I’ve never had the opportunity to drive an X5 xDrive30i (that’s German marketing-speak for the gasoline six-cylinder version), but I’d say upgrading to this diesel is a no-brainer. For about $4000 more — a surcharge you’ll likely get back in tax rebates and fuel savings — you have a markedly more powerful, more efficient vehicle. Like all the modern diesels we’ve sampled from German automakers of late, this 3.0-liter has no obvious drawbacks compared with a typical gasoline engine. There’s no hesitation, no smell, no cement-truck noises. All you notice is a slightly different mechanical sound.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Like the previous-generation (non-diesel) X5 that sits in my parents’ driveway, this sport activity vehicle probably won’t see much time off-road. But that’s OK – the reason to buy the X5 is for its stellar performance on tarmac. Forget describing the steering as balanced or beautifully weighted for a vehicle of its size–most vehicles of its size have very little steering feel at all! Every time I want to find something to criticize about an X5 (an awkward third row, outdated iDrive, spongy brake pedal), I always remember that, for the most part, it drives like a car. Add a modern diesel to the mix, and there’s even more to like here.
Jeffrey Jablansky, Intern
Is there really any question as to what’s the best X5 powertrain to buy? My compatriot David says that choosing the xDrive35d over the xDrive30i is a no-brainer; I’d go one further and say that the diesel is preferable to the V-8-powered xDrive48i. The turbo-diesel model costs $5000 less than the V-8 model, yet it has comparable passing power, is only half a second slower from a standstill to 60 mph (at a highly respectable 6.9 seconds, according to BMW), and is EPA-rated with significantly better fuel economy (22 mpg combined versus the V-8’s 16 mpg combined). As far as the only-$3700-cheaper 30i X5 goes, the 35d, thanks largely to its 200 lb-ft torque advantage, annihilates its 7.8-second sprint to 60 mph and its measly 18-mpg combined rating. In the big X5, the strengths of diesel power truly shine. It’s not perfect, though: I found this engine to be noisier than most modern diesels, and off-the-line, preboosted lag is a bit annoying (but not unexpected).
The huge sunroof helps highlight the sharp cabin. And, unfortunately, the frustrating old iDrive system …
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
The guy at Larry’s Mower Shop, where I stopped to pick up chain saw chains that had been sharpened, noticed the X5 and asked about it. He seemed shocked when I told him it had a diesel. “All the German car companies now make great diesel engines,” I informed him. “This thing really moves, and you’d hardly know it has a diesel.”
Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a bit: on start-up, you’ll know it’s a diesel, unless you have the satellite radio tuned to the dance station at high volume. But once you’re under way, you’ll likely forget that Dr. Diesel’s invention is under the hood.
I spent the weekend with this X5, and although I am still not a big fan of the X5’s heavy steering, stiff throttle pedal, and ponderously heavy doors, I like the vehicle very much as a whole. It’s very handsome, elegant, even; its chassis still pretty much is the definition of what a sporty SUV’s chassis should be, with superb body control, a firm but not overly punishing ride, and communicative steering; and as my colleagues have noted, the efficiency of the diesel engine is impressive, indeed.
Our test vehicle was larded with some $16K in options packages, but you could excise some of those with little pain, especially the $3200 premium package. The only tangible benefit it provides is a power-operated tailgate, but I could never get it to operate via the key fob, anyway, and ended up always grabbing the underside of the tailgate lip, groping around for the rubber touch pad, and pulling up, at which point the power lift would lurch into operation, by which time my fingertips were already dirty. And, really, if you aren’t strong enough to lift and close the X5’s tailgate manually, you won’t want to open and close the passenger doors, nor manhandle the stiff steering, on a daily basis, anyway.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
The BMW X5 is one of BMW’s two diesel-powered vehicles for sale in the U.S. We sampled the 335d sedan earlier this year and the appeal was a bit limited — who is actually looking for a sport sedan with a diesel? But in a big, heavy SUV, the appeal is immediate. It doesn’t take a genius to lay out a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that shows the diesel X5 hits the sweet spot between performance and efficiency for those who can’t fathom the thought of driving a station wagon and giving the laws of physics a nod. This is about as close as one can get to having his cake (big SUV) and eating it, too (decent fuel economy). Until we get some wagons or hatchbacks with diesel engines and all-wheel drive, SUVs are one of the only ways to combine better mpg and all-wheel-drive traction.
Despite the wishes of our politicians and the environmentalists, SUVs and pickups will not fade away. There are still legitimate uses for these beasts of burden that sedans, coupes, and wagons can’t handle. As fuel prices rise there will need to be a variety of new technologies that arise to make these vehicles more fuel efficient. Until then, we’ll stick with old technologies like diesel. Yes, there are some substantial technologies at work in the powertrain and exhaust, but we’ve still got a fossil fuel with good availability providing the power. This is a good intermediate step.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
2009 BMW X5 xDrive35d
Base price (with destination): $52,025
Price as tested: $68,320
Cold Weather Package – $1250
– Heated Steering Wheel, Ski Bag, Heated Front and Rear Seats, Retractable Headlight Washers
Sport Package – $3700
– 19″ Wheels w/all-season tires, Electronic Damping Control, Sports Leather Steering Wheel, Sport Seats, Shadowline Trim, Anthracite Headliner
Technology Package – $2600
– Rear-view Camera, Park Distance Control, Navigation System
Comfort Access System – $1000
Running Boards – $300
3rd Row Seat – $1700
iPod and USB Adapter – $400
Head-up Display – $1200
HD Radio – $350
Satellite Radio w/1 Year Subscription – $595
19 / 26 / 22 mpg
Size: 3.0L in-line 6-cylinder twin-turbocharged diesel
Horsepower: 265 hp @ 4200 rpm
Torque: 425 lb-ft @ 1750 – 2250 rpm
Weight: 5225 lb
18 x 8.5-in Aluminum Wheels