When BMW first introduced the X5, it shunned the sport utility vehicle label. Instead, it branded its new all-wheel-drive offering a "sport activity vehicle."
This could be either be construed as suggesting buyers of the X5 were getting a vehicle useful in a wide range of recreational pursuits, or as BMW taking a dig at the competition.
Regardless, the X5 has been redesigned for 2014. This third iteration of the model is approximately 200 pounds lighter than the outgoing version. It’s also supposed to offer less wind resistance, thanks to better aerodynamics. These changes, while significant, haven’t produced much change in the X5’s appearance.
Three engines are offered for 2014, with a 300-horsepower, in-line turbocharged six-cylinder motor coming standard. Optional are a 255-horsepower 3.0-liter six-cylinder diesel and a 4.4-liter twin turbo 445-horsepower V-8. This final engine was the one my wife Paula and I had for review.
All X5s had all-wheel drive in the past. For 2014, buyers of the inline six-cylinder gasoline-powered model may opt for rear-wheel drive. All versions feature an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The ride is a bit firmer than that of some competitors, but the handling is sharper. The X5 offers a tenacious grip, a reassuring sense of balance and so little lean as to seemingly be at odds with the laws of physics. Consider this a byproduct of the active antiroll bars in the Dynamic Handling Package, a $4,500 extra that also includes a self-leveling rear air suspension and adjustable shocks. Alas, all X5s also feature a slightly disappointing steering feel, with weighting that seems artificial at times. Chalk this shortfall up to the electric power steering system.
The V-8 engine has a slight delay when responding to initial throttle applications, so smooth starts in normal driving require a gentle touch and a little practice. Full-throttle runs reveal acceleration that borders on explosive. After an initial split-second hesitation, the X5 takes off with unbridled enthusiasm. The faster the twin-turbo V-8 revs, the happier it seems. Performance is effortless and refined at all times. Our zero-to-60 run took just five seconds.
The interior is nicely designed and bristling with technology. BMW’s iDrive control, which handles information, entertainment and communications, is back. While simpler than the original, it can still be frustrating. So, too, is the operation of the electronic console-mounted shift lever. Push it forward to go back and pull it backward to go forward, and be sure to hold the lever when pushing the park button. Otherwise you might move the lever forward, which will engage neutral from drive. In fairness, other brands that have adopted this same control suffer identical problems.
The front seats are roomy. The back seat, while more spacious, is still tight for a taller adult. The back of the second row seat folds to from a flat load floor. There is also a third row seat option, which should be reserved for small children.
When the X5 first appeared, most sport utility vehicles were much better at delivering “utility” than “sport.” Now, there are several competitors that offer an engaging driving experience. It has become a competitive field. Despite this, the new BMW X5 has the tools it needs to do well.
Engines: 3.0-liter I-6 3.0-liter Diesel 4.4-liter V-8
HP 300 255 445
Torque: 300 (295 AWD) 413 480
EPA: 19/27(RWD); 18/27 (AWD) 23/31 14/22
Starts at: $52,800
The 2014 BMW X5 is too expensive and too thirsty for my tastes, at least when equipped with the twin-turbo V-8. Still, driving it was a pleasure. Getting in requires a step up for a shorter driver, but once seated the wide range of power adjustments for the seat and steering wheel made quick work of getting comfortable.
The gauges are easy to read. The bright white-on-black lettering and numbers turn to an orange-red on black display at night.
I find it interesting that BMW provides up to four readouts related to fuel economy in a vehicle that consumes gas as fast as the X5. There’s the fuel gauge, of course. BMW also offers an electronic distance-to-empty bar graph at the bottom of the speedometer dial, an instantaneous fuel consumption bar graph gauge at the bottom of the tachometer and several options for a digital display of average fuel economy.
None of these readouts convey good news. My husband Jim and I averaged just 15.3 miles per gallon in a week that featured cold temperatures. Premium gasoline is called for.
The BMW X5 coped well with the cold. A sub-zero morning start demonstrated the usefulness of the electrically heated seats and steering wheel. At first I thought the car was slow to warm up, until I realized that the temperature gauge displays the temperature of the engine oil, not the engine coolant. Engine oil is slower to warm than coolant.
This vehicle feels wonderfully secure and responsive at highway speeds. You sit high, but it never feels tippy in corners. Acceleration is powerful.
The cargo area may not be the largest in the field, but it’s still roomy and finished to the same high standards as the passenger cabin.
Controls work well, though some are needlessly fussy. I never did learn how to tune the radio, though the eight direct access buttons are a definite step forward for quick and easy access to some presets.
Despite these concerns, I have to admit that driving the new BMW X5 could become habit forming. However, in the interest of better fuel economy, I’d like to see what the diesel-powered version is like. Based on the last BMW diesel we drove, it’s probably the most impressive drivetrain option of them all.