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2019 BMW X5 Review: Excellent SUV, Iffy BMW

The verdict: More spacious, luxurious and comfortable than ever, the latest BMW X5 continues to focus more on luxury than a sporty driving experience.

Versus the competition: There are a dozen possibilities in this field, but it’s hard to match the latest 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, with its benchmark interior quality, stunning graphics displays and optional adaptive suspension. If you want something truly sporty, an Alfa Romeo Stelvio or Jaguar F-Pace is more appropriate.

The BMW X5 has been around awhile, but here we have the latest and greatest — a new version that’s grown in every dimension in a quest to go up against the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, Lexus RX, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace and a host of other crossover SUVs. The BMW is on a new platform for 2019, one shared with the latest BMW 3 Series sedan, as BMW works toward basing all its vehicles off a minimum number of basic structures to improve cost and simplicity. The X5’s mission: Represent the brand in an ever-growing SUV field that continues to replace the traditional sedan for millions of buyers every year, around the world. But the world is a tough place, full of worthy competitors. How does the latest X5 stack up?

Evolutionary Looks

The new X5 is clearly a BMW. It’s immediately identifiable as one from a distance, and that’s a good thing. The new SUV may be larger than the old one, but the rear-wheel-drive proportions remain the same, as do many styling cues, including the “twin-kidney” oval grille. A new kick-up in the body-side lines around the rear door adds a little flair to the typical two-box SUV look, but BMW’s stylists did a good job keeping the X5 clean, modern and traditional. Its competitors look good, too; its closest rival is the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, which also received a complete (and very attractive) redo on a new platform, though it will arrive later in 2019 as a 2020 model. The Land Rover Discovery matches up well against the new BMW, as does the high-spec version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is often cross-shopped against luxury competitors in its high-dollar trim levels.

A Very Un-BMW Driving Experience

The surprise of the new X5 comes behind the wheel. Despite the promise of being the Ultimate Driving Machine — a tagline BMW has used for decades now (and which most enthusiasts decry is no longer applicable to most of the company’s products) — the X5’s driving experience is numb and isolated. The powertrain isn’t the problem; the X5’s base engine is a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder pumping out a very healthy 335 horsepower and 330 pounds-feet of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic and featuring standard all-wheel drive. Its acceleration is impressive: BMW reports a zero-to-60-mph sprint of 5.3 seconds, which we believe given the responsiveness of the throttle and the G-forces it generates when pressed. Braking is also strong; I thought it had excellent firmness, plenty of pedal feedback and a confidence-inspiring feel, though a couple of our editors who drove a different xDrive40i cited mushy pedal feel and nonlinearity, possibly associated with the by-wire nature of the braking system.

The problem comes with the steering. It’s almost completely numb, with very little in the way of feel or feedback. Its steering ratio is decently quick, which helps the big X5 change direction smartly, but there’s no joy in the driving experience. Making a bad situation worse, the automatic-steering safety systems, such as lane keep assist, constantly adjust the wheel in your hands. So not only does the steering not provide any feedback, it’s also not doing what you want it to do. It’s frenetic and doesn’t inspire any confidence in the driving experience. I tried shutting off all the safety minders and still found the wheel inexplicably dancing in my hands, making me wonder if the cold weather during my drive wasn’t playing havoc with BMW’s steering systems. Regardless, the experience of driving an X5 is not that of an athletic or sporty SUV like you’d find in an Alfa Romeo Stelvio or even the latest Mercedes-Benz GLE, both of which have exceptional handling properties and outstanding steering feedback.

The BMW’s fuel economy is competitive for the class, ringing in at an EPA-rated 20/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined with the twin-turbo I-6. In my week of testing, I was able to wring 23.5 mpg out of the SUV. By contrast, the standard engine in the rear-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz GLE350 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making just 255 hp — considerably less than the BMW’s engine, yet with a comparable 19/26/22 mpg rating. The standard engine in a Land Rover Discovery is a 340-hp, supercharged V-6 rated a considerably worse 16/21/18 mpg, while the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s standard 295-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 is rated a less-than-stellar 18/25/21 mpg.

Spacious and Comfortable

If BMW has skewed its driving characteristics toward luxury in an attempt to mimic more luxurious competitors, that imitation is much more successful when applied to the X5’s interior appointments. The latest interior is spacious, comfortable and can be chock-full of all the latest technology goodies — for a significant cost. Front and center is a new set of fully electronic gauges, and they’re pretty wild. They’re reconfigurable like the ones in a Mercedes-Benz GLE, but much more futuristic and artsy than the Benz’s more traditional layout. Like the GLE, there’s a risk of information overload in the X5, but it’s definitely an attractive layout. BMW included its gimmicky gesture controls in the X5 but for some reason nerfed their utility, so they can be programmed only to do tasks nobody needs done. (We recently found these features useful in the 7 Series, where they controlled volume and track progression.) I also found BMW’s Comfort Access keyless entry to be completely buggy, often not locking or unlocking as it should have and eventually making me shut off the “smart access” system in favor of a more traditional setup.

The rest of the interior is well-done. Premium materials and high-quality assembly abound, making the X5 feel like a true top-tier luxury vehicle, a step above anything Cadillac, Acura or Infiniti seems able to muster but just on par with the newest stuff from Mercedes-Benz. The front seats are big and comfortable, and there’s plenty of room for two (three in a pinch) in the backseat. There’s an optional third row, but it’s best left to small children. If you’re in the market for a true three-row SUV, the upcoming X7 is a better idea.

The X5 has plenty of cargo room, rated at 33.9 cubic feet of space behind the second row, expandable to 72.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. By comparison, the Land Rover Discovery has 43.5 cubic feet of cargo room, expandable to 88.3 cubic feet, while the Jeep Grand Cherokee has 36.3/68.3 cubic feet. Specs for the new Mercedes-Benz GLE are not yet available.

The BMW does have a quirk to its cargo area, however: a clamshell two-piece hatch. There’s an upper liftgate portion and a lower tailgate portion, both of which are powered, but the lower portion makes it difficult to load large objects. You can’t easily reach all the way to the seatbacks with the tailgate in the way, though BMW has provided a button in the cargo area that lowers the air suspension.

Intrusive Safety

The newest X5 passes its crash tests with flying colors. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the BMW a Top Safety Pick Plus, representing top scores for all crashworthiness tests, as well as for crash prevention and mitigation. The X5 also received a four-star overall rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The brand has upped its standard safety equipment on the latest X5, including forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, and front and rear parking sensors standard. My test vehicle also included the optional Driving Assistance Professional Package, which brings a health-crisis aid along with a bunch of extra driving aids, like hands-free traffic jam assist with stop-and-go, steering and lane control assistant, and evasion aid. While some might see these as useful safety backups, I found them unpleasantly intrusive to the driving experience.

Competitively Expensive

The starting price for a 2019 X5 xDrive40i is $61,695, a princely sum to be sure. After adding extras like the Executive Package (remote start, soft-close doors, manual window shades, LED headlights with laser high-beams), an air suspension, 20-inch wheels, M Sport brakes, the Convenience Package (four-zone climate control, satellite radio, Comfort Access keyless entry), the Premium Package (parking assistant, head-up display, Gesture Control multimedia, Wi-Fi hot spot, rearview camera with surround view), running boards, special paint and leather, and a Harman Kardon premium audio system, my grand total rose to $72,530.

Most of the X5’s competitors start several thousand dollars lower than the X5’s base price. The Mercedes-Benz GLE350 starts at $54,695, though that’s not for the all-wheel-drive version; that begins at $57,195. Keep in mind that this version has a much less powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine, however. If you want something with power comparable to the base engine in an X5, the GLE450 and its turbocharged six-cylinder start at $62,145 including all-wheel drive. The Land Rover Discovery can be had in many forms, but the base price for an SE 4×4 is $53,975 with a supercharged V-6. The Jeep Grand Cherokee starts well below these models, but the trim comparable to the luxury models is the opulent Summit, which starts at $56,190 with the standard V-6 or $59,985 with the big Hemi V-8. Compare all four here.

There’s a lot to like about the new X5, from its opulence to its style to its comfortable interior, but its driving experience just isn’t one of them — at least, not if you’re expecting the Ultimate Driving Machine. If you’re just looking for a cushy luxury SUV, you’ll find little wrong with the new X5.

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