On the Road Review: BMW X5 5.0i

What if your family crossover wagon had the performance traits of a modern muscle car while retaining the functional versatility of the typical wagon?

And what if this wagon packed a rear-drive biased AWD system into a fully independent chassis augmented by adaptable settings that selectively adjust damping, steering feel, and even throttle settings to achieve the ride and handling dynamics that the driver wishes? Would you find this vehicle alluring, compelling enough to force you to mentally realign what is possible, probable and production-ready?

{gallery}x5 5.0i{/gallery} Since 1999, BMW has been building its midsize X5 crossover wagon here in the United States, in Spartanburg, S.C., at a sprawling $1.5-billion plant. Sold all over the world, these X5s are BMW’s most popular crossover wagon in this market, spurring BMW to fashion a larger, and surely even more profitable, X7 that will come to market next year.

Early X5s established a broader paradigm for this segment, eclipsing what the industry knew and thought from the then current Lexus RX and the Mercedes M-class that preceded the X5. BMW named the X5 a “sports activity vehicle” and hewed to that orientation first. Early X5s were available with manual transmissions and they possessed a sporting emphasis missing from the Lexus and Mercedes. In subsequent production years, high-performance V-8 engines were built (including a 555-hp M-series edition) as well as fuel-efficient diesel models.

The current F15 X5 — the third generation model — partially returns to these roots with a new base model featuring rear drive for $52,800. AWD adds $2,300 and will comprise the vast majority of sales. As with the original models, the X5 will retain its 6,000-pound tow rating as well.

Visually, the latest X5 benefits from more nip-and-tuck work than total redesign, giving the wagon smoother contours and a crisper appearance. The three models — all designated by their powerplants; 3.0i turbo-gas 3-liter six cylinder engine, 3.0d with a 265-hp 3-liter turbo-diesel motor, plus 5.0i model with a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 underhood — all come with five- or seven-passenger seating and a new eight-speed automatic. Our focus is on the splendid 5.0i edition, the made-in-America German muscle-car wearing wagon robes.

Slide into the X5’s supportive leather seating and an ergonomically correct cabin greets you. Window switches are now on the door panel, where they belong, while a full assortment of BMW’s catalog of features and options is supplied here; heated power tilting and telescoping steering wheel, power thigh extenders on the M-sport seat, automatic wipers, adjustable heads-up display on the base of the windshield, adjustable suspension selections, front and rear parking sensors, surround-view camera system, upgraded I-drive controller augmenting the simple, efficient push-button/knobs for the climate and audio components, push-button ignition with stop/start programming for fuel-saving, giant nav screen perfectly positioned atop the dash, a twin-panel sunroof — with power shades and both panels tilting open, and on the list goes. You may not need all of the available features, but once coddled by them, you won’t want to give them up.

In the second row, occupants also can get their leather seating heated while they enjoy privacy shades and ample room to spread out. Given the size of the cargo hold, as well as the promise of actually using it to haul your gear, adding the third row seating would seem to create unnecessary compromises that would undermine the usefulness of the X5’s design. While the Acura MDX might make do with a three-row layout, most buyers in the midsize segment should really consider larger vehicles for seven-passenger hauling and the X5 is no exception.

And, three-row hauling would not be an obvious priority if you have selected the 5.0i model. This X5 just plain rips. The 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine is quiet at speed — the cabin is hushed all of the time — but just tickle the throttle a little bit and the 5,300-pound wagon launches forward with a pace that will thrill all but the most jaded power fans. The 445-hp peak arrives at a lofty 6,000 rpms, however the torque peak of 480 pound/feet is available at just 2,000 rpms and stays constant throughout your elevated velocity pursuits. This mid-range grunt is quickly summoned.

And these velocity efforts could be numerous, as the forward surge available from the X5 is rather addictive. From 0-60 mph and through the usual quarter-mile test, the X5 5.0i is quicker than a Camaro SS or Mustang GT. Think about that; the BMW has a smaller V-8 engine (but does have two turbochargers and intercoolers) plus it outweighs both of those high-performance pony cars by more than 1,200 pounds, yet it is still quicker. The AWD system helps control chassis and body motions and certainly gets the V-8’s power to the ground appropriately, but this five-passenger wagon is one impressive powerhouse no matter how you slice it.

The thought occurred more than once during the X5’s visit; this is the most danger my license has been in for a long time.

The X5 earns big points for its useful and comfortable interior — complemented by excellent controls, stout powertrain and excellent driving dynamics, as well as its comfortable size. The X5 doesn’t feel unwieldy; it fits where you want it to fit and drives smoothly. It never ‘feels’ like a big crossover.

Fuel economy is commiserate with the power available; 20 mpg for our time together could have been higher, yet my fond memories of the BMW’s performance would have been marginalized. EPA numbers are 16/22-mpg so the realized efficiency is accurate for users who remember why they bought a crossover with those 5.0-emblems on the fenders.

On the downer side is the pricing and how expensive all of the jewels available here can ultimately be. A “base” 5.0i starts at $69,175. Our very well-equipped X5 version easily surpassed $80,000.

Other choices in this segment include the suddenly price-competitive Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, as well as the M-class AMG63, or the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S. Each of these wagons elevates the premise of what is possible with enough money and engineering.

And that raises another perspective. Over the past few weeks, we have seen two very different examples of some of Germany’s finest engineering. A few weeks back, a VW Passat TDI clean-diesel sedan visited and returned 50 mpg. This week’s BMW X5 produces more power than a Mustang or Camaro and beats them in the stoplight grand prix — while excelling in other pursuits as well.

Surprisingly still, both of these stars are built in the USA. Good signs all.

Two thumbs up for the X5 5.0i.

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Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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