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2014 BMW X5 First Drive

The 2014 BMW X5 solidifies its position at the top of the luxury crossover game.

What It Is
The 2014 BMW X5 is the next-generation of BMW's large seven-passenger luxury crossover.
Best Thing
Diesel engine offers excellent performance without hurting fuel economy.
Worst Thing
Not much visual distinction from second-generation vehicle.
Snap Judgment
The third-generation 2014 BMW X5 will continue to be the one to beat in the luxury sport utility crossover segment.


The 2014 BMW X5 is all new this year, significantly revised from the second-generation vehicle it replaces. It boasts a more luxurious interior, revised styling, more fuel efficient engines, and a higher level of performance. And BMW chose Vancouver, British Columbia, to introduce its new bread-and-butter seven-passenger luxury hauler.

It was a risky move, not because there aren't enough interesting roads to drive, or fancy hotels and restaurants to coddle journalists...there are plenty of those. No, it's because the scenery is so breathtakingly spectacular, it's easy to forget about the actual vehicle. Let's face it, anything has a tough time competing with granite outcroppings higher than any skyscraper, year-round glaciers clinging to mountaintops, and alpine lakes the color of gemstone-quality turquoise.

It turns out the 2014 BMW X5 more than held its own against the scenery, capturing and holding our attention throughout the day, and demonstrating once again that this big BMW will be the class standard bearer for the foreseeable future.

We drove European-spec X5s, but the differences between the U.S. and European models are limited to a few options; for example, none of our Euro-spec vehicles had satellite radio. However, the two engine configurations available for us to drive will both be sold here. The first was the new 2014 BMW X5 xDrive35d, which, if you don't know your BMW parlance, means it was an all-wheel drive X5 powered by a six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine. With a base price of $56,600 before destination, the diesel model's engine puts out 255 horsepower and a whopping 413 lb.-ft. of torque, that low-end thrust you feel when first accelerating. BMW estimates the xDrive35d will accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than 7 seconds. The other model available was the $68,200 2014 BMW X5 xDrive50i, which gets a 445-hp 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine. Not available were the two gasoline-powered six-cylinder versions; the $52,800 sDrive35i and $55,100 xDrive35i are rear- and all-wheel drive versions powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque.

Note that although the base prices seem reasonable for a BMW, all the vehicles we drove were heavily optioned, forcing the prices skyward. The metallic paint adds $550; the excellent Bang & Oulfsen sound system had better be great at up to $4,500. It'd be easy to pay very high six-digit prices for either vehicle, but hey, what'd you expect from a top-tier luxury brand? Prices aside, with 10 hours of driving ahead of us--BMW doesn't skimp on wheeltime--we looked forward to finding out just how good this new "sport activity vehicle" was.

Walkaround

Like most German manufacturers, BMW takes an evolutionary approach to styling updates. So it's no surprise that the 2014 BMW X5 looks similar to the 2013 BMW X5 at first glance. While there are significant differences, suffice it to say that you may need them pointed out to you if you're not familiar with the current vehicle. Side by side, things are more obvious. The new BMW X5's wider grille and stance look more aggressive. The headlights and taillights are restyled, and what seem like superficial flourishes are actually functional, according to BMW at least. For example, the vents behind the front wheels supposedly combine with vents in the bumper to route air around the wheels at speed, thus reducing drag in this area. We can't say that the front wheels cut through the air any better than the previous model, so we'll just take BMW's word for it on this one. Still, the design is sharp and looks good in a busy way. If you're a fan of the current X5, you're going to love it.

Sitting Down

One area where BMW made a significant improvement over the previous-generation X5 is the interior. The dash is covered in French-stitched leather, and the same soft material covers the door armrests and center console. Two designer interior trim levels are available, one in ivory white, and another in "mocha," a pleasant dark brown, either adding $1,950 to the bottom line. If you intend to actually transport well-coddled kids in your big BMW family wagon--and let's make no mistake, that's what this really is--you'll probably want to skip the stain-ready white leather and stick with the brown.

Rear seat space was good, with decent leg and head room for adults, However, toe-room under the front seats was tight, and if you want your seatback to adjust, you'll have to spring for the $500 "comfort" rear seats, otherwise you're stuck with bolt-upright. The $1,700 optional third row? Kids only, although they're easy enough to access. As for cargo space, behind the second row it's plentiful, but put the third row seatbacks up and it shrinks dramatically.

One thing that stands out--literally and figuratively--is the navigation display. Instead of being integrated into the dash like on most vehicles, the X5's nav display stands upright on the dash top. While the placement makes it easy to see the screen, it looks only slightly more elegant than an iPad glued to the dash. Fortunately, the screen is big and sharp, and iDrive has evolved so far that it's now one of the easiest to use and most well thought-out navigation and infotainment systems on the market. We got a good laugh at the map's zoom function, which gets you as close as 10 meters, and so far out that you can see the entire globe.

Driving

The 2014 BMW X5 xDrive35d should convince the remaining diesel doubters that "stinky" and "slow" are adjectives that no longer apply. Even with the 445-hp V-8 at the ready, most of the drivers we spoke to preferred the diesel. And why not? Whether from a standstill or at speed, the engine provided a tremendous shove in the back whenever we floored the accelerator, it was quiet and smooth, there was never an untoward noise--in fact, it sounded pretty darn good--and fuel economy on the mountain roads was exceptional for a 5,000-pound seven-passenger luxury family hauler. With paddle shifters on the steering wheel allowing us to select any of the available eight gears, this big diesel was surprisingly fun. In fact, the BMW X5, even when the Dynamic Damper Control was in "Comfort" mode, showed a degree of agility uncommon for a 5,000 pound vehicle. The steering was sharp and well weighted, and the vehicle's weight was hardly an issue on quick back-to-back turns. Hit "Sport," and the suspension firmed up--never to an uncomfortable degree--and the transmission playfully dropped down a couple of gears to put the engine in the meat of its power band. The 2014 BMW X5 weighs less than its predecessor, but the weight savings alone don't account for its newfound agility. Even in diesel trim, this is one fun vehicle to drive.

Then we got into an BMW X5 xDrive50i, the V-8 model to you and me. As expected, there's more power, and the V-8 pulls more strongly. But from a strict seat-of-the-pants feel, it wasn't as much of a performance difference as you'd expect. Although we're sure the V-8 will outstrip the diesel's performance in virtually any contest, the biggest difference we saw was in fuel economy, and it wasn't in the V-8's favor. We drove the V-8 after the vehicles had been chasing around the mountains all day. At our final driver's change, we noticed there were 50 km left to the hotel...and 50 km of estimated range left in the gas tank. We put the X5 into Eco Pro mode and nursed it back to the hotel. The fuel-saving mode and mostly downhill route helped the estimated range gradually outpace our distance, although when it gave up guessing about 10 km away from our destination, it wasn't exactly reassuring. The diesels, on the other hand, returned with plenty of fuel to spare. It left us wondering if the V-8's performance advantage was worth the extra cost and fuel economy penalty, but we're a practical minded bunch. The status seekers will likely gravitate to the V-8 for the same reason they wear Rolexes instead of Casios.

Interestingly for a luxury crossover, BMW had an off-road course set up for us, and goes so far as to even include a digital inclinometer in iDrive's many functions, letting you know how far you've tilted your BMW X5 from level. The course wasn't particularly aggressive, but it did let us sample the X5's downhill speed control, which simulates the low-range "creep" function in an SUV. It worked, and while the X5 never got stuck on the modestly slick stuff, don't think you can follow your buddy in the Range Rover off the beaten path.

Around town, the 2014 X5 feels smaller than it is, and parking lot maneuvers are aided by a new-for-2014 all-around view camera. Similar to the system Nissan has been using for some time, cameras on the nose, hatch, and under the side mirrors combine to give a bird's eye view of the X5 at low speeds. It's pretty handy, considering the view out the rear is limited. We quickly came to terms with BMW's start-stop function, which was much less obvious in its operation on these six-cylinder and V-8 models than it was in the four-cylinder BMW 328i we drove last year. Not to mention, keeping the big V-8 off when stopped surely helped stretch out our fuel economy.

We obviously have to reserve judgment on the gasoline six-cylinder X5 models, since none were available. However, the engine itself is a fixture in most BMW models, and we anticipate no complaints.

Summary

Purists still scoff at the idea of a high-riding, seven-passenger BMW like the 2014 X5. After all, a 5 Series wagon could do almost as much and be even more fun to drive. Need seven passengers? It wasn't that long ago that rear-facing jump seats were standard issue on wagons.

But the reality is that BMW sells a ton of X5s all around the world. They're big, comfortable, look great, and make a statement, just like any luxury car should. They're also one of BMW's best-selling and most profitable models. The fact that they're big and fun to drive is icing on the cake.

This third generation X5 ups the ante on the luxury side of the equation, but not at the expense of performance. More athletic than ever, the X5 is also now more luxurious than ever. Is it expensive? Sure, and there are plenty who will point out that the 2014 Acura MDX gives up little in performance or luxury, and costs thousands less. But since when has that mattered? The X5 is still the benchmark for the class, a position it has earned not because it was first, but because it has combined luxury, sport, and utility better than just about anybody. The 2014 BMW X5 is more of the same, and despite up and comers, we see little that will change that equation.

Basic Specs

2014 BMW X5 xDrive35d: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 diesel, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, 255-hp, $56,600 2014 BMW X5 xDrive50i: 4.4-liter turbocharged V-8, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, 445-hp, $68,200, 14 mpg city/22 mpg highway

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view
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