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2014 BMW X5 First Drive

Vancouver, Canada -- We're on the way from the floatplane dock in the harbor in downtown Vancouver to the craggy mountains above the city on the other side of the bay. It's the sort of light-duty adventure for which sport-utility vehicles like the 2014 BMW X5 are made, and we cross the water on Lion's Gate Bridge and head north on Canada Highway 99.

This third-generation version of the BMW X5 has visually slimmed down a bit from the previous edition, which embraced family values with a sadly swollen shape. Even better, the BMW X5's restyled interior is rich not only in appearance but also in comfort and convenience features. The BMW X5 has become a showcase of style, technology and even performance, a far more relevant expression of luxury than the usual big sedan for plutocrats. If you put a Range Rover and a Range Rover Evoque into a blender, the BMW X5 is what you'd get.

As the X5 winds up the highway along the shore of the Horseshoe Bay, we're more aware of luxury than performance. We notice the command driving position, the slim yet supportive seats, and the new iDrive with its fixed, 10.2-inch video screen protruding from the dash and a control knob onto which you can scribe a letter with your finger and trigger a reaction. The optional Harman Kardon audio system plays full-bandwidth music files in a rich way that will make you throw away the crappy compressed MP3s from your iPod. The second-row seat has a useful 40/20/40 split, a third-row is optional, and the tailgate is power operated. Everyone can see the scenery, has a cool drink at hand that doesn't spill over the bumps in the road, and feels happy. All the other aspects of the 2014 BMW X5 -- the appearance features, the powertrain performance, and the impressive safety technology -- are just background music to this central experience.

At the same time, this experience can be had in a bewildering number of equipment combinations. (Ready? Take a deep breath.) The twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 makes 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque, while the twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 makes 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Then you can get the six-cylinder engine in the customary all-wheel-drive X5 xDrive35i or in the new, rear-wheel-drive sDrive35i. Plus there's a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 diesel expected in the spring, which will make 255 hp and 413-lb-ft of torque. We found the personality of the V-8 engine to be somewhat stolid, while the diesel proved livelier, yet the eight-speed automatic really proved to be the dominant player in the powertrain.

Your choices have only just begun, however. There are four treatments for the exterior: standard trim, modern-style xLine, traditional-style Luxury Line, and zippy M Sport. There are two optional interior treatments with a monochromatic theme, Ivory and Mocha. You can move up to the optional Adaptive M suspension or the optional Dynamic Handling package. And then you've got the optional comfort seats (the rear ones slide and recline), top-class active safety features like radar cruise control and commute-speed lane-keeping assist, and an all-singing, all-dancing chorus line of electronic features.

If you like, you can get 2013 BMW X5's tires dirty, just as we did on a little loop through the woods at the Whistler Mountain ski resort. The all-wheel-drive system's electronic sensors will take care of the traction -- even the steep downhill parts that are scary -- so you'll be a hero to your kids when you show them a view of a mountain snowfield in mid-September. Of course, this 4960-lb vehicle with 8.2 inches of ground clearance and wide all-season tires is really meant only for mild roadside adventures, and you could probably go to the same places in something far less sophisticated, much as the short gravel trail to Brandywine Falls next to Hwy 99 can be walked in cocktail heels (as we've seen demonstrated by a woman of our acquaintance). The truth is, the BMW X5's all-wheel-drive magic is more likely to be appreciated on an icy paved road in winter than a two-track dirt road in late summer.

None of this comes cheaply, of course, which is one more reason why the 2014 BMW X5 is nothing like the 1991 Ford Explorer that started this whole sport-utility business. The two-wheel-drive X5 sDrive35i starts at $53,725, then you move up to the all-wheel-drive X5 xdrive35i at $56,025. Or choose the diesel-powered X5 xDrive30d at $57,525. Finally the V-8 powered X5 xDrive50i starts at $69,125. (All prices include $925 destination charge.)

But then there you are at the end of the day after a nice drive into the mountains with a little sightseeing thrown in plus a fine lunch in the out of doors, and you appreciate the 2014 BMW X5 for the miracle of mobility it is. Certainly this new BMW X5 is bit lighter and quicker on its feet, but no matter what combination of attributes you dial into this vehicle with powertrain choice or suspension calibration, it's not a sports car and it's not a dune-busting Dakar adventure vehicle. Instead, it's a useful luxury vehicle that can make light, happy work out of a trip into the countryside with friends or family, and this is what you will think of when you close the garage door at night on the 2014 BMW X5.

2014 BMW X5

  • On Sale: Now
  • Price: $53,725 - $69,125
  • Engine: 3.0L twin-turbo I6, 300 hp/300 lb-ft; 4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 445 hp/480 lb-ft; 3.0L twin-turbo I6 diesel, 255 hp/415 lb-ft
  • Drive: rear or 4-wheel