2011 BMW X5 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor
February 15, 2011

The 2011 BMW X5 offers impressive handling and features, but lacks the styling and interior that makes competitors pop, while the X5 M offers nearly sports car levels of performance with all the utility of a standard X5.

As one of the leading luxury SUVs, the 2011 BMW X5 has proven itself since its introduction, and BMW is content to continue with minor revisions and updates for the new model year. Competing against the Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Porsche Cayenne, and Land Rover Range Rover, the X5 comes in six trim packages with four available engines, priced from about $46,000 to over $85,000.

Aesthetics of BMW cars and SUVs have become something of a point of controversy over recent years, though the X5 hasn't been at the center of any of it: it is, ultimately, a bit plain. It's not ugly in any way, though, and its interior is handsome, if conservative like the exterior.

You won't care as much that the X5 looks a bit unremarkable once you drive it like it's meant to be driven--like a sports sedan. Quick to accelerate even with the base engine, and downright racy in X5 M trim, all variants offer more handling and capability than most drivers would believe, let alone use on public roads.

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Comfort is never an issue in the X5, nor is quality, though neither exist in radiant abundance. There's room for five with comfort, seven if rear seat passengers are small, and fit, finish, and materials are all what you'd expect from BMW and the luxury SUV class.

IIHS ratings of "good" in every category and a strong complement of standard safety equipment make the 2011 X5 a secure, safe SUV. Active safety features like the advanced stability and traction control systems, plus the innate ability of the chassis and setup, make it easier to avoid accidents before they happen.

There is no shortage of standard features in any trim of the X5, and if you find a shortage, you can remedy it with the long options list. The iDrive controller, a notoriously complex system, has been refined over the past few years to better approximate an intuitive interface, and now offers fewer objections, and more functionality, than before.

From a high of 19/26 mpg to a low of 14/20 mpg (and 12/17 mpg for the X5M) the BMW X5 range is relatively economical--even green, for a large SUV, in xDrive35i trim.

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2011 BMW X5

Styling

Despite a general attraction inside and out, most people won't find the 2011 X5 compelling.

Conservative is one way to describe the X5's styling. Bland is another. It's not entirely without character, but at the same time it doesn't evoke the history of the Range Rover or the sheer excess of the Cadillac Escalade. The X5 isn't unattractive, either, and its interior, though also conservative and a bit dark, is modern and mostly unobjectionable from an aesthetic standpoint.

The aggressive X5 M takes the look into aggressive territory, however, thanks to its huge air intakes and large wheels.

Four total trim levels are available on the 2011 X5, including the xDrive35d, xDrive 35i, xDrive50i, and X5 M. As the trims refer to engine size with the exception of the M, there are no significant exterior styling differences between the three standard vehicles, though the M model gets a more dramatic front-end treatment and unique wheels.

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2011 BMW X5

Performance

The performance and handling of the 2011 BMW X5 is superb, and the X5 M is almost without rival.

Power and performance (on-road, at least) is where the X5 excels. Despite the clunky naming system, all of BMW's powerplants deliver the goods, though some do so better than the rest. New for 2011 is a revamped gasoline six- and eight-cylinder engine lineup, and a new eight-speed automatic transmission.

The base xDrive35i, powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, gets a stout 300 horsepower. The diesel xDrive35d pushes 265 horsepower, but adds a bounty of torque--425 pound-feet from 1,750-2,250 rpm. The V-8 xDrive50i scores 400 horsepower, but pays the price with fuel economy at 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. The gasoline inline six rates slightly better at 16/23 mpg, while the diesel is the winner in the X5 range, rated by the EPA at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.  The new eight-speed automatic transmission helps achieve these figures, and handles shifts smoothly and quickly whether driving sedately or pushing toward redline.

There's another mount in the stable as well, a fierce one: the 555-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 X5 M. It's more of an oversized performance hatchback than a big-engined SUV, but its fuel economy (12/17 mpg) and price tag ($85,000 and up) reflect that reality. Due to its extra power, the X5 M soldiers on with a six-speed automatic.

The 2011 BMW X5, like those before it, exhibits an uncanny ability to handle and turn for such a large, tall vehicle. It rolls quickly to its maximum angle, sets, and holds the road well. Transitional ability isn't as good as the sports car-like acceleration you can get, but that's to be expected with such a high center of gravity.

For those less apt to push the limits, there are sophisticated stability control, traction control, and all-wheel systems to help keep things in check during emergency maneuvers or low-traction conditions such as snow or heavy rain. The optional sport package adds 19-inch wheels, all-season run-flat tires, and BMW's AdaptiveDrive dynamic damping and stability control system that lets you push the X5 further while still providing a safety net. Even without it, hwoever, the X5 is the epitome of composure. The X5 M magnifies all of these traits to almost unbelievable levels.

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2011 BMW X5

Comfort & Quality

A rich, elegantly styled interior offers lots of comfort—unless you’re in the third row.

With such controlled body motion and reassuring handling, you might expect comfort to be an afterthought in the X5, but you'd be wrong. It's not as outright roomy or cushy as some of the competition, but its three-row seating makes enough head- and leg-room for up to seven passengers with relative ease, with a fair bit of room left over for the groceries or luggage.

Front-seat passengers get the best of the X5's amenities, though rear-seat riders won't lack in space. Third-row seating is cramped as usual, but not the worst in this class.

Materials and construction quality are good, but not Range Rover-level, and about on par with BMW's mid-size and large sedans--in other words, nothing to complain about, but nothing remarkable in the class, either. The primary complaint lodged by TheCarConnection.com regarding the interior of the BMW X5 is the flimsy plastic panel covering the opening of the hinged tailgate.

Close panel tolerances and low cabin noise speak to the underlying attention to detail and build quality.

The X5 has plenty of places for stowing cargo, even fitting bins to the doors to help maximize available cabin space. A deep center console and pockets on the back of each front seat help keep clutter in the cabin to a minimum.

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2011 BMW X5

Safety

Safety is clearly a priority with the 2011 X5, with strong fundamental design backed up by plenty of technology.

Safety is one of the X5's strong suits, with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarding the SUV a rating of "good" in all categories, though it doesn't get the nod as a Top Safety Pick as it did in 2010, due to the new testing implemented for this year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't yet rated the X5 under new 2011 standards, but awarded the 2010 model five stars in most tests, with four-star ratings for frontal impact passenger safety and rollover.

Standard safety options include dual front and side airbags, plus pre-tensioning seatbelts, front and rear head-protecting airbags, adaptive brake lights, and a central locking system. Advanced features such as Hill Descent Control, trailer stabilization, and a rollover protection system enhance the on- and off-road safety of the X5.

Large side mirrors and a rear-view camera improve visibility. The camera activates automatically when the car is put in reverse, so you can easily and instantaneously see what’s behind the big SUV.

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2011 BMW X5

Features

The 2011 BMW X5 has lots of standard features, including the sometimes-frustrating iDrive, but also offers many upgrades.

The X5 offers a long list of standard features, plus even more optional add-ons, though the price rises as quickly as the feature count does.

Few complaints about the advanced technology onboard stem from any source other than the rather complex iDrive system, though the latest updates have made the system more intuitive and useful than when it first hit the market.

Some of the features that come standard include a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat with memory settings, HD radio with anti-theft AM/FM/CD stereo, seats that configure into a number of cargo and passenger formations, dynamic cruise control, and speed-sensitive power steering.

Optional equipment includes a range of packages that can add premium interior elements like Nappa leather, wood and metal trim, and unique color combinations, or high-tech equipment like smartphone integration, a heads-up display, USB and iPod integration, active steering, multicontour seats, and of course, navigation.

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An optional six-CD changer is available, as is a rear-seat entertainment center with an eight-inch screen. Heated seats front and rear, parking sensors, keyless entry and ignition, a panoramic moonroof with power sunshade, and a head-up display are available as well.
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2011 BMW X5

Fuel Economy

One of the greenest choices in its class, the BMW X5 rates 19/26 mpg with the diesel six-cylinder engine, and 16/23 mpg with the six-cylinder gasoline option.

It's not going to bowl over efficiency aficionados, but the 2011 BMW X5 is actually one of the more efficient large SUVs available. The X5 xDrive35i, powered by a direct-injection turbocharged inline six-cylinder scores 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway--as good as many mid-size sedans. The V-8-powered xDrive50i scores a less-impressive 14/20 mpg, but even that still manages to beat much of the similarly-powerful competition.

A diesel is available in the X5 xDrive35d, greening things up at 19/26 mpg, for 22 mpg combined, a commendable figure for a full-sized SUV that still has some sporting spunk.

The X5 M is all about performance, and the fuel economy figures reflect that: 12 mpg city, 17 mpg highway.

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Styling 7
Performance 8
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