Preview: 2014 BMW X5
Slimmer, smoother X5 finds its power balance
VANCOUVER ? I have a confession to make: I?ve never been all that fond of the BMW X5. I know it?s popular enough, but I always thought it had too much meat on its bones, and it felt heavy and clunky.
Finally, though, the third generation pretty much nails it. More of a refresh than an all-new model, the 2014 X5 feels slimmer and smoother, even though it?s marginally larger.
Chalk it up to a more powerful gasoline V8, an eight-speed automatic in place of the previous six-speed on the diesel, slightly lighter curb weight, and a redesigned interior that feels roomier and airy.
As before, three variants will be available. The X5 35i, which wasn?t available to drive on the event, continues with a turbocharged 3.0-L inline six-cylinder that makes 300 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic. It goes on sale later this year, starting at $62,900.
It?ll be joined by the 50i, which continues with a twin-turbo 4.4-L V8 engine, but it?s now bumped up to 445 horsepower, up from 400, and to 479 lb.-ft. of torque, compared to the previous 450. It?ll start at $76,500.
But you?ll have to wait until early next year for the real sweetie of the group, the 35d, powered by a 3.0-L turbo diesel. It actually makes a little less grunt than the outgoing oil-burner, at 255 horses and 413 lb.-ft. of torque (versus 265 and 425), but it still feels like you?ve got more than enough under the hood. It?s also beautifully smooth and quiet, and the eight-speed shifts almost imperceptibly.
Pricing for the diesel will be announced later on, but I expect it?ll be around $65,000. For its smoothness and just-right balance of power and performance, the 35d is the one I?d pick.
Optional suspension packages will be available. You?ll at least want to check off the $3,500 dynamic adaptive suspension package, judging by how well my tester took the twisty Sea-to-Sky highway. It includes an active stabilization system and torque-vectoring rear differential. Other option bundles will add sport-tuned dampers and a self-levelling air suspension.
The all-wheel xDrive system is standard on all X5s, of course, and while it?s no rock climber, I had no trouble getting through a muddy course that mimicked a very rough cottage road, and was far more of a challenge than the vast majority of these vehicles will ever see in real life.
The system?s main benefit to most drivers is on pavement, where it proactively distributes torque depending on how you?re driving, and how slippery the road becomes in bad weather.
The exterior changes are evolutionary, but the face has morphed enough that one obvious BMW fan stared so intently when crossing the street in front of me that he fell over the curb. The grille is larger and now stands upright, which really suits it, and the headlamps slide all the way across into it.
The idea is to make the X5 look wider, but at the back, the subtle angle to the taillights and the restyled fascia give it a smaller, tighter look that?s better than before.
It retains the ?clamshell? liftgate, a two-piece affair with a top half that swings up electrically, and a bottom half that you manually pull down. I?ve never really understood the point of it. If you?re throwing stuff in the top, it?s that much higher to lift your items, and if you?re sliding things out, it?s that much farther to reach in.
A third row of seats for seven-passenger seating can be optioned. None of the vehicles on the event had this, and I?m guessing that even with the slight increase in length, those chairs are still just as tight and suitable only for children.
In five-row configuration, there?s a large storage bin under the cargo floor, with sliding rings for the one person on the planet who actually ties down the stuff he puts in the back.
New on this model, the second-row folding seat is divided into 40/20/40 sections, replacing the previous 60/40 configuration for a little more passenger-versus-cargo flexibility.
The cabin feels bigger from the front seat, primarily due to a lower, thinner dash. That?s achieved by removing the information screen from inside the dash and setting it up top, where it sits awkwardly, like an iPad dropped halfway into a slot. It looks like it would slide up and down, but it?s fixed in place.
The top of the iDrive controller ? the joystick that works the screen?s functions ? is actually a touchpad, where you can trace letters with your finger to bring up contacts and destinations. Perhaps practice makes perfect, but I found it difficult to scratch out a legible letter, with the result that the system couldn?t figure out what I wanted it to do.
Overall, if you were fond of the X5 before, you?re going to like it even more now. It?s better to drive, its looks have improved, and the interior?s even nicer than before. And if you weren?t a fan, at least give it a try. This time around, it might just surprise you.
Transportation for freelance writer Jil McIntosh was provided by the manufacturer.
2014 BMW X5
Price: $62,900 to $76,500
Engine: 3.0 L I6, 4.4 L V8, 3.0 L I6 diesel
Power/torque: 300 hp/300 lb.-ft. (3.0 L), 445/479 (V8), 255/413 (diesel)
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 11.3 city, 7.5 hwy. (3.0); 14.1, 9.2 (V8), TBA (diesel)
Competition: Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Lincoln Navigator, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne, Volvo XC90
What?s best: Smooth diesel, improved styling, interior comfort.
What?s worst: Two-piece liftgate, wide sill is a long step for shorter legs.
What?s interesting: BMW?s ?X? models account for one-third of all Canadian sales.