Trusting technology in the 2017 BMW X5 40e

Few automakers seem as determined to advance vehicle technology as the wunderkinds from Bavarian Motor Works. The speed with which they plug new features into their vehicles probably outpaces the ability of most drivers to keep up with those changes.

That’s certainly the case for me. I love truly useful applications of technology, but when it’s applied to a ton or two of solid moving object, I don’t jump on it right away.

This time around, though, I finally took the plunge on a feature in the 2017 BMW X5 40e. Soon enough, I wanted to use it even when I didn’t need it.

First impression

I’ll get back to that feature later. The X5 deserves a mention in the looks department. This is a large vehicle, yet the Glacier Silver Metallic I spent a week with still manages to cut a sporty figure. The black low-profile tires had something to do with it, but it mostly seems to come from how well BMW’s muscular design language transfers to the X5. More specifically, the width of the vehicle translates into a little low-to-the-ground trompe l’oeil.

Interior

Reach for the door handle and interior accent lighting glows softly through the windows. Make yourself comfortable on the black Dakota leather seats. Let your eyes follow subtle wood accents as they weave through the dash and doors. Glance up to enjoy the panoramic moonroof, adding sunshine from above to the back seats as well as the front.

image courtesy BMW

Heated rear seats await passengers as well, supplementing the four-zone climate control.

Hockey bag test

The cargo area took my bag longitudinally (with a little squeezing) and another bag would fit beside it without needing to fold down the rear seats. There’s a fold-down “lip” that acts like the rear of a car’s trunk you can get out of the way when you need to extract heavy objects from this hatch.

A hat-tip to the engineer who thought to include both a “close hatch” button AND a “close hatch and lock vehicle” button at the base of the hatch door.

In-cabin technology

BMW’s wide display screen runs primarily off the commander knob/button/joystick/touchpad combination. Buttons surrounding the commander act as shortcuts to commonly accessed screens (navigation, media, phone and so forth). It’s such a smooth, easy-to-learn system that it might pass under the radar for most drivers.

There’s one first-world problem here: the on/off/volume knob is by the presets buttons on the centre stack. It might make more sense to position it near the commander instead.

The screen shows a 360-degree view around the vehicle, which is handy when parking. BMW’s heads-up display appears clear and sharp in a variety of lighting conditions, lessening the need to glance down at the instrument cluster.

Driving an eDrive

When I picked up the X5, it was charging up in BMW’s parking lot on Ultimate Drive.

I’d like to say I was able to keep the battery charged up so I could squeeze a few more kilometres out of it and not have to rely on the premium-fuel-consuming 2-litre 308 hp engine. I’d like to say that, but I can’t. My condo, part of a three-decade-old complex, hasn’t yet outfitted any spots with charging ports. The same goes for various places I took the X5. Any charging happened on the road when I let off the gas while cruising.

image courtesy BMW

If you think four cylinders isn’t enough to drive a large vehicle, think again. Even a suggestive tap on the accelerator moves the X5 quickly enough to provide gentle pressure between a passenger’s back and the seat supporting it. The battery, as in all hybrids, never goes flat, so drivers always have enough juice for passing maneuvers or (ahem) whatever behaviour they choose to indulge in.

I wasn’t afraid to make quick turns when I needed to. The vehicle’s extra width, suspension components and other qualities helped it corner almost as sure-footedly (or sure-tiredly) as a car.

Having the X5 drive itself

Adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping capabilities are fascinating when engaged on highways. The next step towards autonomous driving, a self-parking vehicle, takes a few more smarts. BMW has offered Park Assistant on several models, and I finally tried it on the largest Bimmer I’ve driven to date.

I sidled up next to a parked car on the street that had space behind it and had the X5 take over from there. Put the X5 in reverse. Press the Park Assist button. Turn on the turn signal. Hold the Park Assist button. Release the brake pedal. Let the X5 slide itself in. That was it.

If I have one quibble about the system, it’s that the steering wheel turns when the X5 isn’t in motion. Were I in control, I would prevent unnecessary tire wear by not turning the steering wheel if the wheels weren’t moving, at least a little.

I can get away with saying this since the X5 isn’t programmed to critique the driver’s parking skills. If it could, it might point out how it parks perfectly on the first try, every time, unlike me. So there’s a technology BMW need not develop.

Pricing

The 2017 BMW X5 40e comes in at a base MSRP of $74,700. My tester, with Premium Package Enhanced, Smartphone Connectivity Package (including Apple CarPlay, wireless charging and WiFi Hotspot) and LED lighting package, retails for $84,250.

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