2014 BMW X5

Now in its third generation, the BMW X5 continues to be one of the top midsize luxury crossovers for those who place a premium on driving enjoyment. Its pricing isn't for the faint of heart, but a trio of strong, refined engines, high levels of passenger comfort and a dizzying array of safety and convenience technologies make a strong case for shoppers to consider opening up their checkbooks.

Despite what their rugged styling and raised ride heights might suggest, it's well known that the vast majority of crossovers are destined to spend the entirety of their lives shuttling through suburbia instead of blazing new paths through the wilderness.

As such, we think the X5 is rightly focused on the qualities that most buyers will appreciate on a daily basis - namely, a welcoming interior, useful gadgetry and precise handling in both fair and foul weather.

Inside, the X5 boasts an appealing, modern cabin design constructed from high-quality wood, metal and leather. A simple, straightforward quartet of analog gauges faces the driver, while the center stack houses a 10.2-inch infotainment screen that displays sound system, climate control and navigation system info. It's controlled by BMW's iDrive interface, which has evolved over the years into one of the most user-friendly infotainment systems in the industry. Redundant buttons and voice commands give users alternate means of accessing the electronics.

The navigation system is available with Google point-of-interest search and real time traffic information, and it also features a touchpad mounted on the iDrive knob that lets users write out phone numbers, contact names and navigation destinations - and also zoom in or zoom out the map - with a finger.

Other nifty infotainment features include BMW Apps, which allows iPhone users to access Twitter and Facebook updates, listen to internet radio (including Pandora, MOG, Stitcher and Aupeo) and pull up their calendar on the central screen. Similarly, BMW ConnectedDrive Office shows emails, appointments, contact lists, calendar entries and notes on the screen. A BMW Assist Convenience Plan offers a concierge service for tasks like making hotel or restaurant reservations, and also lets users dictate text or email messages.

On the convenience front, the X5 offers several technologies to make driving an easier and less stressful experience. Parking maneuvers aided by the available Surround View camera system, which provides a 360-degree bird's-eye of the crossover and its surrounds, along with a BMW Parking Assist that can actually parallel park the X5 with no input whatsoever from the driver.

When it comes time for people hauling, the X5 is up to the task with two rows of comfy, accomodating seats that can be optionally heated and ventilated up front and heated in back. An optional third row seat can be spec'd to bring passenger capacity up to seven, although limited space means it's best suited for children.

Although its exterior dimensions would seem to suggest otherwise, the midsize X5 isn't actually one of the more spacious rides in its competitive set. There's 23 cubic feet of cargo space behind the 40/20/40 split-folding second row seats, which is decent but actually surpassed by many compact-segment crossovers. Fold the second row seats down, and there's a more useful (but still middling) 66 cubes to be had.

As with its predecessors, the latest X5 features a Land Rover-inspired two-section tailgate. The lower portion can be folded down horizontally to form a single level with the load surface - good for loading cargo or tailgating - while the upper section is power operated.

Power, Handling
The X5 is offered with the buyer's choice of three different refined powerplants - two gas-burning units and one diesel.

X5 sDrive35i (rear-wheel-drive) and X5 xDrive35i (all-wheel-drive) models are powered by BMW's respected turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six, which produces 300 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque available all the way from 1,200-5,000 rpm.

More power can be had by opting for the X5 xDrive50i, which packs a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 with an impressive 445 horsepower between 5,500 and 6,000 rpm and 480 lb-ft of torque between 2,000 and 4,500 rpm.

If mileage is a top priority, the best choice is the X5 xDrive35d, which features a 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline-six with 255 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of twist between 1,500 and 3,000 rpm.

The EPA has yet to release official fuel economy ratings for the new X5. A roughly 200 lbs. weight loss compared to its predecessor bodes well for thrift, as do standard auto stop/start and regenerative braking systems.

All X5s shift through an eight-speed automatic transmission that provides heightened efficiency and, believe it or not, features a launch control mode (in a luxury SUV!) for quick, repeatable acceleration runs.

Also standard is a Driving Dynamics Control system that lets drivers tailor throttle response, steering characteristics, gearbox settings and more by selecting between COMFORT, SPORT, SPORT+ and ECO PRO modes. An Adaptive M Suspension available only on M Sport models includes an extra firm Sport+ mode.

Notably, ECO PRO maximizes mileage by decoupling the motor from the powertrain for engine-braking-free coasting when the driver eases off the gas without hitting the brakes. The mode also manages all electrical functions for extra efficiency and can coach the driver on fuel-saving driving techniques.

Every X5 model save the sDrive35i comes standard with all-wheel-drive that makes winter driving a snap and also helps to negate over- and understeer for neutral dynamics.

An agile handler by class standards even in entry-level form, the X5 can be upgraded with a Dynamic Damper Control option that adds adaptive dampers - they adjust to driving conditions in real-time to prioritize handling or ride comfort as necessary - and a self-leveling rear air suspension.

Ratcheting things up even further is the available Dynamic Performance Control system - it brings torque vectoring at the rear axle for more balanced responses. For the ultimate in driving technology, Dynamic Performance Control and Dynamic Damper Control can be combined in the Dynamic Handling Package, which also includes Active Roll Stabilization.

Standard and Optional Features
The X5 comes standard with leatherette upholstery (xDrive50i models get leather), heated and power-adjustable front seats, a navigation system with a 10.2-inch display screen, a power rear tailgate, a panoramic moonroof, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 205-watt, nine-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with HD Radio as well as AUX and USB inputs, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, rear-time traffic updates, power-adjustable steering column, automatic headlights, LED foglights, LED running lights and Xenon self-leveling adaptive headlights.

Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are standard fare for sDrive35i, xDrive 35i and xDrive35d models; xDrive50i models get 19-inch alloy wheels

The options list rivals Ulysses in length and density.

Three optional equipment "lines" - Luxury Line, xLine and M Sport - are on offer. The Luxury Line brings 19-inch V-spoke alloy wheels, chrome window surround, Satin Aluminum roof rails, chrome grille accents, lower front air intakes, side air intakes, rear bumper accent and a sport leather steering wheel. The xLine includes 19-inch Orbit Grey alloy wheels, aluminum running boards, Satin Aluminum roof rails and window trim, a sport leather steering wheel and silver matte accents for the grille, exhaust pipes, rear bumper and side air intakes. The M Sport adds an aggressive body kit, 19-inch M Light double spoke alloy wheels, high-gloss roof railings, an M Steering wheel, a sport automatic transmission, sport seats, aluminum hexagon interior trim, anthracive headliner, and M foot rest and door sills.

Other highlights from the options list include night vision with pedestrian detection, four-zone automatic climate control, a Nappa leather dashboard, full LED headlights, a rear seat entertainment package, active steering, heated rear seats, Surround View camera system, the aforementioned Dynamic Handling Package and a 1,200-watt, 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.

Buyers can also equip the X5 with Traffic Jam Assistant, which adds a degree of autonomous functionality under 25 mph by keeping the crossover a preset distance from the vehicle in front and using active steering to stay in the center of a lane.

Occupant Safety
Standard safety fare includes dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.

Available safety options include the Active Driving Assistant package. It brings a lane departure warning system that alerts the driver if the X5 begins to wander into a different lane, and a pedestrian and collision warning system that detects vehicles and pedestrians that could be on a collision course with the X5 before warning the driver and - if necessary - applying the brakes to mitigate the severity of a crash.

Competitors
Worthy rivals to the X5 include the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class, the Land Rover LR4, the Audi Q7 and the Infiniti QX70.