Driven: 2011 BMW X5 xDrive35i

2011 BMW X5 xDrive35i

The vehicle that established the sporty-SUV subsegment bolsters its position for 2011 with a minor update that sends more power to the engine room.

The BMW X5's two mainstay gasoline engines have been replaced with new turbocharged units. In place of the previous 3.0-liter normally aspirated six is BMW's latest turbo straight six, which combines Valvetronic, direct injection, and a single turbocharger. Its 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque are both healthy increases over the 260 hp and 225 lb-ft of the previous in-line six.

Buyers opting for the V-8 will no longer get the 4.8-liter unit. Instead, a 4.4-liter twin-turbo first seen in the X6 will be offered. Its 400 hp and 450 lb-ft easily surpass the old engine's 350 hp and 350 lb-ft.

Left alone were the 3.5-liter turbo-diesel, with its beguiling combination of 425 lb-ft of torque and a 26-mpg EPA highway rating, and the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 in the X5 M, whose 555 hp evidently was deemed sufficient, at least for the time being.

Both of the new engines use BMW's recently introduced eight-speed automatic transmission and also offer regenerative braking, aiding the cause of fuel economy. EPA figures show a nice gain for the in-line six, from 15/21 mpg for the 2010 model to 17 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway, while the new V-8 adds 1 mpg highway, clocking in at 14/20 mpg.

Our drive was confined to the turbo six, and its extra oomph made quick work of passing dawdlers on the two-lane highways in South Florida. BMW claims that the turbo six can match the 0-to-60-mph time of the old V-8, at 6.4 seconds (the new turbo V-8 trims it to 5.3 seconds). Shift paddles would be more intuitive to use than BMW's 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 X5's chassis setup has mostly been left alone, and that's a good thing. Happily, the regenerative brakes maintain a natural pedal feel and don't exhibit any of the springy operation of those in the X6 hybrid. Adaptive Drive (active damping, with a selectable sport mode), which was formerly available only as part of the M Sport package, can now be ordered on its own (for $3500); its benefits weren't much in evidence on the straight, flat, and mostly smooth roads we encountered. Our car was also equipped with active steering, which remains a stand-alone option; it's most noticeable in parking maneuvers, where it lessens wheel winding but is somewhat strange and nonlinear.

Although its high-tech steering and chassis aids may be of dubious merit, with or without them the X5 remains an SUV whose athleticism belies its height and heft. The new, more powerful engines should only enhance this BMW's reputation as a burly, big guy that can really move.

The Specs:

On sale: Now
Price: $46,675/$52,475/$54,975 (xDrive35i base/Premium/ Sports Activity)
ENGINE: 3.0L turbocharged I-6, 300 hp, 300 lb-ft
DRIVE: 4-wheel

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