It’s not often that we see a prototype car in camouflage, the usually swirly or optical illusion body wraps that carmakers use when they want to test a future model in public yet now quite give away too much of that vehicle’s exterior design. There are spies, you know, everywhere, taking pictures. But do we see them? Not a chance.
So when we and a select number of other journalists were offered a chance to drive prototype, well, we were there. The model in question was a prototype for the BMW X5 Plugin Hybrid, and it wasn’t exactly in deep cover, with just a few tape stripes over a few crucial areas—think of it as the bikini of camo—that might give away future styling detail or two. Why, for example, the tape around the headlight cluster?
Nevermind. It’s not important. What we learned about the innerworkings of the BMW X5 Plugin Hybrid is.
The X5 Plugin, in fact, if little different, at least in appearance, from other BMW X5 models, including for example, the 2014 X5 xDrive35d. The exterior body panels are the same, and one of the reasons for that, according to Gerhardt Thiel, the X5 Plugin project leader, is that the latest generation of BMW X5 was designed with a plugin hybrid system in mind from the beginning.
The BMW X5 Plugin Hybrid, then, was designed to accommodate the 2.0-liter turbocharged four and a lot of BMW i technology, combining the conventionally-mounted 240 horsepower/255 lb/ft of torque gasoline motor with a 95 horse/185 lb-ft electric motor at the rear of the vehicle. The drivetrain incorporates the eight-speed transmission, but the inclusion of the electric motor allows the elimination of the torque converter, something that no matter how sophisticated is still a power sponge.
Combined, the electric motor and gasoline engine, because of their different power and torque peaks, give the X5 Plugin has a maximum horsepower somewhere over 270 horsepower and a torque peak in excess of 300 lb-ft of torque.
The battery pack is liquid-cooled which according to Thiel allows it to be more compact. It lives under the cargo floor which had to be raised between one and two inches to accommodate it.
Left to its own devices, the BMW X5 Plugin Hybrid kicks in the internal combustion engine about 42 mph. The X5 Plugin also has a “Proactive Driving Assistant” that’s controlled via an “eDrive” button on the center console that has a default mode although in eDrive mode.
A “Max eDrive” mode keeps the X5 Plugin in electric mode as much as possible. It’s recommended for city use, but the X5 Plugin Hybrid has a top speed of about 75 mph on electric alone. No more just using the e-motor to creep into the driveway without being detected. The Max eDrive will still add the X5 Plugin to making if the driver pushes down on the gas pedal hard enough.
A third mode is “Save battery,” which locks out the electric motor if the driver knows, for example, that a parking garage is part of upcoming travel plans.
The system doesn’t turn on the gas engine if it isn’t needed. The X5 Plugin Hybrid is happy to drive around with a cold engine, starting the engine only when it’s needed for power or the battery runs out of juice. That does not include when heat or a/c is needed as both can be provided electrically, running off the battery pack.
An interesting use of technology is interlinking the vehicle’s navigation system with the hybrid control system. The nav system, for example, knows where hills and descents are, what speed limits are, and takes all that data—plus traffic data—and feeds that to the hybrid control system to take into consideration when electing when to use gas or electric power, and it does it all on the fly.
Unlike some other plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt, the gasoline engine in the X5 Plugin Hybrid isn’t a range extender. It doesn’t recharge the battery. Use up the charge and that’s it. There is some recharging from regenerative brakes, but it’s not a significant part of the plan.
We drove the BMW X5 Plugin around BMW’s corporate campus in Montvale, New Jersey. Played with the soft pedal, it was hard to feel any transitions between modes. And yes, we violated the on-property speed limit. But the polizei weren’t looking—does BNW have its own police—and we experienced the punch one would expect from 300 lb-ft of torque. It won’t be lacking in stoplight grand prize encounters.
The BMW Plugin Hybrid isn’t auto show vaporwear. It’s a true prototype. As to the “when” question, however, we were told “not within a year, which we’ll translate into next summer, in time for the 2016 model year. Or maybe not.
Whenever, however, don’t look for the camo on the BMW Plugin Hybrid. Just somewhere to plug it in.