First Drive: 2011 BMW X5

#BMW, #X5
2011 BMW X5

2011 BMW X5

How will you know a new, 2011 BMW X5 when you see one? You probably won’t. The second-generation X5, introduced for 2007, has received its mid-cycle freshening, but even the most hard-core BMW fanboys will be hard-pressed to tell it apart from the 2007-2010 models.

For the car’s press introduction, BMW helpfully produced composite pictures of the front and the rear, half old car and half new, so one could more easily discern the resized lower air intakes, the repositioned foglamps (they’re not as recessed as before), the bit of matte silver under the bumpers, and the reshaped exhaust tips. But without this handy side-by-side study guide, your new 2011-model X5 is unlikely to make your neighbor’s head swivel, nor are valets likely to grant you any more respect than if you pulled up in a three-year-old X5.

What’s really new

Instead of restyling the X5, BMW concentrated its efforts in the engine room. Even so, two of the four engine choices are carryover. The six-cylinder turbo-diesel, which was just introduced for 2009, is one, but that engine’s beguiling combination of 425 lb-ft of torque, coupled with the ability to post EPA numbers of 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, hardly mark it as a candidate for an upgrade. And at the top of the model range, the 4.4-liter turbo V-8 in the X5 M was similarly left alone, its 555 hp and 500 lb-ft apparently deemed sufficient, at least for the time being.

The two mainstay gasoline engines, however, are both new. In place of the old, normally aspirated straight six, the X5 now uses a new, turbocharged unit. It is not the twin-turbo example we know and love in the 135i, the 335i, and elsewhere, but instead is the latest generation turbo six. (Note to BMW geeks: that’s codename N55, rather than N45 for the older, twin-turbo six.) It appears also in the 535i Gran Turismo and the 2011 335i coupe/convertible—both out this spring—and shortly in the new 535i sedan, on sale in June.

Now with a single turbocharger, direct injection, and Valvetronic, it produces 300 hp and 300 lb-ft (the same as the old twin-turbo six, depending on the application) but is more fuel-efficient and more easily meets emissions standards. In any event, its 300 ponies are 40 more than you got in the 2010-model X5, which had a normally aspirated six, and the 300 lb-ft is an even bigger increase over that car, which was rated at 225 lb-ft. Although the engine displaces the same 3.0 liters, its more bodacious output evidently has earned the base car a bigger number in its ridiculously complex model designation: X5 xDrive35i, rather than X5 xDrive30i.

The V-8 X5 has been granted a new model designation, too: xDrive50i—up from xDrive48i—as its new eight-cylinder engine has also made leaps in output while actually going down in size. In place of the previous, normally aspirated 4.8-liter V-8, there is a new, 4.4-liter unit that sports direct injection and two turbochargers. The change takes power up from 350 to 400 hp and torque from 350 to 450 lb-ft. This twin-turbo V-8 was first introduced in the X6 and will soon appear in the new 550i. Although more powerful than the outgoing 4.8-liter, the new turbo V-8 should return about the same fuel economy: 14/19 mpg.

Both gasoline engines use a new transmission, BMW’s eight-speed automatic, seen previously in the twelve-cylinder 7-series and the 5-series Gran Turismo. Compared with the six-speed (which still sees duty in the X5 diesel and the M), the eight-cog gearbox has more tightly spaced ratios as well as taller top gears, aiding fuel economy. Also helping the cause of efficiency—again with the gasoline engines only—is regenerative braking, which allows the engine to expend less energy to keep the battery charged.

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