The good old X5. If you think back, it was the first SUV that was actually marketed honestly. BMW told us the X5 was an SAV – a Sports Activity Vehicle – and it made no bones about the fact that it wasn’t meant to go off-road. Nope, it was designed from the ground up to move well-to-do North Americans and their Slurpees from point A (their garage) to point B (Costco) and BMW hoped we would also latch onto their “Oh, and it handles like a BMW” shtick too.
Whatever you may have thought of the X5, it’s certainly been a success for BMW from the get-go – they’ve moved many hundreds of thousands of them. Mega-reliability issues from the early years notwithstanding (what do you expect when you start building things in South Carolina?), it’s always been a decent vehicle to drive. Exemplary handling for an SUV, good traction, spacious enough and intelligently designed – a lot of buyers went back for seconds.
Which brings us to this one. This is the third generation X5, and boy has it ever seen some significant changes since its 1999 debut.
Pricing: 2014 BMW X5
Base price (xDrive35i trim): $62,900
Options: $5500 Premium package; $3800 Technology package; $850 ConnectedDrive Services; $4900 Bang & Olufsen sound system
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $80,145
Though easily recognizable as a BMW and an X5, the new one definitely steps out. It has followed the design language we first saw on the new X3 and it works well here too. More butch, more aggressive and still classy, it manages to pull off a resoundingly positive overhaul.
On paper, the changes don’t print as noticeably as when you see it in person. And one of the first things you’ll notice is the size. There is no mistaking that the new X5 is big. It’s huge actually. Mind you, considering the new X3 is actually the size of the original X5, there was no way to go but BIG. But it carries its heft well.
Yes, the kidney grille is there, but it’s flattened and wide. I like how it and the new headlights are integrated to give the appearance of being one unit.
BMW is hanging on to the headlight haloes, but has certainly given the X5’s headlights a modern look. New eyebrow light strips give the new trimmed haloes a slightly angry look – this and the fact that they’re blindingly bright-white ensures that you’ll get lots of looks as you drive by.
The tail lights will also look very familiar – the design is lifted directly off the X3 and it’s a good thing. And the wheel wells are filled by 255/50-sized tires on 19-inch rims.
My tester had some M-Sport body parts, so the rear end and front end had some aggressive looking stuff going on. The huge lower front air intakes clearly indicate that this vehicle means business. Oh wait. They’re completely blocked off with black plastic and they’re just for looks? Oh. Well then, those sporty heat vents behind the front fenders must really help cool off the engine bay when this car is on the race track, right? Wait, those are just open slots from the wheel well? Oh. OK, well then the big sporty rectangular exhaust tips reserved for the upper echelon engines must mean we’ve got some awesome kit under the hood, right? You mean to tell me it’s just the normal entry-level drivetrain with dressed up tail pipes? Oh.
You see where I’m going with this? Yes, the M-Sport body kits drive me nuts. Why can’t people just be OK with having the vehicle they bought, instead of trying to make it look like it’s more?
With all that said, it does look great and overall, BMW has carved out a nice, if not chunky, silhouette.
You would be forgiven if you had a mini-stroke when you sat down in the new X5’s cockpit and tried to process all the buttonry, switchgear, screens and what have you. Honestly, it’s a lot to take in.
Let’s start with the fundamentals. Materials are wonderful – soft-touch plastics, lovely textures, nice wood grain and sumptuous leather, as well as the fit and finish you’d expect from a vehicle in this class. The outside size isn’t kidding around. It’s a very spacious cabin – head room is there aplenty.
The front seats are delicious. The heated, power-adjustable leather buckets are very comfortable and very supportive – they’d be great for a road trip. The M-Sport steering wheel is fantastic too. Heated, power-adjustable and endowed with a fat, grippy rim, it looks great and functions well. BMW’s traditional high-contrast simple gauges aren’t exactly what they seem anymore. The bottom of the gauge cluster is now a screen, allowing them to add a number of high-resolution driver information modes down there. You can flip through trip meters, fuel economy readings, you name it.
The main screen (controlled by iDrive and still using a strange, less-than-intuitive screen interface) is gorgeous. It floats mid-dash and its huge, wide screen configuration and crisp, bright output garnered a number of comments from passengers. In my opinion, it might be the best screen in the industry right now. It handles everything from your media, navigation, vehicle settings (as in anything you could ever think of to set and then a million more things) and the camera viewing.
The nearly $5000 Bang & Olufsen sound system is a stinker. Yes, the multiple speaker grilles look fantastic, and the centre speaker that silently rises out of the dash is certainly a conversation piece, and yes, it does sound good. But there’s nothing about it that makes this system worth that kind of money. And this is coming from a Bang & Olufsen fan. Skip it.
There’s a huge panoramic sunroof and yes, don’t worry – there’s a true-blue cigarette lighter in the centre console.
My review vehicle was a veritable bastion of implied safety and driver assistance technology. It came with Surround View cameras all around the vehicle, which popped up on the screen when you put it into reverse, front and rear parking distance sensors, lane departure warning, collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beams and a heads-up display.
The spaciousness doesn’t stop in the back. It’s a deluxe environment, starting with plenty of head and leg room. The seats are very comfortable (yes, they’re heated too) and even the middle position is wide enough to be functional. The floor is flat, but the back of the centre console does intrude a bit into the middle foot space.
But it brings great treats with it. There’s a fully automatic climate control system back there, along with two 12V plugs and adjustable air vents. And a little useless cubbyhole. The middle seatback does fold down to become an armrest.
Two sets of ISOFIX connectors for child seats make adding them easy, and there was a lot of room for our three kids in the back. The rear side windows have manual sunshades to augment the deep tinting.
You get a decent glove compartment, some door bins and a clamshell-lidded bin under the armrest.
Getting to the trunk requires dealing with BMW’s split tail gate. I’m not a big fan, because I don’t understand why it’s necessary. There’s the upper part (which is powered and can be popped up from the dash, the key fob or a button on the tail gate itself), and the lower part, which needs to be opened separately. For small things, it’s fine the way it is – you pop the upper lid, reach over the lower panel and drop your stuff in. But for a big grocery trip, you’ll need to open both, and that leaves you with the lower panel’s surface to lift over. I found it irritating. The load floor is quite high. The trunk is rated at 650 litres, which surprised me a bit – it felt bigger than that. BMW indicates that it grows to 1870 litres with the second row folded down – that seems more like it.
The rear seats fold 40/20/40, allowing you to lay long, skinny items down over the folded middle seat, while still using the two main back seats. I’ve always appreciated this flexibility.
Under the Hood
BMW carried over the seasoned twin-scroll turbo direct-injected 3.0-litre inline-6 that we’ve seen in a number of applications over the past few years. It’s a good engine. It puts out a decent 300 horsepower at 5800 RPM and a stout 300 lb.ft of torque at 1300 RPM, though it’s long been rumoured to put out more than that.
BMW’s 8-speed automatic has the task of directing the power to the xDrive all-wheel drive system.
Obviously nobody buys a vehicle like this to save money at the fuel pumps. It’s rated at 11.3 L/100 km (21 mpg) in the city and 7.5 L/100 km (31 mpg) on the highway. Yeah right. I ended up averaging 14.9 L/100 km (16 mpg) during my week with it, while slogging through unseasonably warm, slushy streets and doing mostly city driving. Another sobering fact – it drinks premium fuel, and that’s not a lot of fun when it comes to filling the 85 litre tank.
Remember when BMW used to call themselves the Ultimate Driving Machine? They don’t do that anymore. Because I think they’re getting bigger and heavier with each generation, and the whole driving machine thing is being relegated to the back burner.
This being an SUV, sorry I meant an SAV, it’s more forgivable. And let’s be honest – nobody buying an X5 is expecting the ultimate driving machine. Maybe the ultimate comfort machine. And that’s what they’ll get.
Is it fast? Meh. It’s not a dog, doing the 0-60 mph run in 6.6 seconds. But there’s lag off the line, and it always feels heavy. I wondered why that was, until I saw this thing’s curb weight. Yeah, so the reason it feels heavy is because it is – this behemoth tips the scales at 4790 pounds (2173 kg). Another way to say it is that it weighs 130 pounds more than a fully-loaded, all-wheel drive Toyota Sienna minivan. Amazingly, this X5 is lighter than the last-generation X5.
The 8-speed transmission is wonderful. It’s quick enough, and quite intelligent. It does hunt for higher gears, and takes a second to kick down, but everything it does feels luxurious and incredibly smooth – fitting for a big, expensive vehicle like this. It can be manually shifted with the gear selector or paddle shifters.
You have four drive modes to choose from – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus – these calibrate the drivetrain’s responsiveness as well as the electronic steering. Comfort is fine for most daily driving, being a happy medium between too soggy (Eco Pro) and probably a little more responsive than most people need on a daily basis (the Sport modes). But if you want to pick up the pace a little and want the transmission to hang out in a gear a little longer as you get your work done, the Sport modes are great.
The X5 rides very nicely – it’s firm enough to always feel completely controlled, but so very smooth. It simply soaked up anything Edmonton could throw at it – including heavily rutted icy roads. No big hits came through to the cabin – ever. The perfect ride made its way onto the highway too. For a vehicle of this size (and height), the handling is exemplary. The fact that it weighs a thousand pounds more than the average vehicle shines through all the time. There’s no belying its heavy-weight class, but it carries its heft around with grace and it’ll tackle corners with enthusiasm all the same.
I found the xDrive system to be very effective – it happily plowed us through snow, slush, ice and stayed out of the way when we were on dry roads.
There is no doubt that the X5 is a nearly perfect highway vehicle. The ride and handling are suited for road trips, and the noise levels are incredibly well dampened. Road and wind noise were negligible at any speed, and the engine was only really audible when you really stepped on the gas.
Brakes are powerful and visibility out of the vehicle is quite good.
We really liked the nifty glowing soft orange accent lighting strips that run across the dash and the tops of the door panels. They look cool and they tie the interior together visually when it’s dark enough to see them.
After a week in it, the initially overwhelming interior of the X5 started growing on me, and overall, there’s little not to like here. It’s a great-looking ride, and it does what it promises. It transports you and yours in the lap of luxury. It surrounds you with safety and technology (some of it just gets dizzying!), decent power and prodigious levels of grip for all seasons.
I give the BMW X5 an 8 out of 10.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was mostly high. She did really enjoy how the vehicle looks from the outside and on the inside. She loved how it drove, but definitely said it felt big – especially while parking it. And she said she never even started to get used to the multitude of buttons and systems surrounding her in the driver’s seat.
Obviously the price of this unit takes it out of the attainable category for some folks, yet the starting price isn’t completely out of this world. I think if you can control yourself with the options, you’d be set with a very nice vehicle the way it comes in “base” form. It’s well-equipped and of course the drivetrain is the same. Either way, it’s a beauty and it’s certainly a wonderful way to get from one place to the next – whether that’s a commute to work or a drive across the country.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by BMW Canada.
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