2013 BMW X5 Review: What Is It
BMW prefers to call the 2013 X5 a “Sport Activity Vehicle” rather than a “Sport Utility Vehicle,” but regardless of whether you prefer to refer to the X5 as an SAV or an SUV, this BMW is capable of carrying up to seven people or as much as 75.2 cubic-feet of cargo across more rugged or snowbound terrain than a typical passenger car can. Thanks to its xDrive all-wheel-drive system and nearly 8.75 inches of ground clearance, the BMW X5 is a more capable off-roader than the typical crossover suv, but can’t quite tackle the same types of terrain as a Jeep or Land Rover.
We spent a week driving the 2013 BMW X5 xDrive35i Sport Activity model, sticking to freeways, suburban streets, and twisty mountain roads over the course of 500 miles.
2013 BMW X5 Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
BMW sells the 2013 X5 in three model series: xDrive35i, xDrive35d, and xDrive50i. Within the xDrive35i series, there are three models: standard, Premium, and Sport Activity. The X5 xDrive35i is equipped with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, the X5 xDrive35d is powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-liter common rail diesel inline six-cylinder engine, and the X5 xDrive50i is fortified with a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 engine.
The least expensive version of the 2013 BMW X5 xDrive35i starts at $48,395, including a destination charge of $895. Choose the X5 xDrive50i and check every option box, and the price tag eclipses $90,000. Our X5 xDrive35i Sport Activity test vehicle rang in at $74,945.
BMW also sells a high-performance version of the X5 called the X5 M. It features unique styling details, a more powerful twin-turbo V8, and additional modifications to make it one of the fastest SUVs – or SAVs – on the planet. The price for this model starts at $89,745 and climbs from there.
2013 BMW X5 Review: What It’s Up Against
Thanks to its optional third-row seat, the 2013 BMW X5 is a legitimate competitor to a range of seven-passenger luxury suvs including the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Infiniti JX, Land Rover LR4, Lexus GX, Mercedes-Benz GL, and Volvo XC90. However, only children are likely to be happy in the X5’s third-row jump seats, even if BMW does provide climate control air vents and a center console with two cupholders.
Among these competitors, and based on our experience, the BMW X5 is the most athletic in terms of on-road handling, with the Acura and Audi also rewarding their owners on pavement. Off-road, we prefer the Land Rover LR4 and Lexus GX, each of which is engineered for serious boulder-bashing capability.
2013 BMW X5 Review: Exterior
What’s New for 2013:
- M Sport Package with new 20-inch wheel design
- New Orion Silver Metallic paint option
How It Looks:
Equipped with the M Sport Package, which includes the lightweight 20-inch double-spoke wheels and body-color exterior trim seen in the accompanying photos, the 2013 BMW X5 exhibits a refined rather than rugged appearance. We actually prefer the X5 with its subtle dark gray body trim and standard Y-spoke 20-inch wheels, which together add greater visual contrast and texture to the SUV’s appearance.
Viewed front the front or rear, this model’s wide 275/40R20 front and steamroller 315/30R20 rear run-flat performance tires look positively massive, and are largely responsible for the X5’s impressive handling abilities. These enormous tires, coupled with our test car’s Alpine White paint and the X5’s two-box shape, make the SUV appear to be the vehicular equivalent of a pair of old-school Nike Dunk Highs.
2013 BMW X5 Review: Interior
What’s New for 2013:
- M leather-wrapped steering wheel now available with heating
- New Alcantara/Nappa leather sport seats optional with M Sport Package
How It Looks and Feels
The 2013 X5 is equipped with the layered dashboard design that has characterized BMWs for the past decade. Materials exude quality, though the center console area, with which the driver is in regular contact, exhibits a somewhat inexpensive and tinny feel.
The company’s oft-maligned iDrive controller is situated on the center console, surrounded by primary function buttons. The latest version of iDrive features a gorgeous high-resolution color display, and cycling through the different functions and menus is easier and more intuitive than ever. That cannot be said, however, for the X5’s stereo, climate system, steering wheel buttons, and control stalks, which require practice to achieve acclimation. Similarly, the joystick-style gear selector takes some getting used to. We even accidentally bumped it into Neutral gear on a couple of occasions.
Depending on the model series and trim level selected, buyers can choose between three types of wood, brushed aluminum, or silver matte trim; leatherette, Nevada leather, or Nappa leather seats; and standard, sport, or multi-contour front seats. Our test X5 featured Cinnamon Brown Nevada leather, the mid-grade choice but one that is appealing to the eye and both soft and durable in terms of feel.
Driver positioning behind the thick, leather-wrapped M Sport steering wheel with aluminum paddle shifters is perfect. The optional multi-contour front seats offer myriad adjustments, and forward sightlines are clear and unobstructed. This is a proper place from which to conduct the business of driving. The rear seat accommodates tall and large adults alike, but the bottom seat cushion is mounted a bit too low to provide good thigh support for taller people. The third-row jump seats are designed for children.
2013 BMW X5 Review: Powertrain
What’s New for 2013:
- No changes for 2013
How Does It Go
Our sample 2013 X5 xDrive35i had the company’s “N55” 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine featuring a twin-scroll, single turbocharger and direct fuel injection. With 300 horsepower peaking from 5,800 to 6,250 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque available between 1,200 and 5,000 rpm, the 4,960-pound X5 xDrive35i feels responsive from nearly any speed, especially when the eight-speed automatic transmission is placed in Sport mode. BMW quotes a zero-to-60 acceleration time of 6.4 seconds. That sounds about right.
If fuel economy is a concern, you should know that the EPA says the X5 xDrive35i should return 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway for a combined 19-mpg rating while running on premium unleaded. We managed to extract just 17 mpg during a week of driving, and that included plenty of time on the highway.
2013 BMW X5 Review: How It Drives
Ever lace up a pair of basketball shoes and go for a walk? They seem big, heavy, almost clunky. But if you wear them on the court and then run back and forth between the baskets, stopping and sprinting, jumping and twisting, they’re absolutely brilliant. The BMW X5 is like that.
Unlike newer BMWs, the X5 still has good old-fashioned hydraulic steering, and even with the optional (and highly recommended) Active Steering system, which varies the steering ratio to make the X5 more maneuverable in parking lots and more nimble on twisty roads, it feels heavy, in a really good way. Like a traditional BMW, the X5’s steering provides the driver with direct communication from the road surface, a trait lacking in newer models with electric steering. Hustle this hulking ‘ute on a favorite back road, and you’ll be amazed at how precise and responsive the tiller is.
Our test model also had, in addition to its ridiculously wide footprint, BMW’s Adaptive Drive system with Active Roll Stabilization and Electronic Damping Control. Around town, this technology does a good job of filtering the natural harshness associated with 20-inch low-profile run-flat tires. So equipped, the X5 doesn’t exactly glide across broken pavement, but neither does it ride like it’s attempting to fuse your lower vertebrae. Toss the heavy X5 down a twisty two-lane, and the suspension virtually eliminates body roll. More importantly, it significantly reduces head toss, a common result of lateral body rock in tall vehicles with high centers of gravity.
When you build a 2.5-ton SUV that can cover ground at a rapid rate, brilliant brakes are a necessity. The BMW X5 delivers, and even when punished in the mountains, they exhibited no fade while absolutely coating the wheels with dust.
The X5’s eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission is designed to conserve fuel as much as possible under normal circumstances. If you’d rather not have the transmission upshift rapidly or hesitate before downshifting, tap the joystick gear selector to the left to engage Sport mode. Now the engine feels much more responsive, holds gears longer before upshifting, and emits a sporty burble between gears. Play slap and tickle with the paddle shifters mounted to the M Sport steering wheel, and the X5’s shift points are under your control, which is as it should be.
2013 BMW X5 Review: Final Thoughts
The 2013 BMW X5 might just be one of the last of the classic BMWs. The latest 3 Series, 5 Series, and 7 Series are not as engaging or as enjoyable to drive as their predecessors, as technology takes root to eke every last mile out of every last drop of fuel, and to protect inept drivers from themselves through systems that will take control if the driver is too busy checking Facebook.
By contrast, this X5 drives more like BMWs of old. It is genuinely communicative, ridiculously fun to drive fast, exceptionally comfortable, and focused on fostering a close relationship between the driver and the road. I already miss it.
2013 BMW X5 Review: Pros and Cons
- Fun to drive
- Comfortable seats
- Quality materials
- Impressive technology
- Confusing controls
- Cramped third-row seat
- Unimpressive fuel economy
- High price tag
BMW provided the 2013 X5 xDrive35i for this review
Photos by Christian Wardlaw