Large SUVs — this is where plug-in hybrid technology shows promise. As we discussed not too long ago in regards to the Bentley Mulsanne plug-in hybrid concept, it’s large vehicles that stand to benefit the most from the hybrid powertrain, not the compact cars that, even without the batteries and electric motors, can still acheive pretty decent fuel economy.
As Mitsubishi is finding out with its Outlander Plug-In Hybrid (which is now delayed for the U.S. market until next year), the most significant fuel savings can be realized in the vehicles that burn the most fuel, namely SUVs and pickups. V-Trux, a project in which former GM executive Bob Lutz is a key player, has already tapped into that idea — the company produced plug-in hybrid pickups. The business model is simple enough: Find the vehicles with the worst mileage and make it better. And that’s what BMW is aiming to do with its X5 SUV.
BMW says its BMW eDrive X5 can manage 20 miles on electric power alone, thanks to a 95 horsepower electric motor. For many, that’s more than enough range to meander around the suburbs for various errands — most importantly though, short drives around town are when vehicles consume the most fuel. Plug-in hybrids effectively remove gasoline from that part of the equation, making the car far more efficient overall.
For longer trips, BMW is giving drivers the option of what driving style they would like. There’s Comfort and Sport settings, as well as the Eco Pro mode, which naturally sacrifices performance for greater fuel economy. Once the electric motor is tapped, it’s assisted by a 2.0 liter turbo four that produces 245 horsepower. In total, the eDrive X5 will boast a respectable 340 combined horses, allowing it to sprint from zero to 62 in under seven seconds, but it’s the fuel efficiency that should really set it apart.
Fuel efficiency figures for the eDrive X5 were believed to be about 75 miles per gallon on the imperial cycle, which translates to about 62 miles per gallon in American figures. For a large SUV whose current most efficient form is just over 30 miles per gallon (in the U.S. spec diesel), that’s really impressive — and again illustrates the benefits that can come from applying such technology to the usual gas guzzlers.
Ultimately, applying plug-in hybrid tech (plug-in specifically — hybrid attempts at SUVs in the past have been less than impressive, and didn’t really offer up the performance differential needed to offset the price increase) to SUVs may prove to be a valuable method for automakers to more easily fall into compliance with fleet emissions laws. Rather than sacrificing their fuel-consuming trucks and SUVs, automakers have been relying on small compacts to carry the compliance burden to bring their averages down. Tackling the bigger fuel consumers as another approach may be more beneficial in the long run, however.
The BMW eDrive X5 concept will be taking a bow at this year’s New York Auto Show later this week, having made its debut in Frankfurt last year. It’s unclear when the eDrive X5 will see production, if anytime soon, or when it will be available here in the States.