When you look at the 2014 BMW X5, there is no question as to what vehicle it is -- the exterior restyle was conservative, to say the least. But even though the third-generation SUV (Sports Activity Vehicle in BMW parlance) looks similar to its predecessors, there are significant differences between the new X5 and the ones that came before it. The new X5 is lighter, has a new front end, and a redesigned interior that makes better use of space. Powertrains were made more efficient, but key changes make them as fast -- or faster -- than before.

We had the chance to drive the new X5 powered by two of the three engines that will be available. While the vehicles we drove are European-spec, they are very close to the X5s we will get in the United States -- and all of them are built side by side in the same plant in South Carolina. (A rear-drive X5 will go on sale as well, powered by a 300-hp, 300-lb-ft turbo gas I-6, but those weren't available to drive at this event.)

The first X5 we got into was the xDrive50i, with a 4.4-liter V-8 that uses twin turbochargers, one on each bank. This engine puts out 445 hp, an increase of 45 over the 2013 model, and 480 lb-ft of torque, and it uses an eight-speed automatic. Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 14 city/22 highway. As soon as we got into the vehicle, we appreciated the new touches in the cabin, styling cues like contrast stitching on the dash, brown wood and silver metallic accents along the dash, and a new navigation screen. However, it seems that iDrive hasn't changed enough, and throughout our evaluation, we felt that it's still unnecessarily counterintuitive. But the quality of the materials used is excellent, and the color combinations are elegant. The second row is now a 40/20/40 split, and seat heaters are available there.

Once on the road, we were highly impressed with the power delivery of the 4.4-liter engine. It is turbocharged, yet power delivery is smooth from this torque-heavy engine, and it's easy to forget that the engine isn't naturally aspirated. And the ZF automatic is fantastic. Shifts are quick, but not at all jarring; the transmission simply chooses the gear you want, when you want it. The paddle shifters are quite good as well, but we were equally happy when we let the transmission do the work. However, if your commute keeps you stuck in traffic, you might want to shut off the auto start/stop feature.

This is a substantial vehicle, but it didn't feel overly heavy. The X5 isn't as nimble as some of its smaller kin, but lighter on its feet than you would expect, and it is sporty, an entertaining drive on canyon roads. It handled well, and the X5 felt well balanced. BMW estimates a 0-62 time of 5.0 seconds. Based on our experiences with the xDrive50i, that seems realistic. The brakes were touchy in our tester, but we got used to them. The xDrive50i starts at $69,125 (including destination). While our test vehicle wasn't equipped with a Monroney, we'd guess it would cost near $80,000 as equipped.

When we went from the topline X5 to the xDrive35d, we feared it would feel like a step down from the xDrive50i. It wasn't. This is essentially the same engine as in last year's diesel: BMW's 3.0-liter I-6 turbodiesel with 258 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque. The common-rail engine's turbocharger has variable inlet geometry. New for 2014, the diesel uses an SCR catalyst with AdBlue injection. The fill point is in the engine bay, but we expect most BMW buyers will simply have the tank filled as part of the standard maintenance. We also expect that the fill point will eventually be behind the fuel filler door.

The xDrive35d price starts at $57,525, and probably would cost about $62,000 as the tester was equipped. If you are standing outside of the X5 when it's running, you can tell it has a diesel engine, but from inside the cabin, it would take a more careful listen to recognize it. The cabin was just as nice as in the 50i, except that in the diesel, the interior had cream leather seats. The color looked great, but would need more upkeep than the dark brown leather in the V-8-powered model.

While acceleration wasn't quite as good with the diesel as with the V-8, most people would be perfectly happy with it. The eight-speed transmission also backs the I-6, with the same gear ratios as when it's paired with the V-8. It's just as impressive in the xDrive35d. This diesel engine is very good and as refined, as you would expect in a BMW. BMW estimates its 0-62 time will be 6.9 seconds -- that's not bad. Combine that with EPA 18 mpg city/27 highway fuel economy, and this is a bargain package in a luxury SUV. We expect the diesel X5 to go on sale after initial launch.

It was in this model that we tackled the off-road course that BMW set up. It was probably more than most X5 buyers will face, even in winter or after a nasty storm has gone through. It was more realistic than it was extreme. We drove the X5 through ruts, over off-camber sections of the course, and got to test out the hill-descent control. That system works well, and lets you easily adjust speed, one mph at a time, so you can determine how slowly you drive before it kicks in.

BMW's improvements to the X5 have increased power, refinement, and fuel economy, while making the interior easier to use. If the U.S.-spec x5 is as close to the models we drove as BMW says, luxury SUV buyers are going to be impressed with the changes.


2014 BMW X5 xDrive35i; xDrive50i
BASE PRICE $57,525; $69,125v
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 5-7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.0L/255-hp/413-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve turbodiesel I-6; 4.4L/445-hp/480-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V-8
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic; 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4790 lb*; 5150 lb*
WHEELBASE 115.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 192.4* x 76.3 x 69.4 in
0-62 MPH 6.9 sec*; 5.0 sec*
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 18/27 mpg; 14/22 mpg
ON SALE IN U.S. November 2013* (xDrive50i)
*est
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