Underneath it all
With the introduction of the second-generation X5, BMW switched the SUV from the brand’s traditional damper-strut front suspension to control arms; at the rear is a multilink setup. Both are essentially unchanged here, with only minor revisions to spring and damper tuning. Active damping, with a selectable sport mode (Adaptive Drive, in BMW-speak), previously part of the M Sport package, can now be ordered on its own, although it’s pricey at $3500. Active steering remains, thankfully, a stand-alone option (for $1550); it’s most notable in parking maneuvers, where it lessens wheel winding, but it’s somewhat strange and nonlinear.
For 2011, the chips governing the brakes have gotten smarter, compensating for brake fade, preloading the brakes when the driver abruptly lifts off the accelerator pedal, periodically wiping wet brakes, and adding a hill-holder function. The traction control allows a bit more wheel spin (helpful in deep snow). Of course, all-wheel drive is standard. Wheels range in size from eighteen to twenty inches, depending on the model and options.
The X5’s plush cabin remains essentially unchanged, seating five -- or seven with the optional kid-size third-row seat ($1700 and available on all but the base trim level). New driver aids include active cruise control and lane-departure warning. The backup camera has added an overhead-view function, and buyers also can order sideview cameras (for peeking out into traffic) as well. BMW has upgraded the X5 to the fourth-generation iDrive, which, as ever, promises greater user-friendliness, with more logical menu logic and dedicated buttons for more functions.
On the road
At our test-drive event, the only version on hand was the xDrive35i. So, how does it drive? It’s quicker. BMW says it can hustle from 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, which just happens to match the time for the previous V-8. (Good thing the new V-8 has gotten quicker as well, zooming to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.) We found the turbo six adept at charging from 40 to 80 mph, easily dispensing with dawdlers on the two-lane highways on the outskirts of the Florida Everglades. Shift paddles would have been welcome—and more intuitive to use than the joystick shift lever, with its push-for-downshift, pull-for-upshift operation—but the eight-speed box is extremely responsive when left to its own devices. The eight-speed automatic also helps the six-cylinder powertrain achieve a predicted 10 percent gain in fuel economy, although EPA numbers aren’t out yet. (The 2010 xDrive30i was rated at 15/21 mpg.)
We were pleased that the new, regenerative brakes maintain a natural pedal feel, unlike the springy pedal action in the X6 ActiveHybrid. In our Active Drive-equipped test car, we were hard-pressed to discern any difference in ride or steering between Sport and standard mode on the straight, flat, and mostly smooth roads of South Florida. The current X5 in general rides better than the first-generation vehicle, and its steering is pleasantly weighted. Although tall and heavy, it is nonetheless a sport-utility that doesn’t ignore the “sport.”
In stores soon
Production of the 2011-model X5 starts in May, and it should be available at dealerships shortly thereafter. The base price of the six-cylinder model has been cut slightly, from $48,475 to $46,674. Now, however, there are two additional trim levels for the base-engine car: Premium ($52,475) and Sports Activity ($54,975). Both the diesel ($52,175) and the V-8 ($59,275) are sold in a single trim level. Although the price cut is certainly welcome, what’s surprising is how much equipment remains optional, including leather upholstery (!), on the base car and the diesel; the third-row seat; navigation, even on the most expensive versions; Bluetooth; and satellite radio. So be prepared to spend a bit more than the base price.