BMW first announced its intentions to bring a production hydrogen-powered vehicle to the market in September 2019 when we saw the first photos of the so-called BMW i Hydrogen NEXT. At the time, the hydrogen X5 was in the very early stages of its development but now it’s finally ready to hit the streets in the first public road tests.

The Bavarian brand says a fleet of near-production vehicles is embarking on public road evaluations in everyday conditions around Europe. The engineers and test pilots of the automaker will study the performance of the fuel-cell powertrain, the model-specific chassis technology, and the vehicle electronics systems. The testing program should prepare the i Hydrogen NEXT for a small-series production run scheduled for late 2022.

Gallery: BMW X5 testing with hydrogen power

We can’t help but notice that BMW is obviously not seeing hydrogen power as the future of mobility. In its latest press release, the manufacturer explains the fuel-cell systems could supplement combustion engines, PHEVs, and fully-electric vehicles, though it seems that not even BMW wants to develop them as anything more than “an attractive alternative” to battery-powered electric cars.

“Hydrogen fuel cell technology can be an attractive option for sustainable drivetrains – especially in larger vehicle classes,” Frank Weber, a member of BMW’s Board of Management for Development, comments. “That is why road testing of near-standard vehicles with a hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain is an important milestone in our research and development efforts.”

The drivetrain system of the i Hydrogen NEXT will be based on the electric powertrain of the iX3. To the output of the electric motor, the hydrogen X5 will add the power generated during the chemical reaction between the hydrogen and oxygen from the air. The combined peak output of the system will be 374 bhp (275 kilowatts), which is on par with the most powerful six-cylinder turbo petrol engine in the X5.