When it comes to picking between serious driving performance and ride comfort, it might be time to admit I have chosen my side and so has the 2019 BMW X5 4oi—a big, cushy cruiser that’s competent enough in regular driving, but really shines more in everything else it does.
(Full Disclosure: BMW left a washed-and-fueled white X5 at Newark airport for me, I picked up and put many, many miles on before returning it about a week later.)
What Is It?
The X5 wasn’t the first upscale crossover SUV, but it’s definitely one of the OGs. Having stepped on the scene in the late ’90s with the Mercedes ML and Porsche Cayenne, it was part of a then-novel segment of high-horsepower high-roofline jellybean-looking luxury vehicles.
Today, of course, the crossover class of car is wildly popular and the made-in-America X5 is now in its fourth generation.
A casual observer would call the X5 a big car, but in 2019 it’s really more of a large medium. The leviathan X7 is nine inches longer, and anyway, the X5’s mightily assisted steering and marvelously impressive outside-perspective cameras make its size pretty manageable.
Specs That Matter
The X5 comes in two flavors: xDrive 40i ($61,000) with a 3.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged inline six and a claimed 335 horsepower output, and xDrive 50i ($76,000), which bumps to 456 HP with a 4.4-liter V8 that’s also boosted. For this test, I drove the weaker one.
According to the spec sheet, the I6 can make the X5 shuffle from 0 to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds while the V8 does it in a scary-snappy 4.6. That V8, which I’ve driven in the X7, does indeed dole out gloriously effortless acceleration but it comes with a significant efficiency penalty. BMW claims 22 mpg on the highway with the V8 while the six-cylinder version is good for a claimed 26. Both are meant to burn 93-octane gasoline, though.
You might be looking at BMWs because you’re interested in engine power, but you only find your way to the X5 if you want cargo capacity as well. With all the passenger seats folded down, you should have just over 72 cubic feet of space to work with here. For context, that’s about the same as what you get with a Subaru Outback and it’s ample for an expensive impulse buy at Pottery Barn.
With all the seats in place, BMW promises 33.9 cubic feet behind the second row. You could easily stash four people’s rollaboard bags, but if you didn’t have to, you could use the X5’s finally-optional third-row seat which my test car was not equipped with but I’m sure some people will be excited about.
Another X5 first for 2019 is a factory-fitted trailer hitch, and with the right setup, BMW says you can pull a whopping 7,209 pounds with either engine. A diesel Chevy Colorado doesn’t even best it by too much there; the pickup tops out at 7,700 pounds.
As soon my ass made contact with the leather on the million-way adjustable seat of this car, I knew I was going to enjoy my time with it. It’s like the hide was stretched out for Goldilocks. Hard enough to be supportive, soft enough to feel luxurious.
Outward visibility is good ahead of the sculpted hood that stretches out ahead of you nicely. And while the dashboard is a little intimidating at first, there’s just so much information to ingest from the gauge cluster, taking the time to understand what’s where and how to adjust it really pays off.
The speedometer fades into the map which fades into the fuel economy gauge in a way that’s both aesthetically pleasing and useful. But if you don’t like that, you can pick a layout of your own. Similarly, the car makes it really easy to quickly select your favorite settings from the vast suite of driver assistance technology and performance management systems.
So if you want to use some but not all of the driver aid features, you can quickly toggle back and fourth between the default and your preferred configuration. Same goes for if you want to, say, have the suspension to “comfort” and everything else to “sport” as a quickly-selectable setting. (This is, of course, the most correct performance setting if you ever have the option.)
My favorite feature though, don’t laugh, is the X5’s headlights. The “Icon Adaptive LED Headlights with Laserlight” that you get with the car’s top-trim Executive Tier can turn a dark, scary forest lit-enough for surgical work and even cooler than that, they actually point exactly where you want them to all the time. They worked flawlessly for me through cities and woods and rain and starry nights.
But the most visually impressive piece of technology in the X5’s arsenal is probably the virtual third-person perspective camera view you can toggle to help you park.
You might have seen this on other Bimmers or a Rolls-Royce. Basically, the car’s computer extrapolates a live view the car from the inputs it gets from its many cameras. Practically speaking it’s definitely not essential, but it is really, really cool to look at.
Before you get to meet the X5’s wonderful seats you have to contend with its pointless sidestep, ostensibly there to help shorter people climb into the car. It’s artfully sculpted into the vehicle’s design but caught my ankles a lot, and made getting in and out of the car in muddy Vermont a little extra annoying. I polled three other body types I had as passengers; nobody liked them.
But the biggest letdown in the X5 experience is the shifter. Not the transmission, that’s fine. It’s the physical shift knob that’s made of remarkably cheap-feeling plastic molded in an awkwardly engorged shape.
I’m not going to say it destroys the car’s aura of luxury, but man, having to touch that thing at the beginning and end of every drive just made me a little sad about hypothetically spending $65,000 on this car.
My only real complaint about the driving experience is the lane keeping assistant, which felt hyperactive to me, trying to bump me off lines painted on the highway very aggressively. But deactivating it only takes a few clicks.
BMW’s Gesture Control is dumb and pointless. Despite my best efforts I never could make peace with the voice-activated functions, but those problems are pretty easy to ignore.
The X5 does a great job giving you a sense of power as it lumbers out of a parking garage and into the big, bad city. The gas pedal has some weight to it and the way the seatbelts automatically cinch tight once the car gets above a walking pace really injects a little “get in loser, we’re about to fly to Space Mountain” vibe as you start your drive.
That’s pretty much the extent of the vehicle’s personality, though. The X5 is extremely competent at doing everything you want to car to do; the steering and brakes afford you a lot more confidence than you might expect from a 4,800 pound machine. But the car doesn’t beg to be driven hard.
The cabin almost seems hermetically sealed against the environment outside. Even with the enormous roof shade open, the X5 articulates a sense that the world is a zoo and you’re just zooming through it like a tourist.
The 2019 X5 behaves very differently in Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro mode. In its most aggressive setting, Sport, obviously, the 40i model surges from a stop to the speed limit with plenty of haste but minimal drama. Once you’re at a cruising velocity, the sensation of speed pretty much melts away and it’d be tough to feel if you’re going 50, 80, or 120 mph if there wasn’t a heads-up display in the speedometer.
It’s too bad there are speed limits, really, because the X5’s brakes are absolutely up to the task of panic stops from Autobahn speeds. And the vehicle can hang through abrupt steering maneuvers too, though its handling doesn’t feel particularly... exciting. I think that’s an inevitable byproduct of a high seating position in a well-insulated cabin.
As a performance vehicle, the xDrive 40i version of the X5 pretty much delivers as advertised–it’s a comfortable luxury vehicle with solid driving dynamics. At least, until you hit the dirt.
Nobody needs the X5 to be a badass off-roader, but you’d like to think all that ground clearance and advanced traction control would be good for flying down dirt roads. Unfortunately the tight suspension that keeps the X5 flat through abrupt lane changes is very easy to outrun on even a well-traveled New England dirt track. Yes, even in Comfort mode, repeated divots and potholes at speed beat you up way before you get fast enough to have fun.
$65,000 is serious scratch to spend on a car. I’m pretty sure it’s more than I’ve spent on all my cars, including modifications and upkeep, in my 15 years of being a licensed driver.
But let’s say I could get $6,500 for my Mitsubishi Montero and Acura TL. Would an X5 be 10 times as good as having those two cars? In terms of safety, technology, luxury and performance... I mean, yeah, it would.
The X5 is competitively priced against its most direct rivals, the Mercedes GLE and Audi Q7. As far as getting the most for your money there, it’s going to come down to which brand’s design and interface appeals to you and which dealership can cut you the best deal.
More importantly, this BMW passes what I consider to be the ultimate value test: its fanciness is proportionately priced in comparison to more modest cars in the same category. In other words: a nicely equipped AWD 2019 Honda Pilot lists for about $45,000. Is this X5 at least 1.4 times as luxurious as that Honda? It is.
The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive 40i is a car I genuinely enjoyed driving and riding in. The human machine interface is really technologically impressive, performance is adequate enough be worthy of a BMW roundel and the seats are just freaking divine.
I would have liked a little better rough-road compliance, BMW’s gesture control is a garbage gimmick and the chintzy shifter disproportionately dings the car’s driving experience. But the rest of the X5’s features, its behavior on the road and its surprisingly not-terrible efficiency for its size and weight (I ended up averaging about 24 mpg over about 700 miles of mixed driving), the whole package comes together nicely and I’d be happy to climb back into this car for another road trip.