New, improved and more desirable than ever
Our North American colleague, Mark Hacking, has just driven the new BMW X5.
Miami, Florida—When you’re a manufacturer like BMW, one of your biggest competitors is yourself. Meaning, you’re in the business of producing some of the best vehicles in their respective segments, so every new model introduced must, by necessity, be an improvement over something that is already among the class leaders.
The BMW X5 has definitely been among the very best “sports-SUVs” on the market since its debut in 1999, combining an unabashedly muscular appearance with impressive driving dynamics and a fair degree of comfort thrown in for good measure. The 2011 version, recently unveiled at the 2010 New York Auto Show, continues the theme.
For the new model year, the X5 has undergone only minor changes in appearance and the average onlooker would be hard pressed to tell the 2011 version apart from its predecessor.
At the front, the BMW gains a new fascia with repositioned fog lamps and larger side air intakes. The optional Xenon headlamps feature the company’s trademark LED corona rings. The front skid plate is painted matte silver. And more of the fascia/front bumper pieces are painted in matching body colour as opposed to flat black.
To the rear, the catalogue of changes is similar. The reshaped rear bumper surrounds two new trapezoidal-shaped tailpipes. The redesigned taillights now incorporate LED light banks. The skid plate is painted—you guessed it—matte silver. And the rear fascia has traded in some black covering with body colour paint.
The net effect is subtle, yet effective: The BMW X5, in this writer’s opinion, has always been one of the more aggressive-looking sports-SUVs around and the 2011 version has added refinement without sacrificing on any of the attitude.
Inside the passenger cabin, the new X5 is a direct carryover from last year’s edition. In terms of quality, the X5 strikes a reasonable balance between function and flash—it isn’t the most luxurious SUV in this segment, but it offers all the creature comforts you’d expect.
Two aspects of the BMW X5 that somehow manage to surprise and delight me every time I drive this SUV are the steering wheel and the seats. The steering wheel is hefty but sporty; it makes you want to grab on tight and carve corners with reckless abandon.
The seats are really supreme; they grip the driver for the entire length of the body, providing the support to tackle those corners without having to hang on to said steering wheel for dear life. Also: Why is it that every manufacturer in the world doesn’t have a mechanism to extend the seat bottom to accommodate people with longer upper legs?
The xDrive35i is an SUV, so it makes sense that functionality is built right in. The cabin features a number of storage compartments—door pockets, armrest, glove box, centre console—as well as a 60/40-split rear seat that folds flat to create more storage capacity. The cargo area includes a rail system for tying down loose items.
A variety of options packages are available for the X5, depending on the market. These packages include such features as a panoramic moonroof, power-adjustable steering column, roof rails, heated/ventilated front seats, larger wheels, third-row seating and various M Sport items.
Under the skin, the changes are more significant. While the European market gets any number of versions, most of the world will have to make do with just four X5s: a 6-cylinder diesel, a 6-cylinder petrol engine, an 8-cylinder petrol engine and the mighty X5 M, with a twin-turbo petrol engine pounding out 555 horsepower.
While the X5 M and the xDrive35d remain unchanged for the new model year, there are significant differences to both the other “common” models: the xDrive50i (formerly xDrive48i) and the xDrive35i (replacing the xDrive30i).
Whereas the X5 xDrive48i featured a 4.8-litre petrol V8, the XDrive50i boasts a 4.4-litre twin-turbo petrol V8, which debuted in the X6 in 2008. Horsepower is up (from 350 hp to 400), torque is up (from 350 lb-ft to 450) and acceleration is boosted (0-100 km/h in 5.6 seconds, close to a one-second improvement).
As for the new X5 xDrive35i, it features a 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline 6-cylinder petrol engine; this powerplant, shared with many others in the BMW range, offers significant advantages over the old one. With 300 horsepower (up 40 makers) and 300 lb-ft of torque (an improvement of 75 lb-ft), this X5 is expected to hit 100 km/h in just 6.8 seconds, nearly 1.5 seconds faster than the xDrive30i.
When you combine these figures with the fact that the xDrive35i will likely offer at least a 10% gain in fuel efficiency over the xDrive50i, this makes the 6-cylinder twin-turbo all the more appealing. For the international press event, the only version available to test was the former, but given the nature of the roads, there was no real opportunity for high speeds anyway.
In driving around the Miami area on a combination of city streets and freeways, this X5 proved more than speedy enough to deal with all the requirements of everyday commuting—merging with fast-moving traffic, accelerating away from stoplights—and engaging enough to get the blood pumping just a little bit.
The 8-speed automatic transmission—also shared with other BMW models including the latest 5 Series—is slick and suitably entertaining; shifts can be conducted manually via the stubby shifter in the centre console. With eight separate cogs, the X5 can transform from a stoplight demon to a fuel-efficient cruising machine in seconds.
The X5 also now includes regenerative brakes that charge the battery when the vehicles is coasting or decelerating, something that is predicted to boost fuel efficiency by 1-2% over time. The brake feel on the BMW is perfectly fine, perhaps at least partly due to the manufacturer’s work in Formula One racing. Although they never managed to get KERS working for their F1 cars, they no doubt learned a lot about designing brakes that make even some brand new hybrids seem like a bowl of mush by comparison.
The drive route included a very mild off-road adventure through the Everglades. This experience did highlight two things. First, that the X5 is so solid, it remains completely undisturbed and rattle-free when confronted with all manner of bumps, ruts and rocks in the road. (Seriously, this thing feels like a tank under the skin.) Second: Even though it’s clearly more of an on-road adventurer, this SUV can manage water crossings deep enough to dampen the upper wheel wells.
In other news, the options list now includes an adaptive cruise control system that automatically keeps a safe distance. The system can bring the X5 to a complete stop and start it again once the car ahead has begun to move. (I abhor technology that takes the responsibility for driving out of the driver’s hands, but there you go.) Also available are side-view cameras mounted at the front and a rear-view camera with a top-down view to aid parallel parking.
While the SUV segment isn’t my personal favourite, the 2011 BMW xDrive35i has enough “ultimate driving machine” about it to create it a fairly compelling proposition. The new engine and transmission offer a great balance between outright speed, all-around versatility and (anticipated) improved fuel efficiency. The X5 rides well, handles sharply and offers some great comfort features. And the mild facelift has made an attractive SUV even more so.
Pricing for the 2011 BMW X5 model range is expected to be announced shortly..