ATLANTA, GA – How serious is the new 2019 BMW X5 about going off-road? After a grueling experience in a dense Georgian forest, I found out first hand.
The forest canopy provided shade from the searing afternoon sun, but not from the humidity. With the AC set to full blast, we entered what I thought was a routine course, one that would demonstrate what would happen if someone took one of these luxury vehicles off the beaten path. But this was anything but a routine course.
This was a course designed to push the X5 to its limits. The unforgiving terracotta coloured terrain was the consistency of chunky peanut butter in places. Thick roots, boulders bigger than the X5’s 21-inch wheels, fender crumpling trees mere inches away resembled a trail more suitable for an old Discovery.
I’ve done a few of these off-road courses in the past, but none that were an hour long. It was as much a test for this driver as it was for the vehicle, and the vehicle was likely not the one to break first.
Completely redesigned for the 2019 model year, the new BMW X5 is one of the company’s most anticipated and most important new products. The X5 can be credited with inventing this genre of luxury SUVs with the inaugural model going on sale in 1999. 20 years ago, that original X5 combined the athleticism and luxury of the 5 series sedan with the space and utility of a truck.
It was an instant success. And with over 2.2 million units sold, the X5 now sits at the top of an ever-expanding line of “X” vehicles at BMW.
Short of a dusty gravel road or light trail, the X5 wasn’t very suited to off-road duty. And for the majority of owners, it didn’t matter one bit. Focusing more on Nurburgring lap times and on-road dynamics, it was one of the best SUVs to drive.
But there are vehicles like the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover that are also very good to drive, and they don’t mind getting a bit of mud in their teeth.
So this generation of X5 seeks to change that. And as I found out in that forest, it can go places I didn’t think possible. The course led us through steep muddy climbs and harrowing descents. We clambered over big boulders, and through streams scattered with sharp wheel damaging rocks. We did all this on low-profile performance tires that have no business being anywhere near a place like this.
Each segment tested the approach (25.2 degrees) and departure (22.3 degrees) angles and wheel travel, all of which have been improved over the last model.
An optional off-road package brings with it an electronic rear locking differential, a two-axle air suspension, front and rear skid plates, and off-road specific drive modes: xRocks, xSand, xGravel, and xSnow. Select one of those modes and the X5 will adjust its ride height and various electronic driving nannies to suit the conditions.
We used rocks mode for the off-road segment and turned off the ESC completely. Rocks mode raises the ride height by 40 mm, and dulls the throttle response. Hill Descent Control worked wonders, especially on a 45-degree descent down a long slippery hill, the ABS motors firing rapidly, managing to keep this heavy vehicle at a pre-selected speed of 3 miles per hour. It was scary and impressive at the same time, but you won’t see me lining up to do that again.
So it’s safe then, to give the 2019 X5 an off-road merit badge. I still wouldn’t take it to the Rubicon trail but an average backcountry trail would be easy work. Which is funny, because do you know how many owners would put it through even a little bit of what we just experienced? Not one.
The important thing for the X5 is how it performs on paved roads. I’m happy to report that perform it does. Gaining a rocks mode has not dulled its dynamics one bit. The steering is lighter than before, more fluid, more responsive. Sport mode firms it up, but not too much. Roll is mitigated by adjusting the anti-roll bars with electric swivel motors. It reacts in milliseconds. It also provides a stable and more comfortable ride.
The X5 will always default to comfort mode. Sport mode stiffens everything and drops the ride height. We only had X5s with the air suspension. Probably why the ride was so good in either mode. Our test cars were also fitted with rear wheel steering (Integral Active Steering) that makes this 2000 kg vehicle feel a lot lighter on its feet than it should.
New gas engines and a plug-in hybrid
There will be two available engines when the X5 goes on sale. The xDrive40i equips a 3.0L turbocharged straight six with 340 hp and 332 lb-ft that comes online at just 1500 rpm staying flat all the way up to 5200 rpm. The thrust is ample and immediate, the power delivery smooth. You don’t actually need more power but then again, more power is always good.
The xDrive 50i gets BMW’s redesigned 4.4 L twin-turbo V8, good for 462 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque also coming online at 1500 rpm. Both motors are coupled to retuned 8-speed automatics that crack through shifts as fast as you can pull the paddles.
Diesels? Maybe. The last-gen X5 got one, but they still haven’t decided if they’ll bring it back for this one. Whether we get it or not, across the pond they get a couple right of the bat, including a monstrous quad-turbo—that’s quad, as in 4 friggin turbos—diesel that puts down 560 lb-ft of torque to provide what BMW calls a “particularly forceful wave of power.” It would be fun just telling people your car packs 4 turbos, and then watching how quickly they exit the room when you try to explain how it all works.
While we probably won’t get that big diesel, a hybrid is on the way. The xDrive45e arrives in 2020 and will pack a straight six and an electric motor for a total output of 394 hp and an impressive electric range of at least 80 km.
Review: 2018 BMW X3 M40i
An entirely new interior experience
This new X5 looks great, the gigantic kidney grille works and the canted headlights can be ordered with laser beams providing enough illumination to light up the dark side of the moon.
On the inside comes the biggest changes. Two 12.3-inch screens one for the instruments and the other to control the new infotainment system have some of the best graphics I’ve seen in an automobile. It has a futuristic, Matrix-esque quality and the operation is super-responsive and it moves very quickly through screens.
They’ve named it Operating System 7.0, and it still uses a rotary controller and touch screen for operation, but everything has been simplified meaning less deep dives through menus to pair a phone, for example.
There are fewer buttons, but thankfully still a volume knob and enough basic controls to operate the important bits. Open pore wood, fine leather, and enhanced ambient lighting, that now extends into the glass sunroof through 15,000 etchings make for a very inviting interior. An optional glass trim package called Crystal Clarity adds a crystal shift lever, a crystal rotary controller, start button and volume knob.
The cargo volume is roughly the same as before, 650 litres with the seats up, 1860 when they’re folded. A trick electric cargo cover, an optional extra, can hide in the load floor. An optional third row can be ordered, but these are more like jump seats. Or for the people you don’t like.
The X5 has grown slightly in nearly all dimensions, and that translates into a bit more room for passengers.
Trick new tech like a reversing assistant can remember the path you took for up to 50 meters and trace it in reverse automatically. Helpful for getting out of a tight spot where an about-face might not be possible.
The best X5 yet
These first drive evaluations are usually short and a bit rushed. We never get as much seat time as we need to get a true feel for the car, to uncover its weaker points. That takes a bit longer. But the X5 feels like it always did. Tight, Sporty and Comfortable. This one equipped with all the bells and whistles and those crystal bits also managed to feel special. Adding a sense of occasion to the drive.
How much does all this cost? The 6-cylinder starts at $71,500, $1550 more than the 2018. You’ll have to fork out $86,000 if you want the V8. Considering that the new generation is better in almost every way, makes that sound like a good deal and worth waiting for. The 2019 X5 will go on sale this November.
First Drive: BMW X7 Prototype
2019 BMW X5
BODY STYLE: Mid-Size Premium SUV
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, AWD
ENGINES: (xDrive40i 3.0 L turbocharged inline 6) Power: 340 hp @ 5500-6500 rpm; Torque: 332 lb-ft @ 1500-5200 rpm; (xDrive50i 4.4 L twin-turbo V8) Power: 462 hp @ 5200-6000 rpm; Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 1500-4750 rpm
TRANSMISSION : 8-speed automatic
CARGO CAPACITY: 650 litres (rear seats in place); 1860 litres (rear seats folded)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium Gasoline in L/100km) xDrive40i: 8.8-8.5 combined; xDrive50i: 11.6 combined
PRICE: $71,500 (xDrive40i); $86,000 (xDrive50i)
WEBSITE: 2019 BMW X5
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