The BMW X5 continues to fit itself into the segment as a jack of all trades, with off-road capabilities, on-road manners, and at least one very willing V-8 available–with more to come, we're sure.
Ride and handling
All X5s now have electric power steering throughout the model line, and choosing Eco Pro also lightens the effort and heft engineered into it. Like most systems of its kind, the X5's electric power steering doesn't offer much in the way of feedback, and dithers on-center no matter if it's in Eco Pro or its Comfort setting. In Sport and Sport+, the steering has the meaty feel that's become common to most BMWs: pause the wheel at a point midway through a corner, and there's immediate buildup, a wall of return force to climb as you unwind it. With Active Steering, the ratio varies as speeds and cornering forces build: it can be an unwelcome variable in sports cars, but in sport-utes like the X5, it's more useful, making size and overall length less of a liability when parking or driving in town.
The techno feel of the rack flows through to the X5's strut and control-arm independent suspension, which in most cases and configurations, gets augmented by adaptive dampers and rear air springs. Dynamic Damper Control puts automatically adjusting shocks at the corners; they're set to work in concert with the steering and throttle and transmission, through the same Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes. Adaptive shocks give the X5 a constant sense of stability; we weren't offered a non-adaptive X5 to drive, but with its mass and performance capability, the adaptive setup's likely to be the preferred one, as are the add-on self-leveling rear air springs that make it Dynamic Damper Control+. It makes the X5 a resolutely flat handler in corners, not entirely forgiving with its ride quality but only truly harsh with the biggest wheels in the most aggressively controlled modes.
Move a step closer to the inevitable X5 M, and BMW will fit the ute with active roll stabilization, which masks some of the body lean generated in deep corners via the adaptive dampers; with an Adaptive M suspension, which tightens up the suspension above and beyond base settings when in Sport and Sport+ modes; and with Dynamic Performance Control, which puts a finer degree of control over the all-wheel-drive system in the driver's hand.
Not every X5 comes with all-wheel drive, but those with the xDrive system have a sophisticated system with a variable torque split front to back, not to mention interaction with traction, stability, and hill-descent control systems. If you're truly using the X5 just as a commuting vehicle, you may never encounter any instance so exotic as to need the upgraded Dynamic Performance Control setup, but like other similar systems, it lets the X5 vary the torque split between the rear wheels, to let it turn in more crisply and change lanes more cleanly--which become more critical attributes as power output climbs and performance and price hit their zeniths.
If you're truly planning to take the X5 off-road, xDrive will show how it apportions power on the big LCD screen atop the center console. We climbed some moderately challenging lumps on the trails surrounding Vancouver 2010's ski jumps, and slogged through some mud without a misstep. It's more in the Explorer/Touareg camp of light off-road capability than in the Range Rover Sport take-no-prisoners talent pool, but the X5 should have no problem making it to a remote-ish cabin in the woods.
This year, the X5's transmission as been improved–shaving as many as two seconds off each of the engines' 0-60 times. The lineup starts with the base X5 and its familiar 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine. Offered either in sDrive35i rear-drive form or as the all-wheel-drive xDrive35i, it makes its peak torque from a low 1,200 rpm to 5,000 rpm. BMW promises 0-60 mph times of 6.1 seconds. We haven't had a chance to drive this version of the X5 yet, but have sampled the brilliant powerplant in BMW's sedans, and can't imagine dissatisfaction with its strong acceleration--but we'll describe it more thoroughly when we've driven one.
We've spent all our time in the 2015 X5 thus far in the diesel and V-8 models. The xDrive35d is powered by a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder diesel engine, producing 255 hp and 413 lb-ft. BMW promises 0-60 mph times of 6.7 seconds, and it's believable. We spent a half-day driving the X5 from Vancouver to its extra-urban Olympic ski village, and got into an easy rhythm with the turbodiesel, accelerating quickly into holes in city traffic and settling into a relatively quiet cruise. It develops its peak torque before 3,000 rpm, giving it the swift responses of the gas six, for the most part--with a moderate amount of the usual diesel drivetrain noises.
Opt into the most expensive X5 xDrive50i--as we did for the return leg of our Canadian-based test drive--and you'll strap on BMW's twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8, which spins off 445 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque, at engine speeds as low as 2,000 rpm. Peak torque arrives swiftly, and the X5's estimated at 4.7 seconds from 0-60 mph--but the perception of speed isn't as much of a rush as the numbers spell out. In part, it's because the standard all-wheel drive and adjustable suspension on the V-8 model manages the power delivery so well, and because the twin-turbo's so muted by the X5's sound-deadening materials.
All X5s are equipped with an eight-speed automatic with paddle shift controls, which accounts for smooth shifting and some of the fuel-economy gains made this year. The X5's also lost between 170 and 230 pounds over the last generation, and the transmission is part of a suite of controls that are affected when the driver chooses Eco Pro mode on a console-mounted switch. Eco Pro mode slows down throttle response and triggers earlier upshifts into the eight-speed's more economical gears, and it also lets the X5 coast under some conditions by decoupling the engine; it even chooses some navigation routes for the optimum fuel efficiency.