Few new models have done more to redefine a brand – indeed, to help transform the auto business overall – like the BMW X5. But there were plenty of doubters when the Bavarian automaker first announced plans to add a sport-utility vehicle to its line-up back in the late 1990s.
Even BMW seemed to have some doubts, deciding to call the new line a “Sport-Activity Vehicle,” rather than an SUV. But those concerns were quickly forgotten, demand for the midsize ute taking off from almost the moment the first X5 rolled out of BMW’s then-new assembly plant in Spartanburg South Carolina in 1999. The first generation alone generated more than 600,000 sales and, with production of the third-gen X5 now winding down, that’s jumped to more than 2.1 million.
These days, BMW offers a full range of Sport-Activity Vehicles, from the little X1 all the way up to the new X7 set to launch next year as a crossover alternative to the brand’s traditional flagship, the 7-Series. But much like the 5-Series sedan, the X5 remains a lynchpin of that line-up, meant to combine both the utility of a crossover and the performance of a classic BMW sedan.
So, as you can imagine, BMW has a lot riding on the fourth-generation X5 that it revealed in June and which will be rolling into U.S. showrooms a little more than a month from now. Codenamed the G05, the 2019 BMW X5 is based on the Bavarian marque’s new Cluster Architecture that will shared with a number of other models, such as the coupe-like X6. And, like all the versions before it, the midsize SUV, er, SAV will be produced at the Spartanburg plant for distribution to all of its global markets.
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To get a sense of what BMW has pulled together, TheDetroitBureau.com headed out to Atlanta to begin a long day’s journey into Georgia’s piney woods country, mixing things up by clocking time both on highway and on winding back roads. We also spent a couple hours on some reasonably challenging off-road trails to see if the new X5 is more than just a high-riding wagon, like so many competing luxury crossovers.
We weren’t disappointed. While we found a few nits to pick, it was hard to deny that BMW, with the gen-four X5, has delivered the most competent and fun-to-drive utility vehicle since it got into that segment two decades ago.
Visually, the 2019 X5 doesn’t break new ground. The most apparent change can be seen immediately in the form of a larger and somewhat more angular version of the brand’s familiar double-kidney grille – which takes a cue from the X7 concept recently unveiled. It’s now framed by new twin-lamp headlights. From the side, there are subtle new accent lines that sweep back across the X5’s body which gives the appearance of greater muscularity.
A closer look, meanwhile, reveals that the new X5 is larger in every key dimension: an inch longer, an inch taller and 2.6 inches wider. The wheelbase also was stretched 1.6 inches, and that’s of particular significance as it translates into a roomier interior than the prior model. That will be especially important for those who want the new three-row model arriving later in the model-year.
As for the interior, if we’ve got a gripe it’s that BMW opted for an evolutionary approach, rather than the more revolutionary updates we’ve seen from recent competitors, notably German rivals Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
That said, it isn’t much of a complaint because the cabin is more than well-enough appointed for a vehicle in this segment, with a tasteful mix of chrome, wood and leather. Sitting up front you’ll notice twin 12.3-inch displays, one serving as the driver’s instrument cluster, the others anchoring the latest version of the BMW iDrive.
Since the first version of that pioneering infotainment system made its debut it’s become almost a requirement to dis it. But, in reality, whether you’re using the familiar, rotary controller with a touchpad top, the steering wheel controls or voice recognition, iDrive hass come a long way and is about as intuitive to operate as anything else on the road, perhaps with the exception of the Amazon Alexa-like MBUX newly launched by Mercedes. BMW has a similar voice assistant coming, though we’ve yet to hear if it will migrate into the X5 anytime soon.
The BMW cabin is loaded with a variety of tech-oriented luxury features, included heated and ventilated massing seats, a 1,500-watt Bowers & Wilkins premier audio system, a rear entertainment system with twin 10.2-inch HD displays, a Blu-ray player and heated and cooled cupholders. There are even a few of the new USB C plugs, along with more traditional USB connectors.
There are the now-essential advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, including an adaptive cruise control system that operates semi-autonomously in rush hour traffic. With the optional Driving Assistant Professional package with Traffic Jam Assistant you’ll get up to 30 seconds of hands-free operation at speeds up to 10 mph. That drops to 7 seconds at higher speeds. The X5, with the right options, can even make an automatic passing maneuver simply by holding down the turn signal. And its new parking assist system will not only help you get into a tight spot but help you get back out, as well.
As you’d expect, many of these features, as well as more conventional luxury touches, such as the massive “Sky Lounge” panoramic sunroof framed in 15,000 points of LED lighting, are optional. Unfortunately, at least one upgrade won’t make it to the States until federal regulators come to their senses: laser headlights that can throw a beam nearly a quarter mile down the road. American buyers will, for now, have to settle for adaptive LED front lamps.
Also absent from the U.S. mix: the two diesels BMW will offer, primarily for Europe. Like a number of other luxury brands, the Bavarians are shying away from oil-burners in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal. That said, shortly before posting this review we received a follow-up statement from BMW telling us, “The final decision as to whether or not the BMW X5 diesel variant will come to the US market has not been made. BMW of North America continues to monitor customer preferences and is prepared to adjust the product portfolio accordingly.”
So, if you are a diehard diesel fan, hang tight. Meanwhile, it’s hard to grump about the two engines we’ll get up front. The X5 xDrive40i model will be motivated by a turbocharged 335-horsepower 3.0-liter inline-six, while the most lavishly equipped xDrive50i will get a boost to 456 turbocharged ponies emerging from a 4.4-liter V8. According to BMW we can expect the xDrive40i to hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, the xDrive50i cutting that to 4.6 seconds.
If you’re looking for a greener option, hang tight. We expect to see the new plug-in hybrid version of the X5, to be dubbed the xDrive 45e, about a year from now.
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As for the suspension, there’s a double-A-arm up front and a five-link rear. Meanwhile, there are several big updates here for 2019, starting with the optional, two-axle air suspension which allows a driver to manually adjust the ute’s height – though it will also reset itself automatically to the optimum setting if you come off your trail and head back out on the highway. That package is central to the X5 off-road package.
There’s also an Adaptive M suspension with a sport differential lock.
During our time in Georgia we had the chance to drive several different versions of the new 2019 BMW X5, starting with the xDrive50i. No, it won’t carve through corners quite like the similarly equipped 5-Series sedan, but for those frustrated by the traditional handling lapses of luxury SUVs, we can report that it comes uncannily close.
Acceleration is all but instantaneous – as one of our colleagues realized when he was advised by a Georgia trooper that he had been clocked on the Interstate at 101 mph. The eight-speed gearbox, meanwhile, shifts all but invisibly, even when you kick the throttle in anger.
Steering is precise and delivers just the right amount of boost when set in standard driving mode, kicking in a bit more resistance when you switch to Sport. The Adaptive suspension also tightens up and shifts become more aggressive.
For everyday cruising, switching the standard Dynamic Damper Control to normal mode will keep everyone happy, even on bumpy roads, but you’ll clearly want to go to Sport when you’re on your own and looking to enjoy some backroad thrills.
All-Wheel-Drive is standard on the new X5 and the crossover is able to move torque around to reduce any sense of pushing into corners.
Perhaps our biggest – and most pleasant – surprise came when the BMW team offered up the keys to a new X5 equipped with the off-road package. We’ve seen a lot of automakers brag about the capabilities of their crossovers lately, but that usually means handling some gravel, a bit of mud and a few ruts. Where BMW sent us for the next 90 minutes would’ve left many a competitor idled and waiting for a winch.
No, we’re likely not going to take the X5 out onto the ultra-treacherous Rubicon Trail but we could see it handling some of the mid-grade routes in Moab thanks to the extended ride height of the air suspension added underbody protection and the electronic rear differential lock. The Off-Road package also adds an intuitive hill climb and descent mode that essential works as an ultra-low-speed cruise control.
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The package also offers four specific off-road modes which, BMW explains, “The driver can…activate (for) the ideal settings for the vehicle’s ride height, the xDrive system, the accelerator response, the transmission control, and the DSC system’s corrective inputs in preparation for driving on a range of surfaces, such as sand, rock, gravel or snow.
There are still a few details we’re going to have to wait for, notably fuel economy. We hope to have those numbers well ahead of the 2019 BMW X5 on-sale date in November.
As for pricing, the X5 xDrive40i will starts at $60,700 before delivery fees, the xDrive50i bumping that up to $75,750. As is usual for German manufacturers, you can quickly drive the final price tag up substantially if you’re looking to check a lot of option boxes. The Sunstone metallic paint, for example, is a $1,950 add, while you’ll spend $1,700 for the Driving Assistance Plus Package and $3,650 for the Dynamic Handling Package on the xDrive50i.
The BMW X5 has never been cheap, nonetheless, what it all comes down to is a package that is far more than competent whatever you throw at it. The new, 2019 BMW X5 is attractive, luxurious and just plain fun-to-drive. It is a worthy successor to the original Sport-Activity Vehicle that made its splashy debut 20 years ago.