The BMW X5, built in South Carolina, is a benchmark in the midsize luxury SUV field. But it’s more of a family wagon than an SUV, as its superb and sophisticated demeanor on the road, not its offroad capability, is what the X5 is all about.
All-wheel drive is available, not standard. So some might consider a Range Rover, for its unbeatable winter capability, or also a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which isn’t a BMW but it will get you places the X5 can’t. Other competitors might be the Mercedes-Benz GLE or Volkswagen Touareg.
The X5 offers broad versatility, with a variety of powertrains, trims, and packages. It seats five in warm ambiance, or seven with the optional third-row seat. Which is quite small, so the ambiance back there might not be so warm. Surprisingly, and disappointingly considering the $55k price of the base model, a rearview camera isn’t standard.
Base engine is the 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-6 that’s the optional high-performance engine in the smaller X3. Its 300 horsepower zooms it to 60 miles per hour in 6.1 seconds, using torque that comes on at 1200 rpm. Not fast enough? Go for the X5 xDrive50i model, using a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 that hits 60 in 4.7 seconds, thanks to 445 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque.
Too excessive? Choose the X5 xDrive35d diesel and take 6.7 seconds. That’s fast for a diesel, but no wonder, as it’s a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder diesel making 255 horsepower and 413 massive foot-pounds of torque.
Too dirty? Then you’re right for the plug-in hybrid that does zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds. It uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, electric motor, and lithium-ion battery pack to make a total of 308 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. Its all-electric range is 13 miles.
The front-wheel-drive X5 35i gets an EPA-estimated 18/25/21 miles per gallon City/Highway/Combined.
The 2016 X5 hasn’t been crash-tested by the government yet. There are a ton of optional safety systems, if you want an Active Driving Assistant, which is what the main package is called. There’s also ACC Stop & Go (so you can drive without feet), Traffic Jam Assistant, and Parking Assistant. Night Vision, Surround View, and Blind Spot Detection.
The BMW X5 lineup includes the sDrive35i ($53,900) with rear-wheel drive and the xDrive35i ($56,200), xDrive35d turbodiesel ($57,700), and the V8-powered xDrive50i ($70,700), all with all-wheel drive.
The BMW X5 and X3 are styled similarly. The X5 is sculpted with grace, as heft is sliced away. A tapered roofline and low beltline rise from the front fenders to the LED taillamps, to give it a big of a wedge and sport wagon looks (like the X3). Functional scoops steer air to the wheels and brakes.
However, the front end seems overwrought, with too many lines crossing the nose. The kidney grille is pushed out, and the air intake just below the grille looks like a small smirk to us. The headlights are high and nicely detailed, with LED lamps available.
Inside, the X5 departs from the cookie-cutter BMW horizontal dashboard and instrument layout, with another layer of dash that merges at the doors, trimmed standard with poplar wood. This serves to tone down the otherwise monolithic bulge. Brown Nappa leather looks nice, an option over the standard black leatherette. Other leather colors include ivory white, mocha, and a reddish brown. Dakota leather comes with the xDrive50i, optional on other models.
Comfort in the front seats is less than perfect because of flatness there. Second-row seats recline and fold 40/20/40. The available third row has Easy Entry, but they’re so small that they’re only occasional, used mostly for cargo, which sucking up cargo space at that. The rear gate operates in two pieces, bottom dropping like a pickup truck tailgate and top glass like a minivan.
Navigation, standard on most models, is ruled by the iDrive controller with a touch-write surface and BMW Apps, a connectivity suite.
There are three available trims: Luxury Line with bright metallic touches, xLine with blacked-out grille and trim, and M Sport with an aero kit and bigger wheels.
We got good seat time in British Columbia in the X5, at least in the xDrive35d diesel and xDrive50i with the powerful V8. Unfortunately we didn’t get to drive the 40e plug-in hybrid, or the base 35i with the 3.0-liter inline six. But we know and love this engine, so it’s safe to there is nothing to find fault with, zero zilch nada.
We drove from the city of Vancouver into the mountains to the Olympic ski village, and felt immediately comfortable with the rhythm of the 35d turbodiesel. Its low-range torque shoots it responsively into holes in city traffic, before it settles into a fairly silent jog on the highway, with little diesel noise in the transitions.
As for the 455-horsepower twin-turbo V8, it doesn’t feel as fast as it is, even with all those humongous 480 foot-pounds of torque arriving at 2000 rpm. That’s because the xDrive and suspension make acceleration so smooth, and the sound is muted and deadened to a whisper. This is where the seamless paddle-shifting 8-speed transmission (in all models) comes in. And the dynamic driving modes, starting with the conservative Eco Pro, then Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. The modes set the transmission shift points and snap, throttle response, and steering quickness and effort.
The electric power steering doesn’t offer much feedback, and is vague on center in Eco Pro or Comfort. However the X5 corners like a BMW in Sport and Sport+, which give the steering wheel a meaty feel. With the optional Active Steering, the ratio varies depending on the speed and cornering forces. This is especially useful parking and around town.
Another option is Dynamic Damper Control with active shocks and rear air springs, programmed by the four driving modes, in M Adaptive control. This setup gives the X5 constant stability; however we must admit we’ve never driven an X5 without this option. There are also self-leveling rear air springs available. They make the X5 totally flat in cornering, without compromising the ride very much.
The xDrive all-wheel drive moves the power from rear to front. At the launch in Vancouver, we climbed some trails around the Olympic ski jumps, and slogged through mud. No worries. It’s still not a Range Rover or Jeep Grand Cherokee, more on the level of a Ford Explorer or VW Touareg. But it will easily get you to your cabin in the woods, even in British Columbia.
Finally there’s Dynamic Performance Control, which splits the torque between the rear wheels, to turn the X5 into corners and change lanes more crisply.
There are four distinct BMW X5s, depending on engine. Sweet twin-turbo inline-6, rhythmic turbodiesel (also a six), gorilla-like high-bucks twin-turbo V8 (but smooth and silent), and future-is-now plug-in hybrid. Same superb exterior, interior, and basic handling. If you know what you want, and can afford it, this luxury SUV benchmark is a safe choice.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.