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2019 BMW X5 Test Drive Review
The BMW X5 redefined SUVs 20 years ago, leaning into the idea that you could have truck form and car function all in one package. In fact, BMW branded the original X5 as an SAV—a Sport Activity Vehicle—to help emphasize the fact that it drove as well as the company's famous sport sedans. And while that claim was a bit of an overreach, the original X5 did outperform its SUV competitors on the road. Now in its fourth generation, BMW’s midsize crossover continues to deliver on that two-decade-old promise: The X5 delivers car-like handling in an SUV form. And while the 2019 X5 stretches 1 inch longer, 3 inches wider, and 1 inch taller than last year's model, you’d have to look closely to notice the differences. Most obvious is a new and bigger kidney grille with active shutters. It has already received flak for being “comically large,” though in my opinion, it seems proportional to the rest of the vehicle—enough to make me wonder if the grilles on previous iterations of the X5 were too small. Inside, you’ll find a redesigned interior with an updated version of the iDrive system, and a suite of Level 2 autonomous technology that unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired. But that shouldn’t dissuade you from BMW’s revolutionary recreational vehicle, because there’s still a lot to love.
Look and Feel
Obviously, no 5,000-pound crossover will perfectly mimic the experience of driving a sedan. It's simply too tall and too heavy. But BMW has focused the X5 on this goal, making it a point of purpose since its inception. And it has succeeded—so much so that the original was criticized for not being a better off-road performer. As it turns out, BMW was just a bit ahead of the rest of the field here, recognizing that people don’t really want to take their SUVs off-road, and they’d much rather have a smooth ride on the pavement than a few more degrees of articulation during a rock crawl.
Today’s X5 starts with a five-passenger layout that can be optionally expanded to seven. However, don’t expect much space in that third row. If seven-passenger seating is one of your core needs in a crossover, you’d be better served looking for a dedicated 3-row option.
Power is provided by two turbocharged engines: a classic 3.0-liter, inline 6-cylinder for the xDrive40i, or the xDrive50i's 4.4-liter V8. Both are mated to the well-reviewed ZF 8-speed automatic, which operates flawlessly enough to make you forget that dual-clutch automatics even exist.
Starting with the xDrive40i, a base price of $60,700 will get you all-wheel drive (AWD); adaptive LED headlights and foglights; a panoramic sunroof; an adaptive suspension; 19-inch alloy wheels; dual-zone automatic climate control; a leather-wrapped, power-adjustable steering wheel; faux-leather upholstery with heated front seats; a power liftgate; ambient lighting; and a digital gauge cluster with a 12.3-inch secondary touchscreen. Notably, the most economical version of the X5 still comes with an impressive safety suite, including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. The xLine design package will essentially give your X5 off-road-appropriate exterior trim, including unique wheels. Moving up to the M Sport design package means adding $5,850 to the purchase price to cover a bevy of bonuses, including unique 20-inch wheels and an adaptive M suspension tune, M steering wheel and aero kit, upgraded leather, four-zone auto climate controls, keyless entry, satellite radio, and roof rails.
From there, it’s all about the packages—or “tiers” in BMW language. The Convenience package, which is trim-specific, is a good idea. For $1,150, you’ll add keyless entry (which is shockingly not included as standard equipment), dual-zone climate control for the rear passengers, and satellite radio (another shameful omission from the standard-equipment list). The xDrive50i includes all this for $75,750 and adds the V8 engine, upgraded multi-contour front seats with real leather upholstery, and a 16-speaker Harman Kardon stereo.
Both the xDrive40i and the xDrive50i can be upgraded with the Premium Package, which is another $1,350 on top of the required Convenience package and adds a head-up display, a wireless charging pad, enhanced USB and Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-view camera with 3D view, gesture control for the infotainment system, and automatic parallel parking via Parking Assistant Plus.
An Executive Package ($2,050 above and beyond the Convenience and Premier packages) will further add soft-close doors, manual shades for the rear windows, remote engine start, heated and cooled front cupholders, and adaptive LED “laser” headlights, which use lasers to activate yellow phosphorus and create light that is 10 times brighter than traditional LEDs. Seriously.
Smaller packages not grouped into tiers can steer your X5 in whatever direction you’d like, be it for comfort, sport, or off-road capability. Standalone options include a rear-seat entertainment system, an upgraded stereo, night-vision capability, and—curiously—ventilated seats. I found it surprising that my car was outfitted to such a thorough level, yet still didn’t include the ventilated seats.
My week with the X5 was spent in an xDrive40i in Mineral White Metallic ($550), fitted with the optional 20-inch wheels ($600) and M Sport brakes ($650). The Executive Tier added a whopping $5,100 to the purchase price (remember, it stacks on top of the lower packages), while the two-axle air suspension was another $1,000. The running boards tacked another $400 onto the price, while the heated armrests and steering wheel added another $250. It took $1,200 to have the dashboard wrapped in leather, and the Harman Kardon stereo was another $875. It should be noted that my vehicle had the Parking Assistant Plus package included as part of the Premium Tier, but this has since been removed and is now a $700 standalone option. Additionally, the M Sport brakes are not currently available as a selectable option on BMW’s website for this particular car configuration, but I have confirmed with BMW that they are definitely available on any 20-inch wheel. That’s a very good thing, because they’re a great upgrade for the price and look damn snazzy behind the wheels to boot! With a $995 destination charge, my walkaway price was $73,980. With the changes made to the package- and option-availability, however, I’ve confirmed with BMW that to outfit an identical X5 today, the price would come with an MSRP of $75,620.
If there’s one reason you should buy an X5, this is the section that should convince you. The buttery-smooth, turbocharged, inline 6-cylinder engine that powers every xDrive40i sounds great and delivers consistent power. There’s no waiting for it to arrive. It's always there, especially if you keep the transmission in Sport mode.
And speaking of transmissions, the 8-speed, ZF-sourced automatic here does everything right. This year, it benefits from new software, wider gear ratios, and new torsion dampers for better efficiency and smoother changes. There are no stumbles in stop-and-go traffic like you’ll often get with smaller turbocharged engines mated to high-gear transmissions and dual-clutch automatics. Even better, it actually delivers on the EPA-estimated 20 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined.
Three hundred thirty-five horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque represent increases of 35 and 30, respectively. And though BMW claims 60 mph will come in just 5.3 seconds, you can expect to get there a few tenths more quickly than that. This is a fast vehicle, particularly considering it weighs more than two tons. But if it’s not fast enough, the xDrive50i’s turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 delivers 456 hp and 479 lb-ft—meaning you’ll hit 60 mph in around 4 seconds flat.
That’s all very impressive, but I was more amazed by the ride. This new X5 is built on BMW’s Cluster Architecture platform, which can now be found in nearly every BMW, as well as the new Toyota Supra. It combines steel and aluminum with carbon fiber for all the usual reasons: more strength, less weight, and better performance. The standard X5 comes with a double-A-arm front- and multi-link rear suspension with adaptive dampers, but my tester came with the $1,000 optional air suspension. The big upgrade here is that it now has adjustable airbags at all four corners of the suspension as opposed to just in the rear, as before. This means the X5 can be raised up to 1.6 inches higher than its base stance and lowered the same amount in the rear for easier cargo loading. And if you want a sportier look and feel—or better aerodynamics on the highway—you can lower it nearly an entire inch all around.
And while the adjustable height is nice, I'm really impressed by the bump absorption. The X5 absolutely shocked me with how well it was able to deliver a smooth but still sporty ride, especially running on 20-inch run-flat tires. Things will only improve with the stock 19-inch wheels, and even more so if you ditch the run-flats. If you want things a bit sportier, there’s always the Dynamic Handling Package, and more dirt-focused consumers will be attracted to the $4,000 off-road package with the air suspension, skid plates, a new electronically locking rear differential, and off-road driving modes with selectable terrain settings.
Form and Function
Things have changed inside the X5. Its classic, understated design has been replaced by aggressive angles everywhere and dual 12.3-inch screens as a new home for the updated iDrive infotainment interface. It’s a nice design, but unless you splurge for some of the more expensive options, like the upgraded trim or the glass and ceramic buttons and switches, things can feel a little cheap compared to the competition. Even the entry-level Mercedes A-Class I tested previously felt nicer.
I also had trouble getting comfortable in the seats. I always felt I was sitting on top of the seat rather than in it, even with the thigh supports extended. I wanted them to be a bit wider, with more aggressive bolstering for the thighs. My core was supported just fine, though I couldn’t get the lumbar supports in the right position to not cramp up after an hour or so. And with the upgraded leather upholstery and no ventilation, the seats were hot, too. Several times, both myself and passengers would check to make sure we didn’t accidentally leave the seat heaters on—and this was in April. I’m just glad I wasn’t testing it in July. For this reason, the $1,600 Luxury Seating package would be on my list—it adds ventilation, massage, and what BMW calls “ergonomically designed multi-contour front seats.”
Space, however, was not an issue. There was plenty of room front and back, even with two adults sitting tandem. The 33.9 cubic feet in the trunk—expandable to 72.3 with the seats down—provided an easily accessible cargo area that was made even easier to access by my air suspension. With the touch of a button located right on the split rear tailgate—a feature that harkens back to the original X5’s Land Rover Range Rover origins—I was able to drop the rear of the car for easier loading. Don’t forget to look under the flat floor, either, as there is a ton of space hiding down there. And if you’re looking to tow, the X5 can handle up to 7,200 pounds when properly outfitted.
The available technology was my biggest disappointment with the X5. It seemed like the car was fighting me everywhere I turned. The gesture control works begrudgingly at best, the screens are customizable but not nearly as much as the competition, and the voice controls are picky. I generally had no issues with the system, but my cameraman, who has a very slight Swedish accent, couldn’t get the system to understand him at all. It was shockingly imprecise when he tried using it.
The updated iDrive interface isn’t bad by any means. I’ve just seen and used better at this point. It’s predictably daunting at first, but all in all, it's a well-designed system that just takes a little bit of time to learn to use. My main frustration is with the steering wheel's controls, which seemed counterintuitive and took me the longest to memorize.
The biggest issue I had was with the Driving Assistance Plus package, which offers what BMW refers to as “strong Level 2 autonomy.” If you choose that $1,700 package, the X5 can provide limited hands-off driving; it can maintain speed, brake, keep you in your lane, and even change lanes for you. The problem is, it’s not very good. To be clear, I’m talking about only high-speed operation here. The Extended Traffic Jam Assistant, which keeps the car going through stop-and-start traffic on its own, is just lovely. It works without issue and makes situations where I’d normally be pulling my hair out completely tolerable. I can’t recommend it strongly enough. But at speed, things are different.
Keep in mind, I tested the X5 in California, on smooth roads with clear, visible lines and perfect weather… and it still failed. The car wanders back and forth in the lane enough to make you seasick, it gets fooled by shadows, and one time it even tried following the car in front of me as it changed lanes. And if you try to give it a little input to mitigate all this overcorrection, it fights you pretty aggressively. I just ended up turning it off after around 300 miles of testing and struggling, because at that point I was considering it a safety issue. For that reason, it’s a package I’d leave off your order list. The adaptive cruise is good enough for me.
There are other, fancier options you can add, like Parking Assistant Plus, for automatic parallel parking that works a treat. Personally, I still prefer doing my own parallel parking, but the 3D camera you also get with this $700 package seems worth it alone. Definitely check that one out. For $2,300 you can add a night-vision system for an enhanced view of warm life forms at night—good luck avoiding the 'gators down south—or, for $2,200, you can add a rear-seat entertainment system. The $875 Harman Kardon stereo provided excellent sound from its 12 speakers and 360 watts of power, especially considering how quiet the X5 was on the highway. But if that still isn’t enough, a $4,200 Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system will get you 1,500 watts of power pumped through 20 speakers.
Take tech out of the equation, and there's still some safety news to be had. The X5 is part of the first round of BMWs to get the new brake-by-wire setup that is necessary for the semi-autonomous driving features. Thankfully, it’s not an abrupt transition from a traditional hydraulic setup, with a nearly natural feel that provided some unfamiliar feedback during only the last moments of braking, when the brakes could occasionally get briefly grabby. With the M Sport brakes, you can expect to come to a stop from 60 mph in 119 feet, which is a bit long considering a Porsche Cayenne can do it in 105, and that number will only increase with the standard brake setup and winter tires.
A 4-star rating from the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is matched by 4-star ratings in all frontal crash and rollover tests, though side crash tests all received 5 stars. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) was more kind, naming the 2019 BMW X5 a Top Safety Pick+ and awarding it top scores in all tests.
The X5 starts at 60 grand, but if you want V8 power and all the trimmings, you can easily go over $100K. Thankfully, there are some obvious ways to save some money—and the Driving Assistance Plus package is at the top of the list.
Its engine and transmission really set the X5 apart from the competition. Jump in a competitor's base trim and you’ll be greeted by an uninspired powerplant, with the real power and performance hidden several thousand dollars up the lineup. With the X5, your only options are “good” and “great,” and even if you don’t spend a dollar beyond the base MSRP, you’ll be getting one of the best engine-and-transmission combos on the market today.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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2019 BMW X5 Top Comparisons
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