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Used hybrids: BMW X5 vs Volvo XC90

Like the idea of a luxury SUV but can’t stomach the fuel and tax bills? One of these used plug-in hybrids from BMW and Volvo might be the answer...

BMW X5 45e vs Volvo XC90 T8 - fronts

The Contenders

BMW X5 xDrive45e M Sport

List price when new £66,665
Price today £61,437*
Available from 2019-present

The hybrid X5 has an excellent electric-only range and a smooth six-cylinder engine.

Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design

List price when new £66,645
Price today £50,730*
Available from 2015-present

An old-timer plug-in SUV that has a spacious and flexible interior with seven seats.

Prices are based on a 2019 model with average mileage and a full service history using the What Car? Valuation tool, and are correct at time of writing

Electric is the way to go, at least if the threat of banning traditional petrol and diesel vehicles from city centres in the near future is anything to go by. But is there a way of future-proofing your next car-buying choice without compromising the luxuries we've grown accustomed to – while also saving some money? Seems like a tall order, but it can be done by getting a used plug-in hybrid luxury SUV.

One of the best choices for the past few years has been the BMW X5 43e, because it has a mighty electric-only range of up to 54 miles, which should go some way to balancing out the thirst of the large 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol engine that powers the X5 when the batteries are depleted.

BMW X5 45e rear cornering - 69-plate car

The X5 isn't alone in the luxury SUV class, though – the Volvo XC90 has had a plug-in hybrid option since the present generation version arrived in 2015. It might not go as far as the X5 under electric propulsion, but it is much more practical because it keeps the seven seats of the standard XC90. 

Back when the X5 first came out, we declared it the better choice because its much lower benefit-in-kind (BIK) rate meant it was a no brainer for company car buyers, but is is still the best option as a private buyer second hand? Let's find out.


Performance, ride, handling, refinement 

Despite their green credentials, these big, heavy cars are seriously quick. The Volvo 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.

Volvo XC90 T8 rear cornering - 69-plate car

The BMW 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 far 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 gives 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. Its tyres make more of a slapping noise over bumps around town, but the X5 is the more relaxing cruiser, suffering less from wind and tyre noise on the motorway. Its suspension is quieter at all speeds, too.

BMW X5 45e front cornering - 69-plate car

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 the large optional 21in wheels (part of the 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 was an option when new on the XC90, but it doesn’t improve matters enough to warrant actively searching for an example with it. We’d certainly avoid any XC90 with 21in or 22in wheels, because these make the ride even worse.

Volvo XC90 T8 front cornering - 69-plate car

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 BMW 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 Volvo 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.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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