Best hybrid SUV: new BMW X5 45e vs Volvo XC90 T8
Want a luxury SUV but can’t stomach the fuel and tax bills? One of these plug-in hybrids from BMW and Volvo might be the answer...
BMW X5 xDrive45e M Sport
- List price - £66,665
- Target Price - £61,250
Hybrid X5 has an excellent electric-only range and a smooth six-cylinder engine.
Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design
- List price - £66,645
- Target Price - £61,407
Our long-time favourite plug-in SUV has a spacious and flexible interior with seven seats.
From April 2020, company car tax became cheaper. Don’t worry, we’re not trying to fool you; we’re just pointing out that changes in benefit-in-kind (BIK) rules mean that if you pick your car carefully, your bank balance will look a whole lot healthier.
That’s because while the majority of regular petrol and diesel models were hit with a rise in tax rates, the costs for electric cars and many plug-in hybrids dropped significantly. But low CO2 emissions aren’t the be-all and end-all any more, with hybrids that produce just 1-50g/km now also judged on the number of miles they can cover on battery power alone.
That being the case, the new BMW X5 xDrive45e finds itself in a very sweet position. With a CO2 output of 39g/km and an official electric-only range of up to 54 miles, it enjoys a BIK rate of just 6% after 6 April. To put it another way, it means your monthly tax bill will be less than if you’d gone for a sub-£25,000 1.0-litre Ford Puma small SUV.
But what does all this mean for the What Car? award-winning Volvo XC90 T8? With a CO2 output of 66g/km and an official electric-only range of up to 29 miles, it sits in a much higher BIK tax bracket (18%), but that doesn’t mean we should count it out. After all, it’s the only plug-in hybrid SUV with seven seats, and it has plenty of other talents to shout about, too.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Despite their green credentials, these big, heavy cars are seriously quick. The XC90 pairs a 299bhp supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (driving the front wheels) with an 86bhp electric motor that drives the rears. The X5 does things a bit differently, positioning its 111bhp electric motor between a 282bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six petrol engine and an eight-speed automatic gearbox and apportioning drive continuously to all four wheels.
With the X5’s more even spread of power, it accelerates off the line more authoritatively, sprinting from a standstill to 60mph in just 5.1sec. The XC90 is far from sluggish, taking 5.7sec to cover the 0-60mph dash, but it always feels less punchy, largely because its smaller petrol engine needs to be revved hard before it produces its best.
Both cars can get to the motorway speed limit on battery power alone if necessary. As for their electric-only ranges, the X5 returned an impressive 32.5 miles on our set test route, which replicates a range of real-world driving environments, whereas the XC90 managed just 18.7 miles.
The X5’s engine is smoother and quieter when it fires into life and sounds more tuneful when you rev it hard. And although its tyres make more of a slapping noise over bumps around town, the X5 is a more relaxing cruiser, suffering less from wind and road noise on the motorway. Its suspension is quieter at all speeds, too.
But a hushed interior is no good if your luxury SUV has a backbreaking ride. Despite the fact that our X5 test car was wearing large, optional 21in wheels (part of the £1900 M Sport Plus package), it has an ace up its sleeve in the shape of standard adaptive air suspension. Although particularly vicious potholes and ridges still thump through to your backside, the X5 positively floats over most imperfections, proving especially supple when cruising on the motorway. We suspect it’d be even better on the 20in wheels that are standard with M Sport trim.
R-Design XC90s come with 20in wheels and regular suspension that’s noticeably stiffer. The upside is that the XC90 controls its body movements pretty well, without too much pitching and heaving along uneven roads. The downside is that the car fidgets more than the X5 over surface imperfections at all speeds and deals with sharp bumps far more abruptly. You wouldn’t quite call it uncomfortable, but it certainly isn’t as cosseting as the X5.
Adaptive air suspension is a £2150 option on the XC90, but it doesn’t improve matters enough to warrant spending the extra money. We’d certainly avoid the optional 21in or 22in wheels, because these make the ride even worse.
On the other hand, the combination of the XC90’s stiffer suspension and lower weight means it feels more agile in corners than the X5. It not only leans over less but also changes direction in a snappier fashion. Even if you flick the X5 into its Sport mode, which firms up the suspension and lowers the body closer to the ground, it still sways around more.
Mind you, the X5 has more naturally weighted steering that gets heavier as cornering forces and speed increase – just as it should. It’s also very precise. The XC90’s steering feels like the front wheels are half-buried in mud when you first turn the wheel, then there isn’t enough weight build-up to give you confidence during cornering.
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