Behold, what we have here is genesis!
Over 1.3 million vehicles and two generations ago when BMW introduced the X5 in 1999, SUVs at the time were mostly based on pickup truck platforms. Built on traditional body-on-frame platforms, these vehicles were capable tow vehicles and superior off-road. However the drawbacks included rougher rides, high step-in heights, and truck-like handling.
It isn’t often that an auto manufacturer gets to launch an entirely new vehicle segment. But with the X5, coined the world’s first Sport Activity Vehicle, BMW proved to its competitors (and customers) that there was and is indeed a market for a vehicle with all the pros of an SUV (added space, higher seating position, etc) but with the luxury, safety, security, ride and handling, and performance of their Ultimate Driving Machines.
Fast forward to 2014 and every major auto manufacturer worth its salt has some sort of crossover vehicle in its model line-up. Even Lamborghini is working on one! As the old adage goes, if you can’t beat them, join them!
For this review, I tested the “bad boy” in the X5 line-up, the V8 powered X5 xDrive50i M Sport. Keep reading to find out why this is the closest thing you can get to a brand new X5 M…for now.
This 3rd generation X5 still shares a lot of its design traits with its popular predecessors. BMW defines these as a long wheelbase, short front overhang, upright A-pillars, and a short distance between the front axle and the leading edge of the front door.
Look closely and you may even be able to spot the front bumper’s subtle X-shaped contour lines which are meant to identify the vehicle as a member of BMW’s X model family.
As with every BMW, the 3D kidney grill is present, larger than ever before, and the hallmark four round headlamps have been elongated to meet the sides of said kidney grill (a la 3 and 4-series cars).
All X5 models are equipped with standard adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights, but new to the game is the availability of BMW’s Adaptive LED headlights. In this latest iteration, the LED accent rings (aka angel eyes) have been flattened along the bottom edge and overlapped at the top.
LED front foglamps are also standard equipment on all X5 models.
Add BMW’s optional High Beam Assistant (part of the $3,800 technology package) which automatically turns the high beams on and off, and you truly have the best lighting system money can buy on an SUV today.
The LEDs resemble daylight more closely and cast a controlled flood of light that can even change pattern according to the speed of the vehicle and type of road it is being driven on (e.g. city or highway).
BMW’s Drag-reducing Air Curtains also make their debut on the X5. The engineers claim that these vertical apertures are designed to guide the incoming air around the wheel arches, creating a curtain of air over the wheels before making a controlled escape through the Air Breathers in the side of the front fenders.
Out back, the X5 is mostly unchanged from its predecessor. The Range Rover-like two piece power tailgate is retained, and the thin 3D LED light strips in the classic BMW L-shaped rear lights create an even more striking night-time signature.
My X5 xDrive50i test car was equipped with the $4,000 optional M Sport Line package, which, among other things, included a set of attractive 20” M Double-spoke alloy wheels mounted on massively wide tires (275/40 up front and 315/35 out back).
If you’re looking to set your X5 apart from the more pedestrian looking ones in the mall parking lot, save your pennies and spring for this performance-orientated package full of goodies. It really helps to emphasise the “Sport” in Sport Activity Vehicle.
This is where BMW has clearly invested some time and money. If you’re familiar with BMW’s latest interiors, you will feel right at home in these new digs.
The result is a more interesting take on the usual business-like interior. The new 3D design and contrasting surfaces colours play off nicely against each other.
Also new to the X5 is a heads-up display system that can display your music selection, warning messages, speed, and navigation directions. It’s highly visible even in bright sunlight and highly recommended.
A central piece of this revised interior is the enlarged 10.23” freestanding iDrive screen. Controlled via the iDrive touchpad, this screen has impressive high resolution and contrast.
As mentioned in my previous reviews, I truly believe that BMW has the best 360 camera system in the business.
The M Sport Line package’s offerings continue inside with the addition of an anthracite headliner, an M-sport steering wheel with flappy paddles, and multi-contour sport seats.
Speaking of the front seats, they’re nicely trimmed in BMW’s Dakota leather and are top notch – supportive, all-day comfy, and adjustable in enough ways that even the pickiest driver or passenger can find a suitable position.
Second row passengers won’t be missing out either, particularly as my test vehicle’s Premium Package also included 4-zone climate control, heated rear seats, rear window sunshades, and a $1,950 optional rear seat entertainment system with dual 9.2” screens.
TV, radio, DVD, and even navigation functions are accessible from the rear seat independent of the driver and the front iDrive display. Auxiliary connections are also available for MP3 players and game consoles.
As nice as this system is put together, the option price is rather steep. I would personally skip it for a couple of iPad Airs instead and still come out ahead by a few hundred dollars.
If you’re an audiophile, one option that would be hard to pass up on would be the $4,900 optional Bang & Olufsen Sound System.
This speaker is a mid-range unit featuring Acoustic Lens Technology for consistent sound quality on all seats.
You can choose between two sound settings: “Studio” for authentic sound and “Expanded” for surround sound.
The lighting scheme of individual speaker covers is also sure to illicit “oohs” and “ahhs” from your passengers.
The X5’s versatility also gets cranked up a notch or two with the addition of a 40/20/40-split folding rear seat which allows the loading of long and slim objects like skis, but without sacrificing room for back seat occupants.
Optional third row seats are also available but judging from the available cargo area space, the seats are likely to be suitable for only small children.
So how does it drive?
The answer to the million-dollar question is a resounding “YES”. The BMW X5 still does handle like the company’s famed sports sedans, which is the top reason to consider this crossover.
The xDrive50i’s V8 engine produces gobs of power and an angry snarl. It’s a truly intoxicating guttural noise that encourages you to rev it more. Unlike the Range Rover Supercharged I tested earlier this year, the X5’s racy V8 does entice you to push its limits. And anytime you need the muscle it’s there for the taking.
The direct injection 4.4L TwinScroll Twin Turbo V8 engine generates 445 prancing German ponies and 479 ft-lbs of torque between 2000-4500 rpms. The relatively flat torque curve is the main reason why the grunt is there in abundance at all times.
0-100 km/hr whooshes by in a sports car like 5.1 seconds. Not bad for a vehicle tipping the scales at 5,150 lbs.
But let’s face it. Customers who opt for the high output V8 engine aren’t too worried about its fuel consumption. For those who are, the miserly xDrive35d turbo-diesel is rated at an impressive 8.7L/100 kms in the city and 6.3L/100 kms on the highway.
To help stretch out the distance in between fill-ups with the maximum 85L of fuel on board, BMW offers a few clever tech innovations. Firstly, the ECO PRO drive control mode retards downshifts and relaxes throttle response. On the highway it will even automatically shift the transmission into neutral when coasting, so as to lower the engine revs.
The system works extremely well and even reports the kilometres of range extended by using ECO PRO.
Conversely, toggle the Dynamic Drive active chassis control’s switch over to Sport or Sport+ and the X5 livens up with noticeably sharper steering, faster and more aggressive gear changes, and a much more responsive throttle pedal.
To tie that all together is BMW’s Adaptive M Suspension, part of the M Sport Line package. Offering firmer settings and a self-leveling rear air suspension, the system is also linked to the Dynamic Drive control and helps the X5 make the claim of being the closest thing to driving a sports car one can get whilst still in an SUV (save for the Porsche Cayenne Turbo).
On my usual test loop, the xDrive50i was seriously accomplished even when judged by car (and not just SUV) standards. The benefits of the 50/50 weight distribution are even more evident with this heavier vehicle, and the meaty tires offer huge amounts of grip especially when combined with BMW’s excellent xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
It feels surreal to be driving something with such a high up seating position but with quick and precise steering, little body roll, amazing power delivery, and an angry exhaust note to boot.
The 5,000+ curb weight does make itself apparent when “throwing” the X5 around tight off-camber ribbons of tarmac, but most drivers will never get anywhere close to its limits unless they’re doing something truly stupid.
As with all BMWs, be careful with the options sheet or the sticker price can escalate quickly. My X5 V8 tester’s price was a gulp-worthy $96,400 before taxes, freight and PDI.
This 3rd generation X5 is more of an evolution rather than a revolution. But as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. And thus BMW has taken a calculated approach not to mess up a good thing.
BMW has focused on the things that its customers care about the most. Improvements in quality, technology, space, driving dynamics, and the upgraded appearance of its cockpit top the list.
And as Martha Stewart says, “That’s a good thing”.