On paved roads, the 2012 BMW X5 excels. The engines might bring some funky names to the mix, but they deliver the goods in terms of power, smoothness, and, in some cases at least, fuel efficiency. The xDrive35i model is a turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. The turbocharger helps the torque arrive early, provided very good acceleration and passing power despite the X5's size. A diesel model, the xDrive35d, provides similar performance with 265 horsepower but a prodigious 425 pound-feet of torque delivered at very low rpms.
Stepping up to the V-8 models, there's the xDrive50i, good for 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, which effectively turns the X5 into a very tall performance sedan with a surprising amount of cargo space. All standard X5s have an 8-speed automatic that delivers smooth shifts and an engaging manual mode. When equipped with the optional adaptive shocks, the X5 allows adjustment into even sportier guises while retaining a safety net of traction and stability control.
The X5 M changes things up significantly. It adopts a 555-hp version of the turbo V-8; with its 486 lb-ft of torque, it drops sports car-like acceleration.The X5 M's wheels, tires, and suspension are tuned for incredible feats that really require track time to explore. Even the brakes are impressive. BMW adds an M Dynamic Mode that lets the stability control take some time off while you play around with the slip angles.
The X5 isn't quite as impressive off road. Its low-profile tires compromise grip and rugged-terrain capability, but it's not just a soft-roader. The X5 can handle mud, snow, gravel, inclines, and even water crossings when driven properly.