It's oddly fitting BMW chose Miami -- one of the nation's plastic-surgery capitals -- as the launch pad for its nip-tucked 2011 BMW X5. No doubt the real reason we're here though is south Florida is one of BMW's biggest markets in the U.S., and if the billboards are to be believed, the area is also home to the country's No. 1 volume-selling BMW dealership.
You have to look close and hard to spot the 2011 X5's cosmetic updates. The front end has two tell-tale giveaways: bigger air intakes with less plastic cladding in the lower fascia, and fog lamps that sit closer to the center of the car -- just under the caps in the bumper. The rear end receives a similar "less plastic, more paint" treatment and its reflectors now sit closer to the taillights. But this update isn't primarily about an exterior once over, even if it is somewhat overdue. This time around, it's all about modernizing the X5's gasoline powertrains.
The 2011 X5 sheds the outgoing model's naturally-aspirated engines in favor of a pair of recently updated boosted units that are spidering through the BMW lineup. Specifically, the X5 gets the 300-hp 3.0-liter single turbo I-6 for the xDrive35i and the 400-hp 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 for the xDrive50i (in the U.S., the X5's diesel engine remains unchanged for 2011). There is also a big change on the transmission side, as both engines are mated to a new ZF eight-speed automatic we first saw in the 760Li and later in the 550i GT. In the case of the xDrive35i, it's the first time BMW's mated the transmission to one of its inline-sixes.
If there is one single defining characteristic of the six plus eight powertrain combo (the only one on hand for test drives), it's smoothness. Shifts are quick and relatively undetectable. The tach moves up or down as necessary and the engine makes more or less noise, but there is no physical indication a gear has been changed. It's quite amazing. BMW claims the xDrive35i, which we sampled for our test drive, needs just 6.4 second to reach 60 mph, an impressive figure for a two-and-a-half-ton sport-ute powered by a six cylinder engine. Fuel-economy figures are not yet available, but they should be comparable to the outgoing xDrive30i's 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, the extra power offset by the eight-speed gearbox and standard regenerative-braking system (which BMW says improves fuel economy by 1-2%).