The original “Sport Activity Vehicle” is still at the top of its game.
There are a few household names amongst the premium sport utility vehicles, and while some take you deep into the six figures in terms of price, the 2019 BMW X5 xDrive50i is a little more modest, relatively speaking, and is an all-new fourth generation model for this year. Having been a smash hit amongst consumers since the original came out in 2000, the formula for the “Sports Activity Vehicle” X5 has stayed pretty much the same: offer six and eight cylinder engine options, two rows of seating (a third row is optional on six cylinder models), and a commanding presence on the road. Having recently tested a more mildly equipped xDrive40i model (reviewed here), we decided to check out the turbocharged V8 you see here.
For starters, the base price for a six-cylinder xDrive40i X5 starts at $71,500, and the V8 xDrive50i seen here starts at $86,000. The test vehicle came with the $16,000 Premium Excellence Package, which adds just about every available option under the sun. For your money, you get adaptive air suspension at all four corners (that can lower for loading cargo!), four-zone climate control, BMW Individual Extended Merino Leather, LaserLight headlights, Harman/Kardon premium audio, massage seats for both front passengers, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, panoramic sunroof, soft closing doors, wireless charging, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Only one standalone option was equipped – the interior had Piano Black wood Trim with Satin Chrome Highlight for $400 extra, bringing the as-tested price just past the century mark at $102,400.
The new generation X5 is slightly longer, wider, and taller, which BMW says will give it a more muscular appearance while at the same time increasing space for passengers and their stuff – the big grille up front also helps. Cargo capacity is quoted at 650L (22.9 cubic feet) behind the second row, and folding the seats down expands things to 1,870L (66 cubic feet). The two-section fold down tailgate is particularly useful, and its power operation works very well in day to day use. Front and rear passengers can sit in comfort, with ample legroom for adults to sit at any position, where they can take in the wonderfully designed interior.
There are plenty of little details to like inside the X5, including the crystal shift knob, overall fit and finish, and just the right amount of metal and gloss black to make things look and feel as premium as they should be. The front massage seats make the supple Ivory White Extended Merino Leather surfaces even better, and help to reduce strain and fatigue on longer trips. The digital gauge cluster is a little confusing at first, with speedometer and tachometer rotating in opposite directions (ever tried twiddling your thumbs each in a different direction?), but this got better after a week of driving.
BMW’s dial-operated iDrive infotainment and control system carries on in the X5, but with a new and updated interface. It’s still slick and easy to interact with, and there are buttons and dials for most commonly used functions. Big thanks to BMW for finally re-introducing the Synchronize function for the automatic climate control, which is a boon for easier climate adjustments when only the driver is in the car. The control dial interface and general button layout, however, has changed in just enough ways such that a previous BMW owner will resort to muscle memory and hit the wrong function, or no function at all. Like the gauge cluster, this got better after a week, but was a point of frustration initially.
The xDrive50i sports an updated version of the “N63” 4.4-litre twin turbocharged V8 engine. It’s always been a smooth operator with some of the best power delivery in the business, and the current iteration builds upon that with incremental improvements. Peak output is 456 horsepower between 5,250 and 6,000RPM, and torque maxes out at a stump-pulling 479 lb-ft between 1,500 and 4,750RPM. In practice, this means that the xDrive50i packs a knockout punch no matter where the revs are, and with the twin turbochargers arranged in a hot-V setup on top, drivers will swear that the V8 responds more like a naturally aspirated engine. It also pumps out a great soundtrack that will make you want to come back for more.
Coupled to the V8 is one transmission option only: an eight-seed automatic. Like the engine, the ZF 8HP unit isn’t new from the ground up, but is heavily updated and makes an already good transmission even better. Shift timing, shift speed, and smoothness are all industry hallmarks, and the gearbox works quickly and efficiently enough to allow uninterrupted power delivery through the surefooted xDrive all-wheel drive system. With such a well-executed combination, BMW says that the sprint to 100KM/H happens in only 4.7 seconds(!).
Even with all the fun in the powertrain department, fuel consumption isn’t exactly going to break the bank. There is no reality in which the X5 xDrive50i is fuel efficient, but its city rating of 15.3L/100KM and highway rating of 11.1L/100KM are relatively small prices to pay for the degree of fun to be had – and you’re going to score a lot worse than these numbers if you’re less disciplined with your throttle use. Observed economy after a week of mixed driving fell in between the two figures, at 13.8L/100KM. Tank capacity is a rather large 83L, and even though midgrade fuel (89 octane) is the minimum fuel requirement, premium (91 octane or better) is recommended.
Another important factor in the BMW X5’s historically strong reputation has been its handling. The electronically controlled Dynamic Damper Control system serves to increase both ride quality and cornering prowess, and is configurable in normal or sportier modes to suit an individual drivers’ tastes. In practice, setting the suspension on the more comfortable mode and the steering to firmer was the ultimate sweet spot. This can be done in the Sport-Individual driving mode. The X5’s overall ride height and centre of gravity won’t ever make it as good as an equivalent sport sedan or coupe by BMW, it is definitely about as good as it gets for any SUV out there.
And while carving corners and other tomfoolery can be fun, there’s also BMW’s full complement of modern driver assist systems to keep drivers and their passengers safe. Both a camera system and a radar system are employed on the X5, and are capable of forward collision warning (with autonomous braking), lane keeping assist, front and rear cross traffic alerts, adaptive cruise control, and pedestrian detection with city collision mitigation, among other things.
Within the Premium Excellence Package, the Driving Assistant Professional option provides additional capability of handling autonomous driving in traffic jams, as well as evasion aid. Although it sounds like a feature that helps you lose law enforcement that’s hot on your tail, it actually is a system that helps drivers avoid collisions through automatic steering assistance. If the X5 detects that a driver is trying to steer quickly to avoid a sudden obstacle in the car’s path, it can offer its own steering input to get the car to safety.
After nearly twenty years on the market, the original “Sport Activity Vehicle” that helped redefine the premium sport utility market is still at the top of its game. The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive50i can cost you over a hundred grand, but as a perennial segment influencer, it stays at the top of its game and then some. Having gobs of power routed through a great transmission and all-wheel drive system adds plenty of spice to your life, and matching that up with good handling is icing on the cake. Add to this an interior and driving experience that feels ostentatiously premium, and you end up with a real recipe for success. One can spend a lot more on other SUVs with a high degree of diminishing returns!