2015 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV
2015 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV
2015 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV. Click image to enlarge

Review by Lesley Wimbush, photos courtesy of BMW

MIRAMAS, France – Located between Marseilles and Avignon, the Circuit of Miramas once hosted the French Grand Prix. It was purchased by BMW in 1986, and since then, the 1,168 acre site has been continually updated to include over 52 kilometres of test tracks.

We’re on one of them now.

Over several loops of gently rolling Provençal countryside lined with dappled sycamores and blossoming crab apples, we got a brief taste of BMW’s new X5 eDrive plug-in hybrid served up in prototype camo.

While the idea of tossing around a hybrid utility vehicle may sound less than compelling, the excellent balance and snappy response of this particular one make this exercise a lot more fun than we’d expected.

It’s hard to form a definitive opinion in just half a dozen laps, however, first impressions are that this might just be the best X5 we’ve driven yet.

Although we’ve been told – repeatedly – that the X5 eDrives we’re in are “prototypes”, we’re pleasantly surprised by the fit and finish of the interior, and the seamless performance during our test drive. The telltale camouflage cladding was the only clue that it wasn’t a production-ready vehicle.

And the BMW x5 eDrive won’t hit production until sometime in 2015 – meaning there’s still a year left of development. But the folks at BMW felt confident enough in these early prototypes to fly us all the way to the South of France, and send us out on the test track.

The BMW X5 eDrive is a prototype Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) version of BMW’s mid-size utility, and the first of their mainstream lineup to get the technology developed with the i3 and i8 vehicles. The plug-in parallel hybrid is also the first X5 to feature a four-cylinder engine. This is also the first pairing of BMW’s Efficient Dynamics eDrive and xDrive intelligent all-wheel-drive system.

Based on the third-generation BMW X5, the PHEV is powered by a 245-hp, 2.0L four-cylinder turbocharged engine and a 70-kW/90-hp electric motor. Its electric-only range of 30 km should suffice for most European commuters – Canadians with their longer average commutes will probably have to rely upon the combustion motor kicking in more often.

2015 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV2015 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV
2015 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV. Click image to enlarge

Although hybrid technology tends to be heavy, the X5 PHEV has several aerodynamic features compensating for the extra 250-300 kg. Although each feature may account for only a slight improvement in drag, when added together they help the X5 PHEV achieve a drag coefficient of just 0.31, and a fuel consumption rating of 3.8 L/100 km – which makes this sport utility vehicle as fuel-efficient as a Toyota Prius. BMW is predicting around 89 g/km CO2 emissions.

Each of the external design tweaks falls under BMW’s Efficient Dynamics strategy, which by cutting down on drag and air turbulence, helps reduce fuel consumption and emissions. The front bumper has been engineered to redirect air via an integrated “Air Curtain” – channelling it through two vertical inlets and along the wheel arches, eliminating drag-inducing turbulence. Air that builds up behind the wheels is released through valves in the fender liners.

2015 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV
2015 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV
2015 BMW X5 eDrive PHEV. Click image to enlarge

Behind the signature BMW kidney grille are active shutters. They’re controlled by a sensor that continuously monitors the engine’s cooling needs according to speed or temperature, and opens or closes the vents to optimize aerodynamics and help reduce engine warm-up time.

The roof tapers off in a redesigned rear spoiler flanked by “Air Blades” that work together to form a trailing edge – precisely engineered to reduce air turbulence and the negative pressure resulting from it.

The high-voltage, lithium-ion battery pack is hidden under the cargo floor. It can be charged via standard 120V outlet in three or four hours, and half that through the “BMW Wallbox” – a wall-mounted fast charger.

There’s not much to differentiate the PHEV’s cabin from the rest of the X5 models other than a couple of buttons on the centre console (covered with black electrical tape during our test) and the hybrid display screens. The battery pack eats into rear storage space somewhat – but in a visual comparison between the PHEV and regular variant the load floor looks only a few centimetres higher.

Connect with Autos.ca