To understand what the 2014 BMW X5 is all about, it's best to take it for a brisk drive in a pounding rainstorm. That's when this "sport-activity vehicle" shines, by continuing to offer entertaining and confident performance regardless of what's falling from the sky. The X5 shrugs off inclement weather and poor pavement without a second thought, all while offering performance and handling that's up to BMW's high standard.
As BMW is happy to point out, the X5 was the first true crossover vehicle when it was introduced in 1999. The point is debatable, but whether you agree or not, the X5 has been a sales success. It spawned the X3 and the X6 and set the template for BMW's sport-activity vehicles. The X5 currently accounts for one-third of BMW's sales.
2014 heralds the introduction of the third-generation X5. At first glance, it doesn't look like much has changed, but this is (like most BMW updates) a complete ground-up redesign. The new X5 is subtly smoother, breathing fresh life into the familiar shape without making it unrecognizable. The long hood, big wheels and short overhangs haven't changed, of course. A wider, more upright grille broadens the X5's face, and the grille is canted slightly forward for a more aggressive, shark-nosed look. The roof also is longer, adding greenhouse space to the cabin. New character lines along the X5's body provide surfaces for the light to play on. The LED taillights now are L-shaped, similar to BMW's sedans.
The interior is much improved in terms of materials and design. The imposing, cliff-like dash has been replaced with a more open design and a free-standing 10.2-inch monitor in the center that contains navigation, climate control and other iDrive functions. The console and core dash surfaces are available in a choice of wood or aluminum trim. Ambient LED lighting is available, and BMW allows the selection of several color "environments," with differing hues at the top and bottom of the cabin. The instrument panel also includes a new xDrive display that enables the driver to keep tabs on torque split, vehicle attitude, and other functions.
Functionality has been improved as well, with a larger cargo area, power tailgate and new 40/20/40 split second-row seats. A pair of third-row seats now is optional, and second-row passengers can enjoy seat heaters and reclining backrests. On the technology front, the iDrive Touch system has handwriting recognition, so the driver can "draw" letters in the touchpad on top of the controller, adding an additional dimension to the interface. BMW's Connected Drive infotainment system also has been expanded to include BMW Apps, online entertainment and real-time traffic.
For 2014, the X5 has been broken into two design "worlds," called Pure Experience and Pure Excellence. Pure Experience has more of an off-roading bent, with a unique front fascia, faux skid plates and a darker, more "rugged" interior with Fineline Pure wood and nut-brown leather trim. Pure Excellence is designed for urban tastes, sporting lighter colors and somewhat slicker styling with ground effects. The interior adds lighter American Oak trim and gray and white interior surfaces.
The suspension is fully independent and provides the X5 with a surprising light-on-its-feet feeling compared to the outgoing model. BMW's also created distinct suspension calibrations. The "Comfort" setting uses the adaptive air suspension to full advantage, providing a smooth and solid ride. Stepping up to the "Dynamic" suspension adds the more aggressive Dynamic Stability Control system used in the X6, as well as active roll stabilization. Finally there's the "Professional" setting which combines the best of both worlds. Electronic power steering is standard, and the brakes are powerful enough to belie the X5's curb weight. Confidence gets a boost from the available lane departure warning system and active parking assist, which will parallel park the X5 after helping the driver to find a suitable space.
A choice of six-cylinder gasoline, six-cylinder diesel and eight-cylinder V-8 engines is offered. The diesel-powered X5 shows improvements in efficiency and driveability for 2014, and it's arguably the more suburb-friendly of the two. The X5 xDrive35i is powered by BMW's twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine, and is the only X5 available with two-wheel drive. BMW's 3.0 liter six-cylinder turbo diesel offers confident acceleration with a minimum of noise in the X5 xDrive35d, and it's smooth and comfortable on the freeway. At 258 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, the 3.0 diesel doesn't lack for power, and is well suited to the X5's lithe bulk. The V-8-powered X5 xDrive50i offers more oomph off of the line, and a bit more violence under a heavy throttle foot. It sings better, too. At 4.4 liters, the X5 xDrive50i isn't the largest eight-cylinder on the block, but twin turbochargers and direct fuel injection result in 450 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. This shaves a full half second off of the 0-60 times compared to last year, and ensures confident performance. The xDrive all-wheel drive is standard on all except the rear-drive X5 sDrive35i, as is an eight-speed automatic transmission with an ECO PRO model that activates a fuel-saving stop-start function.
Though it's definitely pavement-bred, the X5 has a surprising amount of nasty-road ability, as well. There is no real low range, but the xDrive adeptly shifts torque to where it's needed and the X5 will claw its way into situations that most owners of $65,000 vehicles would avoid. While you're there, the Surround View Camera provides a much-needed worm's-eye view of the terrain.
An M Sport package will be offered, as it is on most of BMW's products these days. It adds a more aggressive body kit and Alcantara trim on the interior.
The X5 has, for a long time, been really competent and capable without having a particularly high profile. This is the sort of upscale vehicle whose ubiquity you don't notice until you're behind the wheel of one, and suddenly you realize they're everywhere. This quiet blending-into-the-woodwork quality has served it well, and it's easy to forget (despite the BMW badge) how good a vehicle it really is. Until you slip behind the wheel, that is.
X5 pricing starts at $53,725 for the X5 sDrive35i and $56,025 for the X5 xDrive35i. The diesel jumps to $57,525, and the range-topping xDrive50i starts at $69,125.