If you asked the average American car buyer in 2014 to give you an idea of their ideal car for everyday use, it would probably sound something like this: a big, practical SUV that sits high off the ground, but drives like a car and gets decent fuel economy. A touch of luxury would also be appreciated, thanks.
But despite these seemingly simple preferences, for a while now, there haven’t been many vehicles that fit the bill. Generally, it’s either space and practicality or good fuel economy and driving dynamics, not a combination of the lot.
Enter the BMW X5 xDrive35d, which makes a strong case for having your cake and eating it too.
At first glance, the X5 seems much larger than it actually is. For such a tall and imposing SUV, it’s only barely longer than a Honda Accord, and only two inches longer than its predecessor. This reluctance to super-size is welcome in an age of ever-expanding vehicles, where a 3-Series in 2014 is the same size as a 5-Series from 10 years ago. The X5’s largely unchanged footprint is likely to make room for the inevitable range-topping X7 in the next few years, but for now, we’re happy that it hasn’t put on pounds.
Our test model was finished in the optional “Sparkling Brown Metallic” paint and the “xLine” package, which will set you back a total of $3,150 over base price, but we think this unique color and wheel/detail package is well worth it. The paint looks almost black in low light, but truly sparkles (pun intended) when in the sunlight. Not everyone loved the paint job, but we think there are fewer colors that truly bring out the best in the X5’s design.
Speaking of design, the X5 features a completely updated exterior over the previous generation. Gone are the flared fenders and comically-wide tires that gave the 2nd-gen X5 a look that appealed to our inner 5-year-old. In its place are smoothed lines, a more upright front grille, and an overall classier look that still remains distinctly BMW.
The interior is a delight, with a layered look that is upscale and gives more depth to the design. The seats are finished in “Canberra Beige Dakota” leather and the dark wood trim is an excellent addition to round out the luxurious look. Various passengers throughout our time with the car also loved the blue accent lighting that adorns the dashboard and the front and rear door panels.
The seats are adjustable in seemingly infinite ways, providing proper support no matter how you move them. The beltline of the X5 is surprisingly low, and creates a very high seating position and excellent outward visibility. Fans of low-slung sports cars may want to look elsewhere, but many drivers prefer the higher commanding view. Rear legroom is excellent, and there is an optional third row seat, but it’s really only fit for children under the age of 12.
The infotainment screen dominates the center of the dashboard, but looks more integrated into the overall design than the similarly fixed and upright-looking units used on some competitors. The screen can display information in widescreen, or be split two ways to show both media information and navigation, as well as other functions. The system is controlled by BMW’s iDrive controller, which sits to the right and behind the shifter. The system remains a bit overly complex to use, but is still much improved over earlier examples. One feature that we found particularly useful is the ability to write in a letter or number with your finger when entering an address into the navigation. Spelling out our destinations saved countless seconds of scrolling through the entire alphabet just to spell a city.
While the design is typical BMW (read: luxurious and functional), where the X5 really shines is in its powertrain and handling combination. Our test vehicle was fitted with the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6-cylinder diesel engine and BMW’s excellent xDrive all-wheel-drive system. The diesel is one of the smoothest units we’ve ever tested, with gobs of torque to propel you swiftly and smoothly off the line. The turbodiesel makes only 255-horsepower, but the absurd 413 lbs.-ft. of torque more than makes up for it.
This peachy powertrain is mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox, and will easily return 31-miles-per-gallon on the highway. Over about 600-miles with the big Bimmer, we saw an average of 28-mpg with a mix of highway and city driving. On top of all that, we only had to fill up once at the very end of our time with it, as the X5 boasts a range of over 600-miles with careful driving.
Handling is still reminiscent of a big SUV, but the X5 does well to hide this, with an eager-to-play steering rack and minimal body roll for something so high off the ground. It’s not an M3 by any means, but it’s not a Chevrolet Suburban either.
If you’re looking for a Chevy-like price, however, the X5 may not fit the bill (pun intended…again).
Our test model came in at a not-so-frugal $72,475, which is a serious chunk of change for the average SUV buyer. If this happens to be within your budget, the X5 is an undeniable best buy, and one of the better SUVs we’ve ever tested.
But if the aforementioned price made your eyes pop a bit and the brand of your car is less of an issue, might we suggest something value-conscious like the Hyundai Santa Feor capable and upscale like the Jeep Grand Cherokee? The Hyundai and Jeep even had cooled front seats, something that was very noticeably lacking in the almost twice-as-expensive BMW.