Stellar all weather traction, a sportier-than-average feel and, of course, acres of luxury have clearly resonated with buyers. So it's not that surprising that the all-new X5 merely refines BMW's South Carolina-born hit for its third generation.
What makes it tick?
The X5 remains a five or seven-passenger sports "activity" vehicle that attempts to combine the cargo-hauling abilities of a station wagon with the go anywhere capabilities of a mule. Not that any X5 driver has ever intentionally ventured over hill and dale.
Recognizing that, a new rear-wheel-drive model has been added for sunny weather markets. Signified by its sDrive nomenclature (as opposed to xDrive for the brand's all-wheel-drive system), the new model is powered exclusively by a mostly carried-over 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, twin-power turbocharged engine that makes 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. This six-cylinder, badged either as X5 sDrive35i or xDrive35i now features a 0-60 mph time of 6.2 seconds, which is an improvement of 0.2 seconds over the previous version.
From there, the lineup climbs to either full-grunt V8-powered xDrive50i or diesel-sipping xDrive35d. The xDrive50i is motivated by an improved version of BMW's 4.4-liter direct-injection twin-turbocharged V8 that now produces 450 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque. That's an improvement of 43 hp and 37 lb-ft, respectively, over the outgoing model, which helps this hot rod scoot to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.
We spent most of our time evaluating the xDrive35d, rated at 255 ponies and 413 torquies. Down 10 horsepower over last year's diesel model, the engine nonetheless helps this big bruiser hit 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, a 0.7 second improvement.
All engines are mated to BMW's eight-speed automatic with Steptronic manual-style control via a pair of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Underneath, BMW offers a variety of chassis settings and options for the fully independent setup. A rear air suspension is there for those who tow, while active road stabilization imparts a sportier feel by reducing lean into corners. Further upping the zippy quotient is an optional active steering control that automatically varies the amount of steering input needed.
For those wanting more, the M Sport trim level has its own buttoned-down user-adjustable suspension. An M50d M Performance (what's with these names, BMW?) with 546 lb-ft. of torque will be on offer outside of North America.
Improvements like those listed above come at a premium. The base X5 sDrive35i, at $53,725, is $5,000 richer than the outgoing all-wheel-drive model. And the prices only go up from there - a popularly-optioned X5 xDrive35i will sticker for upwards of $60,000. That puts it ahead of nearly any rival you might want to list.
Evolutionary rather than revolutionary
From a design standpoint, the new X5 has adopted most of the proportions have made the smaller BMW X3 successful. It now appears a little more squished, though it is actually 0.6 inches taller and 1.3 inches longer. At 1.3-inches, it's a little longer too, but its cues are still unmistakable.
The headlights are now blended to the exterior contours of the twin-kidney shaped grill for a more contemporary look that matches BMW's latest design DNA. New cues continue under the bumper, but here it's not just pretty looks.
For 2014, the X5 is equipped with "air curtain" blades that direct air over the fenders to functional vents in the side panels, just behind the front wheels. This so-called air curtain helps make a "blanket" of air over the wheels in an effort to aid the aerodynamics of what essentially is a flying brick. New wide shoulders carry on the feeling of strength and lead to the L-shaped rear braking lights.
Despite an appearance approximating a Frigidaire side-by-side, the X5 now enjoys a 0.31 Cd in the wind tunnel (down from the previous 0.34), which improves both stability and, of course, fuel economy.
Outside looking in
Interior-wise, BMW has stepped up their game with new "wings" that flank the dashboard, helping it to appear as wide as possible for a new view. The driver-centric instrument panel returns, this time with three customizable color schemes, while interior materials have been upgraded all around. White, blue or red ambient lighting helps to tailor the interior mood during nighttime drives.
A trio of interior trims are now available: Standard in several colors, mocha-tinted X-Line and white-linen Luxury line. Row two includes a 40/20/40 split and available heating elements, plus more usable space for passengers. An optional third row returns for what we'd best describe as "occasional use." Cargo room improves to 23 cubic feet with the second row up and 66 cubes with it folded down.
On the tech front, a 10.2-inch widescreen display includes newly standard navigation accessed via a convenient touchpad interface. The screen can also be set to display xDrive status, including roll and pitch of the vehicle for off roading. As if.
On the road
We spent most of our time in an X5 xDrive35d, which offers a little less power than before but manages to feel more sprightly overall. Torquey acceleration from any speed is complemented by a more refined feel than before.
The nought-to-60 mph sprint comes in just under seven seconds thanks to the imperceptibly smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox. Even up and down mountain grades in the Canadian Rockies, we noticed little to no gear hunting.
On the other hand, engaging the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters allowed us to conveniently take matters into our own hands, revealing the X5's sporty nature. At around 4,600 lbs., the X5 xDrive35d is no lightweight, but it displays a more nimble feel than that figure might suggest. Fuel economy figures haven't been announced, but BMW is targeting 30 mpg on the highway for the xDrive35d.
Like other BMWs, a rocker switch on the center console offers up ECO-Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes, which do about what their names imply to modify ride quality and throttle response.
The real fun began in Sport mode, which reduced wallow and gave us quicker skinny pedal response. There's no denying the fact that the X5 rides on a higher-than-car chassis, but this do-anything, go-anywhere (anywhere within reason, at least) crossover has done nothing but improve for its third generation.
Leftlane's bottom line
BMW has refined a solid performer that is the (crossover) apple of many customers' eyes. With an engaging personality, a refined diesel drivetrain and host of aero, power and lightweight tricks on board, it is clearly evident that this remains the Ultimate Driving Machine of crossovers.
We might have hoped for more changes, but why mess with success? The X5 already accounts for nearly a third of BMW's sales in the U.S. We see little reason for that to change.
2014 BMW X5 base price range, $52,800 to $68,200.
Photos by Mark Elias.