Sweeping turn after sweeping turn, the BMW X5 does very little to remind you that you’re in a 4,790-lb luxury SUV. With solid steering and throttle response, you almost feel like you’re at the helm of one of brand’s benchmark-setting sport sedans.
|1. The new 3rd generation X5 comes in about 200 lbs. lighter than the last generation.
2. Our tester uses a 3.0L turbocharged six-cylinder making 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
3. Rear-wheel drive models starts at $53,725, while all-wheel drive models start at $56,025 including delivery.
4. Fuel economy for xDrive models is 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined.
That experience is exactly what BMW set out to achieve in 1999 when the X5 was first introduced. Forget lumbering family haulers that boast off-road capability and rugged simplicity. The biggest BMW utility vehicle is injected with BMW’s hallmark driving dynamics.
For 2014 the X5 continues to be described as a “Sport Activity Vehicle” and truthfully, there’s very little to suggest that the car can be qualified use the term ‘utility’ at all – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Lost the Weight but Not the Attitude
Visually, the X5 doesn’t change very much from the last generation model – it’s still more athletic-looking than competing products. However, the new body style is reworked in a few areas to improve fuel efficiency. Use of aluminum and other lightweight materials make the X5 look like a Weight Watchers poster-child, trimming 170 lbs compared to the previous model, while improved aerodynamics due to air-channelling body-work help the X5 deliver better fuel economy.
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While every X5 comes with a responsive eight-speed transmission, fuel economy varies quite a bit depending on which engine is found under the hood. The subject of our review features the base offering: a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six cylinder engine that makes 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Paired with the xDrive all-wheel drive system, this particular X5 is rated for 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, making for a combined rating of 21 mpg. On average, that marks an expected two mpg improvement, or up to five on the highway.
In the real world, the six-cylinder model chugs fuel like a tired athlete swigging sports drink during a time out. The trip computer reported 18 mpg through our week of wintery testing.
The six-cylinder engine has another flaw: it’s a little underpowered in this application. While the 300-hp engine feels brilliant in something like the 335i, the X5 is considerably heavier and the engine feels overworked in the all-wheel drive X5. Fortunately, BMW, much like an all-you-can eat buffet, offers customers more than one model, so there are solutions to the six-cylinder X5’s shortcomings. Still, the solution is hardly perfect. Those looking for better fuel economy will find it in the diesel-powered xDrive35d, while those looking for a more exciting and immediate feeling of thrust will find it in the twin-turbo V8-powered xDrive50i. Both options are pricier than the base six-cylinder gas model, but the best of all worlds is the diesel motor, which provides improved fuel economy with 413 lb-ft of torque.
Cracks Smiles by Carving Roads
Despite the xDrive 35i’s lack of power, the X5 is still fun to drive because of how well it handles. Steering response is excellent at speed, although it feels artificially light at parking lot speeds. Then again, that’s not a bad thing when you eye the perfect parking space and find yourself spinning the wheel quickly to secure the spot. Along with steering response, it feels engaging on the road. While traditional luxury vehicles tend to deliver a disconnected, almost floaty feeling, X5 feels raw in comparison and gives an excellent sense of where the wheels are and what they’re doing.
BMW also offers M Sport modifications to the car that include different body panels and M Sport wheels (either 19- or 20-inches in diameter). For another extra fee, the company will add an “Adaptive M Suspension” that adds dynamic damper control and a rear air suspension with a “more sports-oriented suspension tuning.
BMWs excellent xDrive all-wheel drive system helps put power where it’s most needed for optimal grip. The car felt planted on ice, snow and mud. During lively driving on dry roads, it X5 hunkered down and clawed at the road, delivering the kind of grip and confidence you would expect from smaller Bimmers. Flip a switch near the gearstick into Sport mode to get the total BMW experience with livelier throttle response, or switch to Comfort or Eco Pro modes for a more docile drive.
Handsome Interior Needs More Space
Like the driving dynamics of the big beamer, the interior is a mix of very good and very bad. Materials found throughout the cabin are on par with what you’d expect from a car coming in at $70,000 – the eye catching mocha Nappa leather seats in our test car are as sexy as they are comfy. Little details like the contrast stitching on the seats, customizable ambient lighting throughout the cabin and ergonomic cabin controls showcase BMWs meticulous focus on premium design.
However, passengers in the rear seats may be confused as to what all the fuss is about. While they are indeed treated to niceties like heated seats and dual-zone automatic climate control (meaning that there’s a total of four zones of automatically conditioned air) the rear half of the car is lacking in space. It’s interesting to bring up that the BMW X3, the smaller sibling in BMW sport ‘activity’ vehicle lineup, features more rear seat legroom, headroom and cargo capacity.
With that in mind, the optional third row of seating sounds like a cramped nightmare fit for your worst enemies. Cargo room is also a concern, as the X5 features a maximum of just 66 cubic feet of space, coming up way short of the echo-inducing 80 cubic feet offered by the cavernous Mercedes-Benz M-Class. With its second row raised, the X5 only offers 23 cubic feet, which is also bested by the Benz.
However, luxury cars are about coddling the owners and showcasing the latest and most interesting features fit for a high price tag. The X5 is available with just about every imaginable option, including a heads-up display, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, a bird’s eye view camera, adaptive LED headlights and the choice of two premium sound upgrades.
BMW’s iDrive infotainment system has also been updated and allows users to draw letters and numbers on a touchpad situated on top of the control knob. The tester available for us wasn’t fully loaded and didn’t feature one of BMW’s “Line” packages, yet the price was just north of $70,000. Get carried away with high-priced options like the $4,500 Bang and Olufsen sound system, and the tag soars further.
Without options, the X5 is attractively priced compared to the Range Rover Sport. The sDrive 35i, a base six-cylinder gas model with rear-wheel drive costs $53,725, while the all-drive xDrive35i model costs $56,025. The diesel powered model adds $1,500 to that price for a total $57,525 while the big 4.4-liter V8 model starts at $69,125 all including $925 in delivery fees.
However, the X5 is a bit more expensive when compared to more family friendly luxury SUVs, like the Mercedes ML class, and the Acura MDX (The winner of the 2014 AutoGuide.com Crossover Of The Year award). Those vehicles aren’t nearly as much fun or engaging to drive, but certainly offer a better blend of family hauling capability and luxury.
There’s a reason BMW calls its bigger vehicles Sport Activity Vehicles – they truly are. The X5 drives well and is enjoyable despite the lacking wow-factor in the xDrive35i model. The “Sport” and “Activity” are clearly present. With its disappointing space for passengers and cargo, it’d be misleading to categorize the beamer as a utility vehicle. However if you’re looking for an engaging and well-appointed big SUV on the market, the X5 easily delivers.