In the late '90s, BMW and Mercedes finally figured out how to sell their wagons to Americans: put lift kits on 'em. Fourteen years later the 2014 BMW X5 represents the third generation of an ass-hauling luxury vehicle that happens to have a little extra ground clearance.
(Disclosure: BMW let me spend a week with an X5 if I promised to return it to the same garage I found it in.)
Mercedes-Benz was actually first to the German sport-luxury SUV with the ML in 1998 (G-Wagen's in another category) but BMW was able to get the X5 onto the street in '99 for the 2000 model year. The Bimmer was a little less shapely but it did come with a manual transmission option, which we are obviously obligated to applaud.
The new third-generation X5 (F15) is, you guessed it, bigger and faster than its predecessors. As Doug DeMuro would say; you must have been a raging idiot to have bought the outgoing model, which is now obsolete in every way.
Naw, but the new X5 is a treasure chest of technology and you will seriously impress your kids and terrify your gran'ma.
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• Feels like a car, and wants to go fast
• Better balance than you'd expect in a vehicle this shape
• I am converted to the church of Heads Up Display; I love it
• Do people still hate BMW's iDrive infotainment? If so, I don't understand why
• I got hit on by a chick working a toll booth when I was driving this. Felt like that was worth mentioning
The 2014 BMW X5 has a mean face, there's no doubt about that. Between the upside-down trapezoid below the nostrils (do they still look like kidneys to anyone?), fog lights, and air scoops all over the place, the front bumper might have a little too much going on. But then I look at it from another angle and it's sleek, pointy in the right places.
Do you think BMW successfully enlarged the new lights-against-grille look from the 3-Series?
The rear-facing fender vent is cool, even if it's only purpose is flinging mud off the tires and onto the driver's door. (Hey, that looks even cooler!)
Rear section is inoffensive, if bland. I've always felt the back of an X5 looks like the pug-faced version of the previous generation 5-Series' stern, and I think the theme continues for 2014.
Beautiful stitched-leather trim, seats with just the right tautness to them, chunks of brushed aluminum in all the right places and subtle LED accents all around. I'm getting hot and bothered just revisiting the memory!
Purists can relax, although it looks like the gauges are white-on-black in this pictures (and they are during the day) rest assured that the classic BMW orange-red is there when the lights come on.
The inside of the new X5 might be the farthest thing from "truck-like" I've ever seen in an SUV. It's more Starship Enterprise-like. And we're talking NCC-1701-E, not some Constitution Class jalopy.
Remember when we used to stuff neon tubes under seats and dashboards, right around when Paul Walker was "granny shifting, not double-clutching like he should?" Imagine if that came out looking as sweet as it did in the mind of whoever plugged all that garbage into their car. That's the inside of the new X5.
Audio, Infotainment, Gadgets
The technology on the 2014 X5 is almost worth its own post, but I'll try and keep my enthusiasm as concise as possible.
Foremost; Heads Up Display is the future of your gauges. Projecting navigation directions, speed, warnings, even audio settings if you want, right into the windscreen the BMW's HUD pretty much eliminates any excuse you might have to be looking somewhere besides where you're going.
Forget backup cameras, this is what should be mandated in the next round of draconian auto regulations. BMW might actually agree. They package the rear camera with the Heads Up Display as the "Driver Assistance Package" at $1,400. The rest of the X5's driver aids; blind-spot detection, a top-down view for parking, and Adaptive Cruise Control that drives itself in stop-and-go traffic, are bundled as "Assistance Plus" for another $1,900.
As for toys everyone can actually see, a 10.2 inch screen protrudes somewhat awkwardly out of the middle of the dash. But the graphics are so smooth and clear you won't mind the monitor's rude interruption of an otherwise shapely console. Menus and graphics flow beautifully, navigated through a rotary-dial near the shifter.
After the shock over the absence of a touch-screen wears off, the interface is pretty easy to get a handle on. The X5 is so customizable you could spend hours flipping through display and color choices before you leave the lot.
BMW has long since abandoned its logical naming scheme long ago that linked models to engine sizes, this "35" is powered by a turbo 3.0 inline 6. That represents the middle of the lineup at 300 horsepower, with the diesel option chugging behind at 255 and the turbo V8 belching out 445 hp.
The 3.0 never lacked for juice as far as I was concerned, and ran near-silently at cruising speed. Finding the motivation to obliterate merges or passing opportunities was sheer delight.
BMW says 27 MPG is possible on the highway. I turned out 18.2 MPG over about 350 miles of tough traffic and jackassery, then dialed the leadfoot back a little on a long midnight ride into NYC and brought overall consumption up to 19.4. I don't have a problem believing high-20's is possible with conservative driving.
Gearbox & Transfer Case
The 8-speed automatic is plenty smooth in D, and is as aggressive as you'd ever need an SUV to be in S. Manual mode is responsive and satisfying, but you'll give up after a few clicks once you learn to accept that the X5 knows better than you.
The vehicle can be put in "Sport" to "Comfort" to "ECO Pro" modes which affect engine output and other subsystems, but the biggest change can be felt in the transmission. Sport holds gears longer, ECO maximizes coasting and Comfort does something in between. The difference is pretty dramatic.
There's a hill-descent mode that walks the SUV down slopes, but no dedicated "low range" you can throw a lever for.
Brake responsiveness is perfectly on par with performance. Old-car natives will be a little freaked out when the X5 beeps a lot and stops itself, but even the grumpiest of conservative-ass drivers will appreciate collision mitigation tech when you're elbow-deep in a Wendy's bag trying to scrape the last splash of sauce onto their chicken nuggets while barreling toward a red light. Don't ask me how I know.
That's right, the X5 is always lookin' after ya. Come up on a static object too quick and it will throws a big red car icons all over the place, beeps in terror, and reels you back as quickly as necessary to save you buying a new front bumper.
Ride & Handling
Cornering is much sharper than any vehicle this size has a right to be. That said, why complain? You could thread the needle between cones on an autocross course or shopping carts in the Wal-Mart parking lot in this thing all day and never give rollover a second thought.
Weight distribution is very nicely balanced at 49.5% front/50.5% rear, and most of that weight is low enough to keep body roll minimized.
Firmness is dialed back a little for potholes in "Comfort" mode, but it's far cry from the stratospheric float on something more off-road oriented like the Lexus GX.
Hauling, Towing, Cargo Management
In general the X5 interior room is ample, but I wouldn't call it "generous." There are 22.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, which visually appears about 20% larger than the X3.
The rear door splits horizontally. The top half is powered, but the bottom must be opened manually. Having a tailgate is nice, but it's so high that the remote-opener is rendered somewhat pointless... you pretty much need to lower the bottom half to get anything into the back easily.
Once you do get in there, some slick looking cargo tie-down shackles are on sliders to keep your potted plants from soiling the cargo carpet.
Maximum towing is about 6,000 pounds, regardless of which engine is fitted.
Off-Road & Maneuverability
A BMW service manager I'm close to told me "you've really gotta go to the test course at Spartanburg to appreciate this thing. It's amazing what it can do off-road." I mean, it's got the power. It's got the grip. It doesn't have exceptional approach and exit angles, but traction-management technology is so advanced I'm inclined to believe that yes, the 2014 X5 could hold its own off-road. But do you really want to risk cracking that crazy bumper?
Low-speed maneuverability is easy thanks to excellent visibility and that surround-view camera option, you can pretty much put this thing anywhere you want.
The $55,000 cost of entry sounds pretty reasonable. But all the features you're going to really want add up very quickly. Kitted out at $70,000, the X5 we evaluated is a lot of money. But, it's also a lot of car. Or SUV, or whatever you really want to call it. Either way, it's definitely a worthy competitor to the other luxury 4x4s that book out around the same level.
Of course third-gen X5s will get a little more accessible once you can get them secondhand, but they're so customizable from the factory it might be tough to get the exact combination you're looking for in the used market.
I loved driving this vehicle, and earnestly endorse looking at it if you need cargo space, cutting-edge everything, and have money to burn. It feels more like a car than a Range Rover, or even a Volkswagen Touareg. That should influence your decision one way or another.
Here's some b-roll of the 2014 BMW X5 to give you a better grip on everything we've just gone over:
Specifications As Tested
2014 BMW X5 xDrive35i
MSRP: $70,975 (Starts at $55,100)
Engine: 3.0 TwinPower Turbo Inline Six Cylinder
Output: 300 hp / 295 lb-ft of torque
Curb Weight: 4790 lbs
Fuel Economy: EPA estimated19/21/26 City, Combined, Highway. (19.4 MPG observed over 430 miles)
Approach Angle: 26º
Departure Angle: 23º
Breakover Angle: 20º
Ground Clearance: 8.2"
Wading Depth: 19.6"