Seats in the X5 are suitably plush and spacious.Photo courtesy of BMW

However, and this is a big however, the cabin doesn’t seem stable enough to handle the oomph. There’s plenty of lane wobbling before the car straightens out in the lane.

This isn’t the only time drive dynamics are an issue in the X5. At low speed, the SUV steers like a full-size truck with plenty of wheel play. That’s fine. At higher speeds, even with the Sport drive mode selected, the SUV’s dynamics appear out of step with what BMW is known for. The X5 doesn’t deliver the connected drive experience and engaging handling other BMW SUVs do. In this respect, the model’s dynamics are very Lincoln-like.

The X5’s cabin is a quiet and serene place. Not much road noise permeates the cabin of the SUV and the car’s suspension is quick to absorb the road’s bumps and dips. Over speed bumps, the weight of the xDrive45e’s battery did not impede the drive or ride experience.

This model takes five hours to charge on a Level 2 (240-volt) charger. The EPA says that you’re like to get about 400 miles of driving range when fully topped off but charging between stops can easily drive that number up. When the car’s 30 miles of electric range are used up, it seamlessly switches from electric to hybrid power.

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The 12.3-inch infotainment screen provides a good view of the necessary infotainment system options..Photo courtesy of BMW

Other issues with the car are common with the rest of the BMW lineup. Chalk it up to the sameness factor once again. The infotainment system finds itself taking over all musical operations of the vehicle when a phone is plugged in, even when not called upon to do so, immediately playing music when a user simply reads a text message or is browsing online, whether in the driver or passenger seat, even when the music functionality has not been activated. The only fix is to get the vehicle and phone to “forget” each other. In other manufacturer’s vehicles, charging functionality does not perform like this.

Seating is comfortable and relatively spacious for an SUV of its size. There’s nothing atypical there.

The X5’s other big issues are safety related. The company’s hands-on (as opposed to hands-free) Driving Assistance Professional Package includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality. In testing, the system did not appear to react to stopped traffic in time for a comfortable stop. This required human intervention, which canceled the assistance and required resetting.

Additionally, even a mild amount of sunshine seemed to interfere with the car’s cameras’ ability to “see” lane markings. This rendered the system mostly useless during daylight hours on a sunny day. Frequently, when sunshine appeared on one side of the vehicle, that side’s lane-keeping system would not work, causing the vehicle to swerve.

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The interior of the BMW X5 xDrive45e is similar to every other BMW SUV.Photo courtesy of BMW

At night, the problem persisted though not as badly. A light rain aggravated the situation causing the car to do a ping-ponging maneuver from lane line to lane line while traveling at speed requiring the system to need to be disengaged due to safety concerns.

The BMW X5 is so refined and polished in so many ways, but it just as many others, it’s not ready for prime time. There are some really great things about the X5 xDrive45e, but it’s certainly worth cross-shopping other vehicles to see if you like them better, especially considering the model’s $65,400 price tag.

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