Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan & BMW
Published: September 27th, 2018
ATLANTA, Georgia - It shouldn’t surprise you that more than 2.2 million X5’s have been sold since its inception nearly 20 years ago. BMW’s mid-size SUV has always been one of the local favourites with handsome styling, creamy powertrains, and driving dynamics that made it drive smaller than it looked. The X5 is a staple of the luxury SUV hierarchy, not to mention that BMW will soon be adding a full-size three-row SUV to the roster, the X7. But with so much riding on the line, the fourth-generation 2019 BMW X5 has the company’s weight on its shoulders, and we travelled to the heart of Atlanta - narrowly missing Hurricane Florence - to put the blue roundel’s newest rig to the test on both on-road and off-road scenarios.
SUVs are getting larger and larger every year, and the X5 is no exception. Compared to the outgoing model, the wheelbase has stretched by 42 mm, the width extended by 66 mm, and it sits 19 mm higher. These expansions give way to a stately silhouette but from certain angles, the untrained eye could easily mistake this for a BMW X3, or even an X1 that’s taken a blue pill. Though the X5 is not unique from the familial design language, it retains a suave demeanor that is inoffensive and carries a decent amount of road presence.
The headlights are no longer connected to the kidney grills but here’s a fun fact: if the X5 detects water coming up into the hood, it will shut the kidney grill slats as a response. An M Sport Package is available (optional on 40i models for $3,000, standard on 50i models) that adds extra flair with larger front air inlets, side body skirts, an M sport exhaust, larger wheels, an M Sport suspension, different leather upholstery and steering wheel, and illuminated door finishers. Laser lights are optional and not only look spectacular with its blue hue but have a longer beam range as well (500m vs. the standard 300m).
The freshly garnished cabin is spectacular and much more spacious than the outgoing model. The center console is clean and familiar looking, but the materials and switchgear feel more premium. We’ve seen this steering wheel before in the 6 Series GT, and the X5 also borrows the Sky Lounge panoramic sunroof from the 7 Series that utilizes 15,000 points of LED lights for some glamorous nighttime ambiance.
Small digital screens are now situated between the center fans that display the temperature, and the gear shifter is brand new. It’s the same one we saw in the 8 Series, and you can option it to be made out of crystal as a $850 stand-alone option or as part of the $16,000 Premium Excellence Package. The crystal’s edges are sharp and crisply cut, and is definitely going to steal the show for most occupants. The light refractions that bounce off the surface make this one luxurious commodity, one that feels right at home with the volume knob, start button, and rotary dial that are also made from the same type of crystal. “Spared no expense,” a wise man once said.
The X5 is a festival of new technology. In fact, it’s brimming with so much tech, sensors, and software that it would be mental to list them all out here. I will tell you about the notable features though, like the new Back-up Assistant that memorizes how you got into your parking spot, and will autonomously back-out in the same way and with the same steering inputs - drivers only need to control the accelerator and brake pedal. Like Cadillac’s CT6 with Super Cruise, BMW has installed an infrared camera perched within the instrument cluster that monitors the driver’s eyes and face, and uses algorithms to make sure they are awake and alert.
Making its debut are two 12.3-inch screens that take up most of the dashboard real estate, encompassing both the instrument cluster and center display and offer the illusion of one large screen. The infotainment unit can still be controlled in many ways via the rotary dial, steering wheel buttons, voice control, or gesture control. The X5 is also the first BMW to use this new iDrive software with multifaceted pages and shortcut menu on the left side of the screen - it works well to tailor specific pages for quick viewing, and feels even more customizable than my Apple Watch. Furthermore, BMW has kept the eight programmable shortcut buttons due to high customer demand.
The head up display has been beefed up with a larger screen, and the front cupholders are now heated and cooled - they work surprisingly well and kept my water bottle chilly in the Atlanta heat. Other innovative but familiar BMW features include massaging seats, heated armrests, ambient air fragrance, Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround sound system, and dual 10.2-inch rear entertainment screens.
The driver’s seating position is excellent and the steering wheel telescopes a significant amount, benefitting taller drivers who prefer to sit further back. The front seats are supportive and the same goes for the rear accommodations, which are spacious enough for my six-foot figure to have absolutely nothing to complain about. But many people forget that the X5 also offers a third-row of seats for two unlucky souls (7-seat configuration for xDrive40i models only, not xDrive50i). The second-row can electronically tilt out of the way with just the touch of a button, making ingress incredibly easy but it’s cramped for room back there. Like other mid-size SUVs that offer a third-row like the Range Rover Sport, a short haul for two adults is bearable in fetal position, but best to keep it short.
The cargo area now houses 650 L and can expand up to 1,870 L with the seats folded down. The split tailgate has returned, and both upper and lower panels are now electrically operated - the same goes for the trunk cover. Anti-slip rails are also equipped on the floor.
Canadians receive two engines at launch, with an xDrive45e plug-in hybrid coming in 2020 that promises roughly 80 km of electric-only range. Colour me excited for that. But in the meantime, the X5 is offered with the xDrive40i inline-six engine and xDrive50i V8 engine. Other markets still get the diesel variants but no word for Canada just yet. Don’t have your fingers crossed - every BMW expert I asked at the event gave me a gloomy shrug.
Only the 40i was available for testing, and though we have seen this B58 unit before in other BMW models, it has been slightly reworked and the software optimized for better efficiency. As I worked through rush hour traffic and eventually hit up the open road, this free-revving 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six made short work of any scenario, delivering 340 hp and 332 lb-ft in a smooth and linear fashion, a rarity for force-fed motors. Turbo-lag is negligent here, and anyone telling you otherwise is either in the wrong gear or overly impatient. Not to mention, the powerband of maximum torque runs from 1,500 rpm all the way up to 5,200 rpm, a range where the majority of drivers spend their time.
On paper, the power may not seem like much but it fits hand in glove with this mid-size SUV, and the six-cylinder will thrust the X5 from 0-100 km/h in 5.5 seconds. For those seeking quicker means of propulsion, the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 in the 50i model is available, and has been heavily reworked via software upgrades and additional heat plates that shield the crankcase and cylinder heads. The ignition system has also been revised, aiding in a smoother start/stop system. This V8 now produces 462 hp and 479 lb-ft, enough to propel it from 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds, but unfortunately there wasn’t one available for testing.
The X5 makes the headlines as the first X model to receive Integral Active Steering, a fancy term for a two-axle steering system that will change the amount of rotation required depending on the speed. At low speeds, the X5 exhibits more agility and maneuverability thanks to a smaller turning circle and the aid of the rear wheels rotating up to 3 degrees. I found myself stuck in multiple dead-ends and one-way lanes in Atlanta, so having to rotate less was an advantage. On the flip side and at higher speeds, the steering was much flatter and less twitchy, and you can truly feel the rear wheels in action.
The X5 proved to be quite the dancing partner when I headed for some spirited runs through empty switchback roads. In Sport+ mode where all the systems are tuned to Defcon 1 and the suspension lowers for better aerodynamics, the X5 begs for G force, and claws into the tarmac while eagerly pointing its nose through the bend with as little body roll as a smaller 3 Series. It definitely drives better than the outgoing model, though I wouldn’t say the steering or body control feels tauter or sportier. Definitely more comfortable, though. On the bright side, the rear will kick out if you really make the effort, a nod to the rear-biased AWD system and alludes to its sporting intentions.
The X5 receives a new electro-hydraulic braking system where a motor assists with the brake pedal and frees up space under the hood. While I was afraid it would hamper the pedal feel, it was actually very convincing in-use, and felt just like a standard hydraulic pedal without that springy hybrid-like feedback that we experienced in other models that use this technology like the Cadillac XT4.
The biggest news here isn’t with the engines though, but it’s with the new two-axle air suspension, which ensures the X5 is optimally damped for any road surface. That also allows drivers to manually adjust the ride height (40mm up or 40mm down from the standard setting) via the center console switch, display key, or even via the luggage compartment, for any off-road, on-road, or cargo loading endeavours that may require it. Combined with the standard adaptive dampers and spectacular cabin insulation, the ride quality is unmatched - body control is superior to the rivaling Mercedes GLE and Audi Q7. The X5 delivers nearly 7 Series-like suppleness on city streets and simply hovers and glides over any road imperfections without disturbing occupants. On a side note, BMW tells us that if the system detects a flat tire, the air suspension will try and reduce the load on that specific tire to preserve traction.
Also new is an off-road package ($2,950), which BMW heavily stressed during the vehicle presentation. A BMW-first, this package equips the X5 with an electronically locking rear differential, the two-axle air suspension, front and rear underguards, off-road display screens, and four extra driving modes (Snow, Sand, Gravel, and Rocks) that tailor the stability control, gearbox, and pedal programming for optimal traction. The scheduled drive even took me to a dedicated off-road course located in the back of a farm, and while most of the off-roading done at events like this are casual man-made slopes in a run-of-the-mill gravel pit, this was a proper trail embedded within a forest that took me more than an hour to snake through.
I’m not too sure how many owners will be taking their X5 off the beaten path but the same could be said about Range Rovers and even the Mercedes G-Wagon. How many of those owners engage the rear diff locks, let alone go into off-road mode? My theory is that it’s all about the bragging rights and the peace of mind of the vehicle’s capability, rather than actual utilization of it through the trenches. That being said, the X5 surprised me with its prowess and even on street performance tires, I was able to crawl up steep muddy slopes and allow Hill Descent Control to guide me down treacherous 45-degree inclines. It rained the day before, so these were slippery gradients. Around every corner, I had to meticulously articulate the X5 between narrow tree lines, trying not to lock the wheels like a toboggan when sliding down the slopes. There were some ruts that I am sure will give most standard SUVs a hefty challenge but the X5 managed to do it all without a hiccup.
If this new X5 is any indication of the refinement, ride quality, and engine masterstroke of future BMWs in the pipeline, then colour me impressed. This luxury family SUV is not only capable on rugged and muddy terrain, but also along cramped downtown streets. The X5 has matured into a civilian cruiser with road manners that are hardly found in an SUV of this size. The off-road package is a controversial addition but I think it will be enough to conquest a few buyers from Land Rover and Mercedes. The real charm however lies with that sweet inline-six and its creamy propulsive capabilities. The supple air suspension and swanky crystal switchgear put the cherry on top.
The 2019 BMW X5 will arrive in dealers in November of this year with an MSRP of $71,500 for the xDrive40i, and $86,000 for the xDrive50i.
Photo Gallery (Calvin Chan):
Model: 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i
Paint Type: Phytonic Blue
Base Price: $71,500
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,936 / 2,004 / 1,753
Curb weight (kg): 2,258
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six
Horsepower: 335 hp @ 5,500 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 330 lb-ft @ 1,500 - 5,200 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: TBA