Editor's note: This review was written in July 2014 about the 2014 BMW X5. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2015, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The redesigned 2014 BMW X5 carries on its winning formula of being a stylish, expensive, luxurious SUV for secret station-wagon fans who prefer to sit up high.
Americans don't like station wagons anymore — or so automakers keep telling us — which is why we have the BMW X5 xDrive35i, a tall, car-based SUV that has replaced the 5 Series wagon for BMW-loving U.S. buyers of family luxury cars. It may not look like a new vehicle, but the X5 is a complete redesign for 2014, with some new standard equipment, like the latest iDrive multimedia system with a touchpad and BMW Apps, plus automatic stop-start for the engine, a 40/20/40-split folding backseat and speed-sensitive power steering. For the first time ever, a less-expensive rear-wheel-drive model is also available, the X5 sDrive35i. See a comparison of the 2013 and 2014 models here.
Exterior & Styling
If you're having trouble telling the 2014 model from last year's, we don't blame you. It doesn't look different at all, just a slightly sleeker version of the familiar shape. All the BMW styling cues are there, including the "twin-kidney" grille (that really doesn't look like kidneys anymore), the sweeping headlights, the character line running down the side, and the high taillights, which are now LEDs. It looks as it always has: like a tall 5 Series wagon. That's not a bad thing, as it's an attractive shape. Given BMW's sales success with the X5, I guess it's decided not to mess too much with a winning formula.
How It Drives
My test car was an X5 xDrive35i, which is something of a mouthful that needs decoding: xDrive is BMW-speak for all-wheel drive (sDrive is rear-wheel drive) and 35i signifies the gasoline six-cylinder engine, even though BMW nomenclature no longer matches up to engine displacement. All engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive with the exception of the gas six-cylinder, where all-wheel drive is optional.
The X5 I drove is powered by a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine making a nice, round 300 horsepower. Acceleration with the twin-turbo I-6 is strong but not extraordinary. Power is available in just about any situation, and the eight-speed easily keeps the X5 in its power band. Engage Sport mode and the X5 will stay in a lower gear, improving shift and throttle response time. Switch to the EcoPro mode if you want to try and eke out an extra mpg or two.
Handling is smooth and steering is firm and communicative, as one might expect from a BMW. The brakes are equally firm, and the combination gives the BMW a more athletic feel than competitors like the Mercedes-Benz ML350, Land Rover LR4 or Jeep Grand Cherokee. There's no agile or lightweight feel to the X5, just a heft that gives a feeling of solidity and quality. That heft translates into quiet, confident highway behavior that eats up miles of asphalt with ease. A sport suspension package is optional.
Stepping up to the X5 xDrive50i replaces the I-6 with a 445-hp, turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8, or you can get a 255-hp, turbocharged diesel six-cylinder in the X5 xDrive35d if you want to chase fuel economy.
Even without the diesel engine, fuel economy is decent for a big five-seat SUV, with an EPA rating of 18/27/21 mpg city/highway/combined with all-wheel drive. My week in the X5 included a jaunt from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Lexington, Ky., with the X5 returning 27 mpg on the highway and overall performance for the week of 23 mpg. This is considerably better than most of its competitors' EPA estimates. The Mercedes-Benz ML350 is rated 17/22/19 mpg, the Jeep Grand Cherokee V-6 comes in at 17/24/19 mpg, and the Land Rover LR4 is rated a dismal 14/19/16 mpg. All but the Land Rover do offer diesel power, if you're looking for fuel economy and torquey performance. The BMW X5 xDrive35d's diesel engine boosts fuel economy to 23/31/26 mpg, while the ML350 Bluetec gets 20/28/23 mpg and the Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel is rated 21/28/24 mpg.
It's familiar BMW territory inside, too, with shapes and forms that have become common across all the brand's vehicles. Material quality is top-notch, as are all the switches and knobs — with the exception of the transmission shifter. It's a paddle-type affair that's imprecise, tricky to use and unfortunately common among BMW vehicles.
A big, chunky steering wheel covered in quality leather sits in front of large, clear gauges. The front seats are very supportive, widely adjustable and covered in excellent leather. The rear seats have plenty of legroom but feel low to the floor, resulting in a knees-up seating posture that gets tiring. A small third-row seat is also available as a $1,700 option, but my test vehicle was not equipped with this feature. Visibility is good in all directions, thanks to a high seating position for the driver and a tall roofline that allows for big windows all around. The standard panoramic moonroof also brings a lot of light into the interior, which was welcome in my tester, given the deep, dark mocha brown leather and poplar wood trim that adorned it.
Ergonomics & Electronics
BMW's latest version of iDrive comes standard in the X5, and it continues to improve with each generation. The display screen is now a separate styling element in the dashboard, a sizeable 10.2-inch LCD mounted atop the dash and controlled via a rotary knob on the center console. BMW has new app capability that includes interfaces with a number of mobile-device apps and streaming audio programs. I connected my iPhone5 and used the Glympse app, controlled through the iDrive system, to send a real-time location update to friends who were expecting me as I drove to Kentucky, and the interface worked flawlessly.
I was less thrilled about BMW's available head-up display on the windshield and the standard rain-sensing wipers. The head-up display projects all manner of information, from navigation to audio data, onto the windshield, but disappears completely when one puts on polarized sunglasses. Being this far into the 21st century, you'd think BMW would have figured out a way to solve that. The rain-sensing wipers didn't seem to be able to accurately sense when there was sufficient water on the windshield to wipe; I found myself doing it manually more often than not, as the rain-sense function takes the place of a simple intermittent interval.
Cargo & Storage
Being a midsize SUV on the big end of that category, the X5 should have competitive cargo room, but it doesn't. While the cargo area is certainly tall and wide, the load floor is very high, making it a chore to load bulky or heavy objects. There's not as much room in the X5's cargo area as there is in competitors' vehicles, either — 22.9 cubic feet of cargo room (66.0 when the rear seats are folded) versus 38.2 cubic feet (80.3 maximum) for the ML350, 36.3 for the Grand Cherokee (68.3) and a whopping 44.5 cubic feet in the LR4 (87.4).
While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not tested the 2014 X5, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the SUV its top rating of good in its first two tests and called its front-crash protection superior (additional crash tests hadn't been performed as of publication). See the test results here.
Like most luxury cars, the X5 has a long list of electronic safety features — and like in most BMWs, they cost extra. You get bi-xenon headlights and parking sensors standard, but things like a backup camera, a blind spot monitor, forward collision warning with automatic braking, automatic cruise control and a surround-view camera are optional. You can view all the X5's safety equipment here.
Value in Its Class
The many versions of the X5 start with the rear-wheel-drive, gasoline six-cylinder sDrive35i at $53,750, including destination charge. My test vehicle was the next level up: an all-wheel-drive, gasoline six-cylinder xDrive35i that started at $56,050, but which quickly climbed to $70,975 thanks to several option packages. Things like the Luxury Line package, which adds 19-inch wheels, a sport steering wheel and satin roof rails, added $1,700. The Cold Weather Package, with its heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and headlight washers added $550, while the Driver Assistance Package tacked on another $1,400 for a backup camera and head-up display. The Driver Assistance Plus Package added a blind spot monitoring system, automatic cruise control and a surround view camera for $1,900. Full LED headlights with automatic high beams cost another $1,900, while a Premium Package with keyless entry, soft-close doors and satellite radio cost an astonishing $2,700. As with most BMWs, the X5 gets you on the options. See for yourself by building one here.
The X5 has plenty of competitors, but the biggest one may be the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class. The ML350 matches up quite well with the X5 in nearly every way — power, prestige and passenger space. It bests the X5 in cargo capacity and price but falls short in fuel economy, even when comparing diesel models.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee should be mentioned as well. Even though its starting price is considerably less than that of the X5, a loaded Summit model with all-wheel drive and a V-6 comes within a couple grand of the X5's starting price and features a competitive luxurious interior, an easier-to-use multimedia system, more cargo space and genuine all-road capability. Nothing in the category, though, can touch the Land Rover LR4 for off-road prowess, and it also features a more powerful V-6 engine than the X5 and much more interior space (thanks to its boxier styling) for less money. It does not, however, offer a diesel or V-8 version. Compare all four competitors here.