No matter how good BMW makes the X5-and, as we'll explain in a second, the 2011 model is better than ever-some people will never be able to get past one little point. Wouldn't you rather have a 5 Series wagon? The answer, as the market has born out, is a resounding Nein! Americans seem to want absolutely nothing to do with a proper station wagon.
They'd rather pay more (both in MSRP and gas) to sit half-a-foot higher off the ground. In fact, BMW's not even bringing the sixth-generation F10 Touring (that's BMW-speak for wagon) to the States. It only sold 400 of the 5 Series 5-doors to us Yanks in 2009. That same year, we bought more than 27,000 X5s. You do the business-case math.
Look long and hard at the 2011 BMW X5 xDrive35i and you will notice ... here's the thing. Even though the sheetmetal for the E70's mid-cycle refresh is new, you'd have to be the biggest BMW fanboy this side of Bavaria to notice the changes. The nostrils are slightly tweaked, while the fog lights have been repositioned inwards, closer to the grille.
In addition, the blade-crossed supplemental air inlets in front of the wheels are larger and more rounded, more closely mimicking the huge air-suckers found on the front of the X5M. Out back, the taillights are ever so slightly altered, and the exhaust pipes are round instead of ovoid.
Much more newsworthy is what lies under the hood. Like 2010, BMW gives X5 customers a choice of three engines. The twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 in the xDrive50i remains unchanged, as does the 3.0-liter diesel inline-six from the xDrive35d, but the 3.0-liter gasoline inline-six loses a turbo. However, the turbo it retains is a twin-scroll turbo.
What's a twin-scroll turbo? In a regular turbocharger, exhaust gas from a single header hits the impeller. In a twin-scroll set up, two exhaust headers feed two streams of spent gas into a single impeller 180 degrees apart. This is better because the two streams of gas roughly mimic the inherent smoothness of an inline-six cylinder engine, thereby spinning the impeller in a smoother fashion. This is apparently more efficient. Power, however, is unchanged at 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque.
Of course, BMW's weird little secret is that the old twin-turbo motor made closer to 330 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. We have no reason to believe the twin-scroll job is any weaker than the motor it replaces. Check it: 0-60 mph takes place in 6.1 seconds, wowza fast for a six-cylinder SUV. Compare it to the Cadillac SRX Turbo, which features 300 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, yet takes 7.6 seconds to hit 60 mph. Likewise, the BMW dusts off the quarter-mile in an impressive 14.6 seconds at 92.5 mph, while the SRX Turbo takes a still-respectable 15.9 seconds with a trap of 90.7 mph.
The Cadillac obviously weighs more, right? Um, no, not at all. The SRX Turbo flattens the scales with its 4595 pounds. Heavy, of course, but hang on to your sense of outrage-the BMW X5 xDrive35i weighs a lardy 4794 pounds. That's 199 extra pounds for the X5, for those of you that lack the skills to subtract things up right. How on earth is this possible?
Part of the reason why the Bimmer's so much quicker is of course the fibbed output numbers. Put another way, the twin-scroll motor makes whatever car it's in a perennial ringer. We also suspect that the X5's new fast-shifting 8-speed autobox has something to do with such highfalutin numbers. While the ZF-sourced unit isn't a dual-clutch, it's the next best thing.
The new transmission also allows the X5 xDrive35i to hit an impressive-for-a-near-2.5-ton-vehicle 25 mpg on the highway and a not-totally-terrible 17 mpg around town. Though, as always, I cannot stand the shifter. I don't want to press a button for park-I want to shift into it. Likewise, when I-the driver-pull back into D, that means I'm ready to drive. I don't want to also have to depress a button. One more gripe: You cannot put the X5 into gear if the door's open and your seatbelt's off. Silly.
Like everyone's always said about the X5, for such a big, heavy vehicle, the handling's pretty great, and seems to just keep getting better as the years roll on. Braking from 60 mph takes place in a very good 113 feet, and it clobbered our 200-foot figure eight in 26.3 seconds. Back to the Cadillac for comparison: The SRX took a lengthy 128 feet to stop from 60 mph and nearly a full second longer to scoot around the figure eight. Again, the Cadillac's a six-footer lighter.
So yeah, the X5 xDrive35i is quite the athlete. And while the more potent xDrive50i (with its 407 hp, 450 lb-ft of torque motor) might be faster in a straight line, the six-cylinder X5 feels more balanced, more finely tuned. It's the variant to get (unless you crave the slower, fewer-trips-to-the-gas-station, though more-expensive, low-rpm thrills of the diesel xDrive35d). Remember, you also get a fair amount of passenger room and BMW's elegant, if not a touch Scandinavian, take on modern luxury appointments. Not bad at all, especially considering you can't have the wagon.