Home Reviews 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e: Easing Into Electrification

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e: Easing Into Electrification

The X5 has long been a staple for BMW, meeting the desires of the CUV buyer and maintaining the performance character expected of BMW. The X5 xDrive45e plug-in hybrid finally bridges an electric stepping stone for the X5, and it just might be the perfect compromise for the premium crossover lifestyle.

Out of Spec Score: 84/100


The front fascia is nearly perfect on the X5. From the properly sized kidney grill to the LED signature in the laser light housing, I simply adore looking at it. The iconic BMW quad-headlight daytime running lights leave no doubt in the minds of those seeing the X5 as to what it is and what it means. The color was also incredible on this particular model, dubbed Arctic Grey Metallic, and it was nicely paired with the 21” M Y-spoke Bi-color wheels. 

The side profile and rear are also distinctly BMW, with the front left quarter panel adorned by the J1772 charging port. There is actual venting, and the M Sport version adds shadow line exterior trim as standard, essentially replacing black cladding with color-matched, more aggressive lines. The creases along the side make for aggressive styling cues while maintaining a generally subdued appearance. Interestingly, the shoulder line climbs to a slightly higher placement within the rear doors. 

Around back, the taillights wrap around the rear quarter panels, and the top of the tailgate features a spoiler accent. While somewhat meaningless from a performance aspect, it does look good. The bumper itself integrates actual exhaust outlets, rather than fake accents. I’m looking at you, Audi. BMW has plenty of controversy in designs of late, but this X5 exemplifies how it should be, at least in the eyes of most fans.


Within the X5 you are met with great materials and design. In this case, it featured Vernasca leather in Ivory white, contrasting with the black. Then there is the Aluminum Tetragon trim accent. It’s a bit over-the-top, actually reminding me of alligator skin, but I still prefer it to a simple piano black or carbon fiber. The door covering the center console front storage and Qi phone charger is the biggest section, which can be left open to tame it down a bit. But there are no cheap plastics in sight.

The seats themselves are very comfortable, fully adjustable thigh extension, bolstering, and even headrest bolstering, though that is done with manual control. Dual zone climate control in the front even has dual-automatic modes, with heated seats heated steering wheel, and even heating in the arm rests. There was however no air conditioned seats on this model. The rear seat is also excellent with ample room and its own rear dual zone climate and heated seats. 

The moonroof contained hundreds of small dot-effects, which I expected to be distracting, but in reality they did not affect light input much and resulted in a neat interior lighting effect at night. The interior lighting itself can be set to a number of colors, both single and 2-tone for various regions, and the glass roof reacts accordingly. Our personal favorite tended to be purple in both night and day, though I wish the backlighting of the center console buttons could also be changed. Yes, orange is classic BMW, but it’s just that: classic. I think it dates it to a fault, but certainly not enough to mar the overall opinion of the excellent interior.


With 389 horsepower and 443 lb-ft torque, the X5 is certainly no slouch even with its weight coming in at over 5,600 pounds. The inline-6 is an excellent power plant that feels spirited enough in nearly all driving scenarios, and the adaptive air suspension works extremely well. In comfort mode, it soaks up rough roads with smooth, quiet prowess. When switching to sport mode, it purrs to life and corners quite well for a vehicle of its size and weight.

engine bay

I mention the purr versus a roar, because the exhaust note is quite tame. I reckon most wouldn’t complain, but for a car carrying “M” badging, even just being the M Sport model, I had hoped for a bit more growl. But the M brakes are very good, with ABS dialed in nicely, and the xDrive system inspires confidence in every style of driving we attempted. I even took it on a bit of rugged trail featuring some snow and placed suspension in its highest setting. Breakover angle was very impressive and it was possibly the most comfortable I had been on a trail thus far. 

The steering feel is somewhat disconnected, and it isn’t my favorite steering wheel feel itself, but the paddles are fun to use and send quick response through the ZF 8-speed automatic transmission. It even lets you hold redline when manually shifting, something many other cars won’t give you true control over. 

The elephant in the room is the electrification aspect, which has been greatly improved over the previous generation. It now hosts a  battery with more than 24 kWh, though only about 17 kWh is usable. This generates 111 hp when in full-electric mode, which is not much power for the car, but the low-down around-town torque is still impressive. BMW claims 31 miles of electric-driving range, and we were able to consistently achieve or even beat that stated number. Depending on your commute and lifestyle, this could provide a mostly-electric driving experience with a stunning engine to provide backup. When in electric mode, you can use the full range of the accelerator pedal, hitting a “false floor” when max power is reached. You can kick through the floor with the kick down switch, which will then engage the engine and subsequently glue you to your seat as it wakes the beast, more or less.

The biggest weakness I see in the performance aspect is the charging itself. The 45e allows a maximum of 3.6 kW charging speed, which charges the battery from empty to full in roughly 7 hours. Assuming you have level 2 charging at one or both ends of your commute, it may suit your needs. But many people may find this frustrating if in any hurry. It can charge itself while driving, keeping the battery for later usage, but that certainly knocks combustion engine efficiency. 


Being an X5, there is some natural practicality. The interior provides ample room for all 5 occupants and plenty of storage opportunities throughout. Even the door pocket cup holders garnered my attention, as they were able to accommodate my full 1L Nalgene bottle, something few cars can accomplish. 

The rear storage capacity comes in at 33 cubic feet in the trunk, extending to over 72 with the rear seats folded flat. There is also a bit of under-floor storage for a few select items, such as a charging cable or emergency items. The two-piece X5 tailgate is now powered on both the upper door and lower tailgate.

Lastly, the inherent practicality of a plug-in hybrid shines for those with a capable use-case. For example, my hometown back in Missouri rarely featured a day’s worth of driving over 30 miles, in which case the X5 would effectively act as a full EV. But for those with rare charging opportunities and longer drives, it achieves numbers in the 20s for its MPG ratings when the battery is flat. 


Another impressive aspect of most modern BMW offerings is the technology on-board. The BMW iDrive infotainment is always a pleasure to use. Though some menus are multiple levels deep, the interface itself is simple and extremely responsive. It is in fact the fastest I have ever seen a car pull up Wireless CarPlay upon startup, and the center screen has excellent resolution and brightness. The BMW gesture control is also an engaging way to interact with the car. Some may consider the wide variety of controls to be a gimmick, but I found it quite effortless to move forward and backward between songs and adjust volume/mute. Though if you tend to talk with your hands on a phone call, prepare for unintentional input. 

The driver’s screen is not very customizable, but does lay out essentially everything you could need, with slight changes taking place according to driving mode. The power and charge gauge is intuitive and shows where the blend of electric and combustion power interacts, with electric mode just showing a blue bar with where your power level is at any given time. Sport mode brings the tachometer into play and turns everything red. 

Driver assist is excellent, with BMW’s Active Driving Assistant system including great lane-centering and adaptive radar cruise. The steering wheel has two thin light effects that pulse yellow when you are reminded to hold the wheel, and they turn red alongside a loud chime when enough time has passed without any driver input. The wheel itself is capacitive, allowing for touch rather than torque to notify the car you are still in control. 

Lastly, the premium Harmon/Kardon sound system is quite good. The bass can be a bit vague rather than tight, potentially due to the acoustics of the X5, but the 7 band EQ is very well-executed and the mids and highs are pristine across all genres. 

Editor’s Assessment

Though I feel the M brand is diluted a bit by offerings showing the badge, this does live up to the hype and excellence of a proper BMW product. Sure, it’s not the sportiest CUV on the market, but it has enough power and capability on tap that most drivers will never even reach its limit. The PHEV component is a welcome feature and done in the BMW way, more or less. It even lets you disable traction control completely while in Electric mode, though there isn’t typically enough power to do anything too exciting. 

I appreciate the strides made with the latest X5 xDrive45e, and I see it as a compelling option even now for those looking to step into electrification. From charging speed to usable battery capacity, there are many ways it can improve that aspect. But as a Plug-In Hybrid, it fares well for many types of buyers and finds its niche quite well.

Design 9/10

  • Exterior design 9/10
  • Interior design 9/10
  • Materials 9/10

Interior 8.2/10

  • Build quality 8/10
  • Comfort 8/10
  • Capacity 8.5/10

Performance 7.7/10

  • Acceleration 8/10
  • Handling 8/10
  • Efficiency 7/10

Technology 8.8/10

  • Connected services 9/10
  • UI/UX 8.5/10
  • Active Safety 9/10

Editor’s Assessment 8.3/10

  • Value 8/10
  • Market placement 8/10
  • Editors Influence 9/10
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I love the trajectory of transportation. It's always fascinating to see the emergence of technology within vehicles, and how they compete. I have a tremendous appreciation for EVs and old British all-mechanical roadsters alike. My personal daily driver is a NC Miata, but hoping to add an EV to the mix soon.