204 BMW X5 SUV And The Future Of Driving

If svelte morphs into stealth, BMW X5 be thy name. It’s another way of saying that over its fifteen years of existence, BMW’s flagship SUV has carefully evolved into a sculpted wagon that eschews the showiness of flashier competitors and sticks to the job at hand.


Part of that job, you might notice, is not to become noticed, yet exude a conservative look that will gladly accept the odd kudos for design but not be too loud about it. The X5 was precisely designed for the country club and the upscale mall and, when asked, it will also plow through a winter storm as soon as the mall is closed for weather.

The task of this new, third-generation X5 is to transport up to seven people in a design that to which they are probably well accustomed, and not to help make any mistakes along the way. Here is the class of luxury SUVs exemplified by the Audi Q7, Acura MDX, Range Rover Sport, Lexus RX350, Mercedes-Benz M-class and Porsche Cayenne. Can easily range up to $70,000 or more, depending on trim options and lines, although they are all worthy competitors and they’re all in the roughly $60,000 range.

Our tester was the base X5 xDrive35i, with the 3-liter, twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine, sporting 300 horsepower and an eight-speed automatic transmission. (xDrive is BMW-speak for many-wheel-drive.) Given the industry’s marketing mandate that almost no new car in America might be sold at its base price (within this car’s case, it is $55,100), BMW added enough options to fill up the Monroney to make the final cost of the car $68,675. How did we get there?

More than $12,000 in options.

The priciest option on this car is $4,800 for your “M Sport” package. This includes $950 for, among other things, 20-inch wheels and “High-gloss roof rails.” (Matte black rails are standard; are high-gloss rails necessary? ) There’s even the “Dynamic Handling Package” ($), 3 and a “Cold Weather Pack” ($550). The idea here is that anytime you climb into the car, you really think these various options are all a piece with the car, that it’s natural for the car to obtain these options and if it didn’t have these options you might think you needed just got a new $55,000 stripper. Thus I guess there’s nothing to complain about.

However…. you do have the possibility to power up and acquire the X5 xDrive50i, which has a twin-turbo 5-liter, 450-horsepower V8; or, what turns out to be a common option, the X5 xDrive35d, a 255-horse diesel.

A diesel model gets good mileage figures.

One reason the diesel is popular is that its EPA mileage figures are 23/31 mpg, city/highway; our 6-cylinder gasoline-fueled tester gets 18/27 mpg, city/highway. When you’re paying nearly $70,000 to get a car, these mileage comparisons may not be a big concern. While using EPA’s fuel economy tables, the cost for driving 15,000 miles a year from the diesel car is $2,300; in the 6-cylinder X5, normally the one we drove, it’s $2,800; and in the highway-ripping V8 model it’s $3,450. Between the stingiest and the thirstiest of the three cars, there’s an annual added premium of $1,150, or $22.11 every week.

But we didn’t buy this car to save on fuel – once we wanted to do that, we would have opted for more prosaic rides, like the Prius V wagon.

No, everything we have in this BMW SUV is a car that, when compared to last generation, looks a little more sculpted – it has a slightly lower belt line – and even a bit more muscular, although, heaven forbid, this is not the Arnold Schwarzenegger of cars. No musclebound Hummer here.

Inside, the X5 carries a pretty conservative look. There’s no wood to alleviate the seriousness of the mostly black and brushed aluminum fascia and center stack. This look is typical BMW, as well as in this car it works. At nighttime, there’s a faint glow from the interior lighting strips that adorn the upper section of the doors and also the dashboard. It’s a nice touch, that small psychological lift of some light.

On the road, the six-banger engine, anyway, has a lot of power – its zero to 60 time is a shade over six seconds, and it begs the question of whether you really need the V8. Then again, no auto maker ever went broke stuffing 500-horsepower engines in its wares – viz.,Corvette and Viper, Cadillac CTS-V and stuff like that. Speed sells.

The engines stops at stoplights.

With regards to X5, it now has “engine decoupling,” which means the engine switches off and goes dead when you’ve sat at a stoplight for several seconds. It then switches back on when you lift your foot off the brake. It’s a gas-saving measure, having said that i wonder exactly how much you save if that electric starter goes belly up from all the continual on-off, on-off it’s doing. One disconcerting aspect of this all: when it’s sitting there, dead in the tracks, the electric power steering is also off. When you try and move the wheel, it will require some effort before it finally wakes up and starts the engine. It’s an oddity, only one you get accustomed to after a few days.

About the freeway, the X5 is predictably quiet and there’s little wind or tire noise. If you’re not careful, It’s easy to suddenly end up doing 80.

So, the question is: why buy an X5 versus its myriad competitors? Frankly, it’s a detailed race. I liked the two Acura MDX and the Lexus RX350 (to be precise, I drove the RX450h hybrid version). There is however something alluring when you know this BMW is, at once, a staid hauler and when called upon, a go-fast wagon.

To get more consumer information on cars, check these Sites:

Safety data can be found at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Reliability information can be seen in the dependability studies conducted by J.D. Power; and at Consumer Reports.

Fuel mileage figures are available at this site, maintained through the U.S. Department of Energy.

For trivia lovers: the sticker you can see on the window of every new car for sale in the United States is well known in the auto industry since the “Monroney.” It is named for United states Senator Almer Stilwell (Mike) Monroney, the Oklahoma Democrat who sponsored the Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958, which required brand new cars to possess labels that detail the price of the car and its particular options.

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