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BMW X5 Plug-In Hybrid Prototype: We Drive Future Electric SUV Page 3

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BMW X5 e-Drive plug-in hybrid prototype, test drive, Woodcliff Lake, NJ, April 2014

BMW X5 e-Drive plug-in hybrid prototype, test drive, Woodcliff Lake, NJ, April 2014

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With a likely weight gain of 450 to 600 pounds over the nearest gasoline equivalent, the 4800-pound X5 xDrive 35i six-cylinder turbo model, the plug-in X5 is a heavy vehicle.

That it can move away from a stop and accelerate up to highway speeds on electricity alone is a tribute to the power delivery of its battery and the 70 kilowatts propelling it.

Electric-car veterans may find it disconcerting that the plug-in X5 shifts gears several times getting up to speed in electric mode.

BMW X5 eDrive plug-in hybrid prototype

BMW X5 eDrive plug-in hybrid prototype

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Engineer Paul said this lets the company keep the motor in its most efficient operating range--noting that the motor turns at a far higher speed than the engine, so the transmission selects lower gears for the same speeds than it would in gasoline usage.

That said, performance in "Max e-Mode" is nothing like that in "Sport," when both the engine and motor are controlled to deliver fast power--and the X5 accelerates with surprising alacrity for what is, after all, more than 2 tons of large SUV.

The transmission shifts exceptionally quietly, although BMW is still in the process of blending in the output from the engine when it switches on in hybrid mode. Following maximum electric acceleration, there's a noticeable--if smooth--secondary surge of power once the engine kicks in and the turbo spools up.

Electric range: 15-20 miles?

But we suspect that most buyers will be comfortable with the all-electric mode, which seems likely to be rated somewhere between 15 and 20 miles.

BMW X5 eDrive plug-in hybrid prototype

BMW X5 eDrive plug-in hybrid prototype

Enlarge Photo

BMW says 80 percent of X5s globally travel less than 30 km (19 miles) per trip, and it has achieved an electric-range rating of 30 km on the European cycle, which tends to produce higher numbers for electric range than do the EPA test cycles in the U.S.

And BMW plans to integrate information from the navigation system into the car's powertrain controls, so when a driver enters a destination into the system, the car works to arrive at that location with a fully depleted battery pack (unless the "Save Battery" switch has been triggered).

The navigation system will take into account not only distance, but also topography (elevation especially), prevailing speed limits, and real-time traffic information in assessing the most efficient deployment of battery and gasoline energy.

Benefits of BMW i program

Many of the technologies in the future BMW X5 e-Drive are derived--loosely or completely--from the company's "BMW i" project, which has led to the dedicated 2014 BMW i3 battery-electric hatchback and the 2015 BMW i3 plug-in hybrid sports coupe.

The plug-in hybrid X5's battery cells are similar to those in the i8 coupe, as is its battery-management software. Power electronics come from the BMW i program too. The electric motor and eight-speed transmission combination has already been used on the current ActiveHybrid models of the BMW 3-, 5-, and 7-Series sedans.

While it's far too early to expect information on prices, BMW noted that its pricing structure is roughly proportional to powertrain output--so the X5 e-Drive would come in at a starting price higher than that of the less powerful X5 xDrive 35i, which for 2014 starts at $52,800.

The plug-in hybrid BMW X5 won't arrive at selected U.S. dealers until "at least" late 2015, and possibly later, BMW executives said.

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