Drive: 2021 BMW X-5 drives like a sport sedan but performs like an SUV

In most circumstances, we’d rather drive a sport sedan than an SUV. But there are exceptions to every rule, and BMW builds one of them —the X-5, an early entry to the luxury-SUV sector and still one of the best.

You see, the X-5 drives like a sport sedan but performs like an SUV when you need extra muscle to tow a boat or a box trailer. When the X-5 isn’t cutting corners at high speed on a twisting rural highway, it can tow 7,200 pounds, or haul 72.3 cubic feet or cargo. And if the woods beckon, its 8.3 inches of ground clearance and all-wheel-drive system are up to mild to medium-level off-road challenges.

On top of that, this BMW has a liberal dose of green cred. The version of the 2021 X-5 we tested was the xDrive45e, which can cruise for about 30 miles —reaching speeds of up to 84 mph —on electricity alone. It’s rated at 50 mpge (miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent), and 20 mpg on gasoline alone. X-5s with the xDrive45e option are plug-in hybrids, meaning they can run in all-electric mode if charged up, or in gasoline-electric mode at other times.

The xDrive45e option is relatively inexpensive and may even bring its price below that of the conventional X-5 ($59,400). Our test car's base price was $65,400, but Uncle Sam provides a $7,500 income-tax credit for all-electric and plug-in-hybrid vehicles. Unfortunately, the BMW's sticker price is too high to qualify for Connecticut’s rebate program.

2021 BMW X-5 xDrive45e

Price: $81,695

Engine: 3.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged inline 6, with integrated electric motor, 389 horsepower, 443 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Suspension: double-wishbone front, multi-link rear

Ground clearance: 8.3 in.

Curb weight: 5,464 lb.

Wheels: 21x9.5-in. front, 21x10.5-in. rear

Tires: P275/40R21 front, P315/35R21 rear

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 33.9 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 72.3 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 7,200 lb.

Fuel capacity: 18.5 gal.

Fuel economy: 50 mpge gasoline and electric, 20 mpg gasoline only

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline

Our test car was loaded with luxury, tech, performance and safety options that brought its sticker price to $81,695.

Like all of the BMWs we’ve driven over the years, the X-5’s handling was faultless. A vehicle this big —5,464 pounds —shouldn’t corner and accelerate this well, but it does nonetheless.

Powering the xDrive45e is a turbocharged inline 6-cylinder, 389-horsepower engine with electric boost. It can go 0 to 60 mph in about 5.3 seconds, so it's not just agile, but quite fast off the line

Inside, the xDrive45e is about what you’d expect from a BMW in terms of luxury, technology, and meticulous fit and finish. One might quibble over a few issues —the power-adjustable steering wheel doesn't extend quite as far as long-legged drivers might hope, after they've extended the seat as far back as it will go. And that often invaluable third-row seat, suitable for children, is not available with the xDrive45e option because of the hybrid system's space requirements.

When equipped with the optional icon adaptive LED headlights with laserlight package, the X-5 is rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Our test car included this feature, part of a $4,050 Executive Package.

The X-5 competes in a crowded field that includes the Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Porsche Cayenne, Lexus GX, Volvo XC90, Cadillac XT6, Acura MDX, Lincoln Aviator, Genesis GV80 and Infiniti QX60. Always a strong seller, the X-5 led its category with 50,642 units sold in the United States last year, a decline of less than 8% from 2019 levels in a year that was disastrous for many makes.

Steven Macoy ( is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.