BMW may not have been the first German brand to sell a premium midsize SUV, but some would argue the X5 is one of the best overall with its balance of car-like handling and performance, refinement, and practicality. The model that debuted in 1999 is now on its third generation, and was all-new for 2014. As for most of its existence, the 2014 BMW X5 is offered with several powertrain options. For the newest-generation model, there’s a 300hp turbocharged 3.0L I-6 as the standard engine, a 255hp, 413 lb-ft 3.0L turbodiesel as the next step up, and the big Kahuna (until the X5 M debuts) 445hp, 480 lb-ft 4.4L twin-turbo V-8 in the 50i model. That last engine is the subject of this review.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering what the subhead calling the X5 “America’s hottest export” actually means. The BMW X5 happens to be the most-exported vehicle built in the U.S. All X5s sold worldwide, including Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and all points between, are sourced from South Carolina, and if you haven’t noticed lately, SUVs and crossovers are among the hottest-selling segments in nearly all markets. So for now, the X5 takes the prize as the most-exported vehicle from the U.S. by unit volume.

Swift Sleeper
As is the case with most German models, there are a multitude of trim and option packages you can get with almost any powertrain. Case in point: You can get the diesel with paddle shifters and launch control. With its healthy amount of power, such features would have been entirely appropriate on our 50i model -- it had neither. However, once you mash the tall pedal in anger, any concerns about a possible performance deficit from lacking those baubles is in your rearview mirror, along with most of the surrounding traffic. Our tester laid down an astoundingly quick 4.3-second 0-60 time and 12.8-second quarter-mile time. To put that quickness in perspective, those times are exactly the same as those we got when testing a 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, which is no slow-poke in its own right. And unlike that Mercedes, with its overly boisterous exhaust note and conspicuous go-fast gingerbread, little on the outside of the X5 shouts “seriously fast.” While the V-8 does have a throaty rumble to it, it’s nothing like the AMG’s sturm und drang at full throttle.

In normal driving, the X5 hustles through its eight ratios quickly, keeping you between 2,000 and 3,000 rpm most of the time. Even driving at part-throttle, you’re usually several car lengths ahead of whoever was beside you without trying hard. While we’d like to say the throttle response on the X5 is lag-free, there is a slight latency until the full force of its midrange torque is felt, but when it comes on, it’s a swift, unrelenting surge that reminds you why you paid more than $80,000 for it. A “bare-bones” X5 xDrive 50i (if you can call it that) is just $69,125, but with sports-sedan humbling performance, plus SUV practicality, it seems like a reasonable deal, especially considering the Mercedes ML63’s as-tested price came to $107,725.

You’ve Come a Long Way, iDrive
When we first experienced BMW’s iDrive system in the early 2000s, it was an excruciatingly tedious interface that defied logic and intuition and forced you to either pull of the side of the road to try to make any kind of detailed input. To think that today’s elegant, intuitive, easy-to-use iDrive system evolved from that archaic basis is hard to fathom. Although we generally prefer the functionality of touchscreen systems, BMW’s updated iDrive, with its multiple shortcut buttons now surrounding the controller, is one of the better knob-controlled interfaces we’ve experienced. The rest of the interior has the elegance and craftsmanship you’d expect of a vehicle of this price and caliber. Puzzingly, BMW seems to be somewhat of a latecomer to the seat-cooling scene, with the seating surfaces on our tester being non-perforated leather, allowing for heating, but no cooling. Ventilated front seats are available as a $500 add-on to the $550 Cold Weather package on the X5.

Three-Row, In Name Only
BMW is especially proud of the optional third-row seat on the 2014 X5, and while this may give them a marketing bullet point advantage over some of its rivals, for normal-sized adults, the rearmost seat is essentially unusable. The second-row seatbacks only fold down and don’t tumble forward, at least not in any way we could tell, making third-row ingress and egress even more awkward. Those looking for Bavarian flair with actual third-row room should hold out for the forthcoming X7, which has been officially announced, and will join the X5 on BMW’s Spartanburg assembly line sometime in 2017.

An SUV for Drivers
In any form, the X5, like most BMWs, rewards drivers with a taut, disciplined feel that takes naturally to enthusiastic driving. While it may lack the ultimate practicality of something like a Chevrolet Tahoe, or even an Acura MDX, it strikes an excellent balance between performance and practicality. Especially in 50i guise, there’s plenty to reward the performance enthusiast, as well as plenty of comfort and practicality for the family. Is it the cheapest premium SUV on the market? Certainly not, but with well-equipped Tahoes and Yukons going for more than $70,000, “expensive” is a relative term. If you value performance as strongly as practicality, it’s hard to find a better balance than the BMW X5.


2014 BMW X5 xDrive 50i
BASE PRICE $69,125
PRICE AS TESTED $85,375
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 4.4L/445-hp/480-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 5277 lbs (49/51%)
WHEELBASE 115.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 193.2 x 76.3 x 69.4 in
0-60 MPH 4.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 12.8 sec @ 106.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 129 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.81 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 14/22/17 mpg
ON SALE Currently