The outgoing second-generation X5 was among the best-looking — dare we say the best-looking? — SUVs on the road: a tough aesthetic act for the third generation to follow. Like an older brother, the 2014 X5 isn't quite as buff-looking, appearing slightly dowdier and more slab-sided than its predecessor.
Yet this new model is actually trimmer than its predecessor, shedding around 170 pounds. It's not enough of a difference to transform this SUV into something else entirely, as it's still an exceedingly heavy (4,836 pounds according to our scales) and large vehicle. But every bit of weight lost is always welcome. We're looking forward to the day when BMW proliferates the lightweight carbon-fiber chassis construction of the i3 and i8 across its entire range.
In the meantime the new X5 introduces a raft of enhancements that collectively serve to elevate this, one of BMW's most important models in the USA. We tested a 2014 BMW X5 xDrive35i, the all-wheel-drive variant of the five- (or seven-) passenger SUV, to assess how the new changes stack up.
Sharp On-Road Dynamics:
Despite the 2014 BMW X5's heft, it manages to drive smaller than its 115.5-inch wheelbase (the same as before) might lead you to believe. It is this quality that has become the calling card of the X5 in its class. Of course, canyon roads generally aren't the habitat of creatures such as this one, but you can dial things up to a decent clip and the X5 will play along eagerly, demonstrating adroitness within the context of full-fat SUVs. Turn-in from the electrically assisted steering is precise and friction-free, while the outgoing X5's oddly heavy weighting at low speeds has been alleviated in this generation. The new X5's rack may not faithfully transmit to the driver's hands the mineralogy of every pebble on the road, but it's otherwise difficult to fault.
Physics caught up with this big wagon when at max attack on our test track, where it behaved more ponderously than it did on the road. Suspensionwise, our test vehicle was equipped only with the optional Dynamic Damper and rear axle air suspension package. The active dampers in this package are adjustable over two modes but adjust automatically within each mode to road and conditions and driving style. Also, the package's rear air springs provide self-leveling when heavily loaded.
Owners who crave a sharper edge to their SUV will need to drop a few thousand dollars more for the Dynamic Handling package, which includes active stabiliser bars. Our X5 tester came with all-season run-flat 255/50R19 Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires, which reached their limits at 0.82g on the skid pad and contributed to a 61.5-mph slalom performance. Braking from 60 consumed 117 feet, a result made more respectable by the X5's arrow-straight and drama-free composure. What's more, in routine driving the pedal offers excellent modulation, lending an even more carlike feel to the way the X5 conducts its business.
The ride quality is a tick more compliant than the outgoing X5, though rough patches of pavement can occasionally still betray the stiff-sidewalled nature of its run-flat tires. It's the exception rather than the rule, and we expect many owners will find the ride quality quite acceptable.
Carryover Six-Cylinder Still Impresses:
If there's a better six-cylinder power plant out there today than BMW's corporate turbocharged, direct-injected, 3.0-liter inline-6, we've yet to find it. It's a beaut, delivering uncanny refinement and a broad swath of torque across the rev range. Nor is the 300-horsepower inline mill ever overmatched by this big SUV's ample curb weight.
We clocked the X5 at 6.1 seconds to 60 mph (5.9 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) on its way to a 14.5-second quarter-mile result at 94.8 mph. That's plenty quick by the numbers, and more importantly, there's willing thrust underfoot in day-to-day driving. It's all enough to make one seriously consider whether the thirstier, more powerful (and more expensive) V8 option is really necessary.
In the mixed driving of our standard evaluation loop, the six-cylinder-equipped X5 returned 21 mpg, bang-on its EPA combined fuel economy number (18 city/27 highway). The eight-speed automatic plays along, too, delivering crisp, smooth shifts and eschewing the slop typically associated with torque converter-equipped automatics. Standard for 2014 is a standard stop-start system, which boosts fuel economy in stop-and-go driving if you're willing to live with a brief pause before forward progress commences.
Upscale Interior With Standard Navigation:
Cabin refinements have resulted in a space that's functional and attractive, with panels that are uniformly more expensive-looking than ever. It's a genuinely plush place to be, once you manage to clamber over the protruding running boards that, ironically, do more to hinder ingress than aid it. Road noise is limited to a remote hum, though we picked up a wind whistle at freeway speeds that seemed to originate from the driver side A-pillar.
Navigation is now standard, and 2014 marks the first time iDrive 4.2 shows up in the X5, complete with touchpad control. We still prefer to use the knob, which moves through solid, discrete detents. If only we could one day convince the Germans that clockwise-to-zoom-in is more intuitive than the other way around. Though our tester lacked the optional third row, its second row offered a 40/20/40 three-way split-folding seatback. Total cargo volume is up marginally from the last generation as well, and the rear hatch offers a clamshell-style opening with a power-operated upper section.
It Will Cost You:
So the third generation sees incremental improvements in many areas. The downside is that it all comes with a pretty hefty price increase: xDrive35i model stickers rise by $7,600. Its base price of $56,025 does include a few new pieces of standard equipment, but tick a few boxes and things continue spiraling upward at an alarming clip.
Our tester, an xLine trim — equipped with the Cold Weather Pack, Driver Assistance package, Lighting package, Premium Pack, the aforementioned suspension and a space-saver spare tire — stickers for $67,375. And the price tag could have gone higher, even without stepping up to the V8.
It's a stiff sticker to be sure. But the traditional X5 virtues have only been burnished by the 2014 model. It's still a relatively keen driver, with boosted refinement, new technologies and improved sty... On second thought, three out of four ain't bad.