I’ve never been a huge fan of SUVs, until I drove BMW’s X5 35d for a week. This has to be the ultimate road trip vehicle, combining a smooth, quiet ride with lots of room for people and their stuff and impressive economy for a 5,000+lb automobile. As it turns out the X5 is also a good family car, having carried myself, my wife and 6-month old twins (and dog) out of harm’s way during Hurricane Irene, relocating from the southern Connecticut coast for a few days. BMW’s I-drive control took a little getting used to and required a little reading in the quick-reference guide, but the layered menu pages are fairly intuitive so the learning curve was short. (The I-drive controls all radio, navigation and heat/AC functions)
BMW has sold the X5 in the U.S. since 1999, but the recent addition of a diesel-powered version has transformed the vehicle. The 3 liter, six-cylinder turbodiesel is rated at 265hp and 425 pound-foot torque, which moves the 2 1/2 ton-plus car with ease. Of the three engines available on the X5, the diesel is second only to the 5-liter gas V8 in torque, but the 26mpg highway rating represent a 30% increase in economy. The diesel operates smoothly and quietly enough so that you’d be hard pressed to know it wasn’t a gas engine providing the motive force. In fact, BMW’s turbodiesel won a Ten Best Engines award from Ward’s Automotive Group in 2009. The only downside to the diesel is its price of admission – with a base price of $51,800 it’s roughly $5,000 over the cost of the base gas V6. The diesel would pay for itself after a number of years, but seeing as many if not most X5s are leased the advantage would be lost to those owners.
The particular vehicle I drove came courtesy of BMW’s New York press fleet, and was loaded to the gills with all available options, although the standard equipment list on the X5 is already impressive. Some of the more interesting options are the lane departure warning, which will cause the steering wheel to vibrate to alert the driver when the system detects the car drifting out of its lane. Additionally, the active cruise control can be set to maintain a fixed distance behind vehicles up ahead, saving the driver from repeatedly making speed adjustments. BMW’s parking distance control was most impressive; it uses an audible signal combined with the rear-view camera to alert the driver to obstacles in front of or behind the vehicle. The function engaged automatically when the transmission is shifted into reverse, and the driver can toggle between the rear-view camera and a top-down view including the vehicle’s left and right sides.
The X5 35d is an enjoyable car to log miles in, as it floats down the road unaffected by rough pavement. The high seating position and large glass area mean virtually no blind spots and the diesel’s power reserve makes passing effortless while being unobtrusive. The huge sunroof takes up nearly the full length of the roof, and has a powered sunshade for those not obsessed with UV exposure. Entertainment options include AM/FM radio, CD, DVD, satellite radio, and include input jacks for external devices such as cell phones or iPods. The dual-zone climate control offers separate temperature setting for front seat passengers, thus ending the perennial argument over hot/cold settings.
The head-up display is a cool feature, and it projected vehicle speed and turn directions provided by the GPS navigation system in front of the driver. Entering an address into the Nav system was simple, and the turn directions included a visual display of the distance to the turn as well as directional arrows. The system also has traffic information which proved invaluable due to the numerous closed roads and slow traffic areas on our route home after the storm. The car came with the optional third-row seating, although it’s best suited for small children, vertically-challenged adults or people you just don’t like. Range-wise, the X5 diesel is the long-distance champion; the 22-gallon tank can take you nearly 600 miles under ideal conditions.
Because the diesel market in the U.S. is quite limited for now, true competitors to the X5 35d are few and far between. Is the diesel worth the premium over the gas V6? That’s for the individual buyer to decide, but for somebody planning to keep the car longer than the typical three year lease period, the payback in economy, resale value and durability may influence the decision in favor of the diesel.
For more model-specific information, visit bmwusa.com