2011 BMW X5 — Review
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
For most of its nearly 100-year existence, the Bavarian Motor Works (aka BMW) built only quality sport sedans and coupes for the well-heeled. But in 1999, it just couldn't stay out of the lucrative sport-utility market anymore and thus rolled out the first X5. Realizing that most SUV buyers rarely, if ever, venture off-road, BMW designed the X5 for on-road performance and handling. For this reason, BMW calls its utility offerings "Sport Activity Vehicles" rather than sport-utility vehicles.
Over the past decade, the X lineup has grown, and the X5 has grown up. For 2011, BMW is adding two new engines and a new 8-speed automatic transmission to the X5. The result is a sporty people hauler that offers better performance than ever before.
The high-performance X5 M comes with more amenities, as well as a host of performance features, including sport seats, aluminum interior trim, Active Roll Stabilization Suspension and load-leveling suspension, and P275/40R20 front and 315/35R20 rear run-flat tires.
The X5 lineup adds several new features for 2011, including Active Cruise Control with Stop and Go feature, Lane Departure Warning, Active Steering, running boards, a Head-Up Display, four-zone automatic climate control, rear DVD entertainment system, side- and top-view cameras, Nappa leather upholstery, Comfort Access with keyless entry, and smart-phone integration. An M Sport package gets sport seats, sport steering wheel, black headliner, shadow line trim, Active Roll Stabilization Suspension and 20-inch alloy wheels. Other options include a power rear liftgate, interior sunshades, rearview camera, 20-way adjustable multicontour front seats, navigation system and BMW Assist concierge service.
Under the Hood
The xDrive 35d features a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel engine that produces 265 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque. The X5 M uses a higher-performance version of the 4.4-liter V8 that cranks out 555 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. Both of these engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA ratings are 19/26 for the diesel and 12/17 for the X5 M.
All X5s come with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system, which operates with a 40/60 front/rear torque split in normal conditions, but can send up to 100 percent of the power to either axle when needed.
The X5 features a conservatively styled but quality environment. Drivers are surrounded by wood and aluminum trim, as well as plenty of soft-touch surfaces. The materials feel sturdy and help seal out road and engine noise. BMW has clearly been careful to offer an upscale cabin worthy of the X5's price tag.
While visibility is generally good, available front and rear park assist, as well as top-, side- and rear-view cameras can help. The top-view camera shows the whole perimeter of the vehicle when backing up, making it easier to parallel park.
BMW's iDrive system, which is standard, is also updated for 2011. It uses a larger, 8.8-inch screen this year. It also now incorporates several buttons around the central rotating controller, making it easier and quicker to access several functions. BMW has also added eight programmable memory buttons that can be used to store functions, such as navigation destinations, phone numbers and radio stations. With these changes, iDrive is more intuitive but it still complicates some functions, such as programming radio stations.
The driver and front passenger have plenty of space and sit on seats that are comfortable and supportive. A host of seat and steering wheel controls make it easy to find a comfortable driving position.
Second-row passengers have good space, too, but three across will be tight. The optional third-row seat is best left only to kids, and small ones at that. Though the X5 is a midsize vehicle, it offers less cargo space than most midsize SUVs. It has a total of 75.2 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats folded, which is useful but about 10 cubic feet less than a Lexus RX or Volvo XC90. There are 22 cubic feet of space behind the second row in 5-passenger models, but adding the third row reduces that to almost nothing.
On the Road
All that handling capability comes with a bit of a ride penalty, however; passengers will feel every bump in the road.
The new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six is a model of smoothness. It is also a considerable leap forward from last year's naturally aspirated version. With 300 lb-ft of torque on tap from 1200 to 5000 rpm, it provides willing thrust from a stop and good midrange response. Zero to 60 mph takes 6.4 seconds, which is substantially quicker than the outgoing engine. In general, it works well with the new 8-speed automatic transmission. However, the transmission is programmed to start in second gear when in "Drive." This can make for some sluggish starts. One way to remedy the problem is to start in Sport mode, then switch to Drive when you are up to speed.
BMW didn't make the new twin-turbocharged V8 available for testing, but we've tested it in the X6 sibling and can say that it provides lots of willing muscle as well.
The active cruise works as advertised and can bring the vehicle to a stop if traffic in front stops. Like most systems, we find the following distances, while advisable, to be too long, inviting other drivers to cut in front of you. The Active Steering makes steering response quicker at slow speeds and slower at high speeds. While some reviewers have complained that it's too hard to predict when the steering ratio will change, we've never had a problem with it.
The new Head-Up Display can be helpful to the driver. Navigation directions appear in it, as do speed, chosen gear and other useful bits of information. It's nice not to have to look away from the road to gather this information. The Lane Departure Warning system sends a vibration through the steering wheel when the vehicle begins to cross a lane line without a turn signal. It works well, and provides a good reminder to stay in your lane and use your blinkers.
Right for You?
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, BMW provided MSN with travel and accommodations tofacilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.