BMW released the X5 in 1999, during the heart of the SUV movement. Even then the company recognized that it didn’t want to build just another bulky, truck-based utility vehicle. Instead BMW called the X5 the world’s first Sports Activity Vehicle, a fancy name for what is now known as the crossover. The difference then and now is that a BMW utility vehicle needs to ride and handle like raised versions of the company’s sport sedans. After a 2007 redesign that saw the X5 get bigger, BMW is refining the X5 for 2011, adding two turbocharged engines, revising the front suspension for better handling and adding an eight-speed automatic transmission and a spate of new features. The result is a sporty family hauler that performs better than ever.
Photos courtesy of BMW.
#10. There’s a flavor for most tastes.
The 2011 BMW X5 ranges in price from $45,800 to $85,500 and beyond when you add options. The lineup consists of four models, one for every taste. At the low end, the six-cylinder xDrive 35i model is offered in three trim levels: base, Premium and Sport Activity. Even the base model is well appointed. Standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, adaptive xenon headlights, HD radio, driver’s seat memory, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The V8-powered xDrive50i overflows with luxury features, and has plenty of willing power. The high-performance X5 M is even more powerful, and also handles like a dynamo. For the fuel conscious among us, BMW offers the diesel-powered X5 xDrive35d.
All X5s come with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system, which operates with a 40/60 front/rear torque split in normal driving, but can send more power to the front or rear to match the conditions.
#9. Customers can choose from several new features this year.
BMW adds a host of new features for 2011. Adding to the luxury are such amenities as rear DVD entertainment, four-zone automatic climate control, Nappa leather upholstery on the seats and dash, Comfort Access with keyless entry, running boards, and smart phone integration. An M Sport package gets sport seats, a sport steering wheel, black headliner, shadowline trim, Active Roll Stabilization Suspension, and 20-inch alloy wheels.
Several other new features are offered to assist the driver. These include Active Cruise Control with Stop and Go feature, Lane Departure Warning, recalibrated Active Steering, a Head-Up Display, and side- and top-view cameras. We like the Head-Up Display. The image projects on the bottom of the windshield, so the driver doesn’t have to look away from his line of sight to gather such information as current speed, current gear, navigation directions, and, in the X5 M, a shift-light feature.
#8. 2011’s new turbocharged engines are vast improvements.
The biggest news for 2011 is turbocharged power. The xDrive35i model gets a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six that produces 300 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque, while the xDrive50i adopts a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 that makes 400 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque. Both have broad torque curves, so power is ready and willing in most any situation. The new 3.0-liter vaults the X5 from 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, while the V8 does the trick in just 4.8 seconds, both more than a second faster than last year. Thanks to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, fuel economy is the same or slightly lower than the less-powerful engines they replace. Our only complaint involves the new transmission. When in Drive, it is programmed to start in second gear, which can lead to some sluggish launches.
#7. The X5 M is a fire-breathing monster.
The high-performance X5 M is replete with go-fast goodies, including Active Roll Stabilization and load-leveling suspension, Dynamic Performance Control (DPC) all-wheel drive, and 20-inch run-flat tires. DPC multiplies power to the outside rear wheel in turns, helping to rotate the vehicle. Active Roll Stabilization firms up the anti-roll bars to make the X5 M stay flat in corners. We drove the X5 M’s sister, the X6 M, on the road course at Road Atlanta and were impressed by its flat attitude in turns. We swear we could also feel DPC helping to guide the vehicle through the bends. The real fun, however, comes when you mash the throttle and activate all 555 ponies under the hood. The X5 M uses a higher-performance version of the twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8. It features a unique exhaust manifold that evens out airflow, thus boosting power and preventing turbo lag. With 500 lb.-ft. of torque, the X5 M roars to life from a stop and keeps the power coming as long as the driver is brave enough to keep the pedal to the metal. With all that power and capability, the X5 M is truly outrageous.
#6. The diesel-powered X5 xDrive35d is better than a hybrid.
The xDrive35d features a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel engine that bests BMW’s hybrid system when it comes to fuel economy and cost. With 265 horsepower and a stump-pulling 425 lb.-ft. of torque, it’s no slouch in straight-line performance, either. EPA fuel economy ratings are 19 mpg city/26 highway, which is impressive for a 5200-pound vehicle. By comparison, the X5’s sister vehicle, the X6, offers a hybrid called the ActiveHybrid X6. BMW markets the hybrid as a performance vehicle, and with 480 horsepower and 575 lb.-ft. of torque, you can see why. However, EPA fuel economy ratings are only 17/19. Plus it costs $88,900 compared to the X5 xDrive35d’s $51,300. Unless you get into the nitty-gritty of carbon emissions or want a hybrid hot rod, the X5 diesel is the more efficient and more reasonable choice.
#5. The interior is a fine place to be.
The X5’s cabin has an upscale, if somewhat conservative, ambiance. Leatherette upholstery is standard in xDrive35i and 35d models, and Nevada leather is standard otherwise. Available as an option is softer Nappa leather with a leather-wrapped dashboard and center console. Three varieties of wood trim are offered and all models have additional aluminum trim. The dashboard and door materials feature soft-touch surfaces with a quality feel. In addition to the new features mentioned above, BMW offers plenty of other amenities, including heated and ventilated seats, iPod adaptor, a 16-speaker sound system, Sirius and HD radio, and multi-contour 20-way adjustable front seats.
#4. iDrive is updated for 2011.
BMW’s iDrive control interface is standard in the X5. Models equipped with the available navigation system get an updated version for 2011. The update starts with a larger 8.8-inch center screen. More importantly, it now incorporates Menu, CD, Tel, Radio, Nav, Back and Option buttons around the central rotating controller. These buttons make it easier to access various functions, eliminating a few annoying clicks. BMW has also added eight programmable memory buttons on the center stack that can be used to store commonly used functions, such as navigation destinations, phone numbers, radio stations, and even audio balance. This set of buttons is touch sensitive, allowing operators to hover over them to preview their programmed functions, then push them to choose those functions. All of these changes make iDrive more intuitive to use, but technophobes will still find it daunting and the system still complicates some functions, such as programming radio stations.
#3. It’s smaller inside than you might think.
BMW redesigned the X5 for the 2007 model year, making it larger and expanding seating capacity from five to seven. Though it is actually longer and wider than the Lexus RX and Volvo XC90, the X5 has less passenger and cargo space. The third-row seat is perhaps the smallest on the market, making it hospitable only to small children. Rear cargo space is a useful 75.2 cubic feet, but that’s about 10 cubic feet less than RX and XC90. There is some good news, though. Both rear seating rows fold down to create a useful load floor, and there is plenty of seating space in the first two rows. Plus, drivers will be very comfortable thanks to BMW’s myriad of seat and steering wheel adjustments.
#2. It handles well but rides rough.
BMW engineers faced an arduous task in making the X5 handle like a BMW. After all, depending on engine and equipment it can weigh between 4900 and 5400 pounds. While previous versions handled well, the X5 is even better for 2011. That’s because BMW has replaced the traditional front strut suspension with a double-wishbone multi-link suspension that comes with inherent ride and handling benefits and allows for lighter anti-roll bars and greater flexibility in shock absorber tuning. The result is a vehicle that can tackle fast corners like a smaller sport sedan. The X5 feels very balanced and body roll is kept to a minimum for such a high-riding vehicle. Steering is typical BMW: quick and direct. We find the available Active Steering, which makes the ratio quicker at lower speeds and slower at higher speeds, to be predictable and helpful in low-speed maneuvers. The downside is a bit of a ride penalty. The X5 is firmer over bumps than most competitors and the available 19- and 20-inch tires make it more so. If you live in the Rustbelt, make sure you can live with the ride quality before you buy.
#1. It provides a lot of what a family needs in a sporty way.
As the heaviest BMW, it’s the least sporty, but it’s sportier than just about any other SUVs in the class. Families will like all-wheel drive security, as well as the space for passengers and cargo, and moms and dads will have fun commuting in this capable handler. Buyers looking to save on fuel costs won’t have to sacrifice power when choosing the xDrive35d, and performance-minded lunatics will find that the X5 M matches their taste for extreme power and relentless road grip to a T. Be aware, however, that the price of entry is rather high and there are other vehicles that make greater use of space.