#ThrowbackThursday: Duel of the luxury hybrid SUVs (2016)

27 August 2020 - 15:40
The 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e (left) and Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine (right) enjoy a little horseplay.
The 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e (left) and Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine (right) enjoy a little horseplay.
Image: Waldo Swiegers

Join us as we take a look back at some of our memorable motoring outings from years gone by. This week the calendar flips to August 10 2016, when we staged a battle between two premium hybrid sport-utility vehicles.

Owning a hybrid or electric vehicle bestows on one a sense of haughtiness. These automotive high horses emit less smog, but plenty of smug. In our week with the SUV duo pictured here, we could not resist offering sanctimonious lectures to passers-by, who must have surely regretted inquiring about the vehicles in the first place.

Since Toyota pioneered the genre with its Prius back in 1998, the technology has become far more ubiquitous with many manufacturers following suit. This year saw the arrival of the first two plug-in hybrid offerings locally: the BMW X5 xDrive40e and Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine. These models enable plug-in charging of their systems so owners enjoy the virtues of battery propulsion more of the time. We summoned the pair for a duel.

The 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e.
The 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e.
Image: Waldo Swiegers

Both the X5 and XC90 are proven contenders, the latter having garnered a raft of titles, including 2016 South African Car of the Year. The German player remains a popular choice, though a tad long in the tooth. First we will address the traditional aspects of the two: their engines. Both feature petrol units with forced-induction, four cylinders and similar displacement.

Beneath the scowling snout of the BMW sits a boosted 1,997cc heart, producing 180kW and 350Nm. This is the very same power source you find in many other products from the Bavarian marque, in various states of tune.

Under the lengthy prow of the Volvo you find a 1,969cc mill delivering 235kW and 400Nm. This derived from its Drive-E family of engines; it is both supercharged and turbocharged. But these figures do not tell the whole story. Taking into account the electric motor, combined output for the BMW is rated at 230kW and 450Nm of torque. The Volvo delivers more at 300kW and 640Nm.

Now we ought to stress that you can only expect the full might of these figures when the vehicles’ batteries are juiced up.

The 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine.
The 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine.
Image: Waldo Swiegers

The XC90’s charging can be done via a regular power outlet, taking as little as three hours, depending on the current of the source. The X5 can also be charged from a domestic power outlet, but the optional BMW Wallbox charging station makes the process much quicker. Owners can also plug in at dealerships specialising in the i-range.

We topped up at the Melrose Arch centre, where a full charge took an hour, time for a cup of coffee. It was painlessly efficient. The only downside was the surly i-agent who remarked we were too long with said coffee break. But any time squandered sipping java can be easily made up on the road.

These cars are pretty quick, despite their heft. The Swedish fighter does the 0-100km/h dash in 5.6 seconds, while the German is (significantly) slower at 6.8 seconds. The former is astonishing in the way it picks up its bulk and assaults the tarmac – a Volkswagen Golf R does it in 5.2 seconds, as a reference point.

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The 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e could sprint to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds.
The 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e could sprint to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds.
Image: Waldo Swiegers

Both bring ambitious claimed consumption figures to the table. Volvo says 2.1l/100km while BMW says 3.3l/100km. And sure, you could attain close to these numbers if all the variables are ideal. Over a mix of open road and town driving, with exuberant and passive styles (real-world conditions, in other words), our testers yielded figures closer to the 9l/100km region.

Exercise restraint and the full-electric modes of these cars could show actual money-saving results. On a full charge, the Volvo can travel on electric power alone for a distance of 43km. The BMW is less inspiring at 31km. But there is one area in which the X5 excels.

You probably guessed it already, but the Bavarian feels like a far more accomplished thing to pilot. And not in a sporting sense either – but in terms of daily usability. It is easier to manoeuvre and easier to see out of. It takes corners with greater confidence and, unlike the Volvo, it does not pitch considerably under hard braking.

The Volvo, on the other hand, is akin to steering a cathedral. This Scandinavian is truly vast, thankfully it is endowed with a comprehensive suite of driver aids, taking most of the anxiety out of navigating through the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg.

Actually, being an occupant in the Volvo is anxiety-free overall. The seats are far cushier than those of the BMW and the interior provides a decidedly plusher ambience. It makes the atmosphere of the X5 seem cold and unfriendly.

The 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine romped to the 100km/h mark in 5.6 seconds.
The 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine romped to the 100km/h mark in 5.6 seconds.
Image: Walso Swiegers

Should you buy into the plug-in hybrid craze? These cars are certainly unlikely to sell in volumes, at least not now. Bear in mind that there are petrol and diesel derivatives of both cars available here, demanding less outlay. But if you fancy the idea of semi-electric motoring in the SUV ambit, then our leaning is probably quite clear.

From the figures alone, the Volvo flummoxes the BMW in virtually every aspect. It is quicker, it has a longer electric range and the fact that it is the newer product also counts.

Then there is the level of standard fare to consider. BMW throws in items such as navigation and rear air suspension as standard. The Swedes withhold the latter, but they go a little further, providing electrically adjustable seats, a power tailgate, panoramic sunroof as well as a nanny that facilitates semi-autonomous parking.

Taking price into account, the Volvo stands even more prominent as the smarter choice between this hybrid duo. It starts off at R1,074,100 while the BMW begins at R1,137,000. With the R62,900 saving, you could start your own organic garden and invest in a company that supports fair trade.


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