As one of the more recent additions to the off-road genre, it seems hard to believe this is BMW's third iteration of the X5, a vehicle that first arrived in 1999 but seems to have quickly become part of the established hierarchy.
With its introduction, BMW coined the phrase Sports Activity Vehicle and were the first to introduce independent suspension and a monocoque body to the segment.
Unashamedly designed primarily for on-road performance, the X5 has become a market leader and the company's X models now account for about 30% of the company's total volume.
To differentiate the new model, it gets new clothes. In fact, the X5 now resembles a beefed-up X1, sharing many of the family characteristics. It's also grown a few inches to provide more legroom, giving it a longer rear overhang.
In the flesh, the size of the X5 demands your attention but it's not as muscular or distinctive as the original version. It looks rather generic from the rear, despite its large L-shaped tail lights, but the X1-style front-end is instantly recognizable for what it is.
We had the opportunity to drive both the 445hp V8 twin-turbo xDrive50i as well as the 255hp turbo-diesel xDrive35d. And while the former is a hoot, sailing past slower traffic like a sports car, it's the diesel that got our attention.
With 413 lb-ft (as opposed to 480 from the 50i), the 35d is no slouch. With a punchy mid-range, it did everything we asked of the V8 but with slightly less whoops and hollas.
Yet the diesel will whisk you home while the petrol-engined model is stopping to refuel. Although EPA figures aren't available, you can expect around 22mpg highway from the 50i and closer to 40mpg from the 35d.
What's more, the X5 xDrive50i will start at $69125, where the xDrive35d costs from $57525. Inevitably, there's less standard equipment on the diesel, but a lower purchase price and running costs is a great place to start.
In styling terms, the 2014 X5 has a more upright grille that's integrated into the headlights like the F30 3 Series. It also gets similar LED corona rings on the headlights to maintain the resemblance.
And just like the new F32 4 Series, the front spoiler gets air curtain intakes, smoothing airflow over the front wheels, exiting through the pronounced vents behind them. This helps reduce turbulence, increasing fuel economy. The vent also forms the pronounced scallop down the side of the X5, with upper and lower swage lines creating visual drama.
All models get lower black panels to reduce the impact of scratches. They also visually raise the car, reinforcing its off-road credentials.
Both for fuel economy and improved driving dynamics, all models get the excellent ZF eight-speed auto that includes Sport mode and paddle shifters. The X5 also has stop/start plus ECO Pro mode in its Driving Dynamics options, allowing you to save gas with reduced throttle movement. It will even separate the engine from the drivetrain when coasting at higher speeds to remove engine braking from the equation. Furthermore, the X5 has thermoplastic side panels, an aluminum hood and magnesium dashboard support to make it the lightest vehicle in its class and up to 180 lb lighter than the outgoing model.
Yet its physical size and weight are all that really separate the X5 driving experience from the 3 or 5 Series. The braking efficiency and bump absorption is similarly adept, although hard cornering inevitably suffers in comparison to the sedans. Yet compared to many competitor SUVs, the X5 is a class act. It offers power, performance and poise in addition to its versatile load space, reasonable ground clearance and acceptable off-road ability.
Handling can be improved with options such as Dynamic Adaptive Dampers and active roll stabilization as well as an M Sport option for drivers in a hurry. However, there's also a Comfort active suspension that uses rear air bags to level the ride and cushion the blows.
To highlight its versatility, we were invited to sample a section of dirt roads that admittedly most cars could have tackled. However, there were muddy areas and places where ground clearance and approach angles demanded you drive an SUV. While it highlighted the X5's flexibility, we doubt it could compete with Land Rover products in the harshest conditions, but will cope with most situations a BMW will find itself in.
Trim packages will include X Line and Luxury Line, with M Sport and M Performance options to follow. Both Lines get three-layer decor panels on the dash, with metallic strips and piano black highlighting either wood or aluminum finishes. Add double-stitched dash panels plus multi-paneled leather seat coverings and the X5 interior is a very pleasant place. You even have the option of contour lighting around the dash and door panels, with selectable colors to increase the customization. Throw in either a Harman Kardon or Bang & Olufsen sound system, and your passengers won't want to leave.
As well as a 10.25" upright screen, the new iDrive makes an appearance with updated menus and finger-writing detection to simplify address inputs, in addition to the system's existing voice commands.
As well as the extra legroom, rear passengers will enjoy the optional reclining Comfort seats. There's a third-row option for children, and the seats can be split to allow creative cargo carrying if necessary, accessed through the powered, split tailgate.
Of course, it wouldn't be a BMW without its acronyms, and the X5 has the full complement: Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), ABS, Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), Automatic Differential Brake (ADB-X) as well as Fading Compensation, Brake Drying function, trailer stability control and Hill Descent Control (HDC). And while there might be too many abbreviations, the raft of electronic aids help to make this a very safe and stable platform for family transport in any condition. Throw in Lane Departure Warning, pedestrian and collision warning, Active Cruise Control and Active Protection and you couldn't really ask for more.
2014 BMW X5 xDrive35d
Layout front-engine, AWD
Engine 2993cc six-cylinder 24v diesel with variable-geometry turbo, common-rail direct injection
Drivetrain eight-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic
Brakes single-piston calipers f&r, 332mm rotors f, 320mm r
Suspension MacPherson struts with double-track control arms f, Integral IV axle r
Wheels & Tires 18x8.5" Style 446 wheels, 255/55 R18 all-season tires
Max power 255hp at 400rpm
Max torque 413 lb-ft at 1500-3000rpm
Top Speed 140mph
Weight 4730 lb
MSRP $57525 (inc D&D)