First Drive Review: 2014 BMW X5

 

“Snap” drives the all-new 2014 F15 BMW X5 xDrive50i and tells us whether it’s as good as the outgoing E70, or better to handle the range of competition from other German SUVs.

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Improving on the premium benchmark

In the highly lucrative and popular premium foreign-brand SUV segment, there is no better seller worldwide than the BMW X5. This success reflects the public’s ever less frequent preconception that these SUVs ever need to do gnarly off-roading or any heavy towing, seeing as the X5 is now portrayed even moreso by its own company as a street demon SAV with, at most, gravel road ambitions. Then the optional towing hitch is not even offered from the company in North America, that setup being a dealer-by-dealer sourced add-on.

The X5 started this whole movement of premium people-moving trucks with unibodies and independent suspension back in 1999 and customers gobbled up the big Bimmer while auto journalists kept whining skeptically for a couple more years before relenting. Now in the third-generation “F15” of the BMW X5 story, did very much really need to change? The world will find out when deliveries start on November 16th, with the U.S. probably starting deliveries from Spartanburg, South Carolina, two weeks prior to that.

We were privileged guests of BMW recently in Vancouver, British Colombia, and did a long sort of national park drive along one of the only national highways headed northward from the city, plus a short stint of off-road and gravelly bits. A general reaction after this is that this massively successful recipe in the X5 in this third-gen treatment feels much more like a thorough midlife massage of the second generation X5. This was not surprising at all. Engines are now slightly more efficient and powerful/torqueful, there is more space for humans and their stuff, the exterior and interior have been played with, and optional bells and whistles have been repackaged with a couple nuances added.

We focused on the new version of the X5 xDrive50i with the almost now legendarily solid 4.4-liter bi-turbo N63TÜ V8. This power unit now chugs out a maximum 443 horsepower between 5,500 and 6,000 rpm, and 479 pound-feet of torque between 2,000 and 4,500 rpm. This takes the nearly 5,000-pound xDrive50i to 60 mph in a manufacturer estimated 4.9 seconds versus the 5.3 seconds of the previous edition. As we drove along and played between the drivetrain’s modes from Eco Pro on up to Sport+, it was strange to feel that this 50i V8 setup now feels a little more like a really strong V6 in its personality at least as we sat inside the cabin and wandered through the woods. The V8 sound and thunder that can be heard pretty well still from the outside cannot be translated to the more ample cabin as much as before and we did sort of miss that despite the clearly greater performance.

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Driving dynamics leader for the X5, among other models, Cornelius Zim tells us that in talking with existing customers worldwide, X5 people wanted a bit more comfort in the mix and less sound from the outside world arriving in the cabin. Oh, well…we can see this as acceptable for the other inline-6 versions – the sDrive and xDrive35i plus xDrive35d – but for the big muzzer V8? Not even a separate button for more exhaust burble to come into your personal space.

The interior has been revisited as well and not just for adding 4.3 cubic feet of cargo space as exterior length increases by 1.3 inches and width by just a scooch. The various aesthetic lines offered now for the X5 in North America include Luxury ($1,200 extra on the 50i), M Sport ($3,600), and xLine ($2,100). Our Euro-trim 50i carried something in between for Europe called the Professional trim and it does feel a bit nattier in so far as quality and comfort. Chief feature for the new interior, according to designer chief for same Oliver Heilmer, is the two-tier dash surround theme that frames the passenger area. There are added ambient lighting tricks you can pull for changing the cabin atmosphere as well. Luxury, fun, and games.

The drive feel for the X5 on this first go-around struck us as consistent with the X5 recipe: rugged and solid and seemingly rearing to attack your off-road park, but with a suspension and chassis that require pavement to really shine. The X5 is a tall and spacious really nice car essentially and it is a pleasure thereon, but even in the Comfort setting for the trim we had with the optional adaptive rear air suspension the X5 on any sudden undulations of the pavement can toss one about and wake up everyone in the cabin from their Kindles.

Standard wheels and tires for the X5 xDrive50i in North America are either 19-inch all-season run-flats or non-run-flats with the gooey puncture repair tube included. The Goodyear Eagle F1 all-seasons were pretty near perfect for hauling us around on our scenic tour and were actually an oversteer-able thrill on backwoods gravel tracts. What has improved greatly here dynamically, though, is this latest generation of the electronic steering. It is smooth and well weighted (i.e. not too light), and at the lock limits there is no kick-back resistance at all. The body in white of the new X5 is some five percent stiffer whether it be torsional or fore-aft bending we’re talking about, and all of this lends itself to the X5 now being nearly as sporting feeling as a Porsche Cayenne. There is also now included with North America’s $4,500 Dynamic Handling Package for the first time BMW’s adaptive anti-roll control, called Active Roll Stabilization, and this further highlights the sports car approach. This is available only on xDrive models and not on the base sDrive35i.

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Designers can play tricks on the eye with contour lines and horizontal width lines, and BMW has done so here. To our eyes, this X5 comes off looking smaller than the X5 it replaces though the contrary is the case. And aesthetically, the exterior looks less SUV chunky and strong, and more on-the-road suburban tall cruiser. In a few ways, we prefer the outgoing design more as it has a bit more presence. This X5 was looking frequently like a puffed-out X3 rather than the brand’s biggest and baddest SAV. (SAV, SUV, call it what you like.)

Sales of the second-generation E70 increased right up until stoppage in the middle of this year, which certifiably classifies the X5 an American-built phenomenon. The F15 new X5 looks to carry on the torch, though we wish it pretended just wee bit more to carry us on wilderness adventures.

2014 BMW X5 50i VITAL STATS

Engine: 4.4L V8 turbo

Power: 443 HP / 479 LB-FT

Transmission: 8-Speed auto

0-60 Time: 4.9 Seconds (est.)

Top Speed: 130 mph

Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 4,960 LBS (est.)

Seating: 2+3+2

Cargo: 23.0-66.0 cu ft

MPG: n/a City, n/a Hwy (est.)

Base Price: $69,125 (est.)

Price as tested: $80,000 (est.)

[Snap – text, photos, SCut video clip; added dynamic pics – BMW team]

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