2014 BMW X5 first drive
It’s a BMW and it’s got a diesel – get used to it
Photo: Jeremy Sinek
Vancouver, B.C. -- I suspect the boardroom in Munich was somewhat conflicted when BMW spawned the original X5 in 1999. After all, BMW lives and dies by its rep as a maker of athletic, efficient cars. And the X5 was basically a sport-utility vehicle – a species of vehicle antithetical to athletic efficiency.
BMW likely would never have built such a vehicle were it not for Americans’ perverse (but, for the automakers, highly profitable) passion for SUVs. With arch-rival Mercedes already building its own SUV in the U.S., what else was a self-respecting automaker to do? Production began, and has remained, at BMW’s plant in South Carolina.
Another thing BMW could and did do was not call the X5 an SUV. After all, the word “utility” is so ... well, utilitarian. Hence the X5 was not another me-too SUV, but the world’s first Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV). And the BMW board only gave the X5 the go-ahead after ensuring that it had the road manners worthy of the badge on its hood.
Fortunately BMW could afford to engineer the X5 more like a car since, at that time, the Bavarians still had Land Rover in its portfolio to satisfy hard-core off-road customers,.
More of the same, but better
Photo: Jeremy Sinek
Fourteen years later the X5 is entering its third generation, and it speaks to the rightness of the original package that the 2014 is a cautious evolution of its predecessor. As with most new cars these days, the body is larger and roomier, yet lighter and more aerodynamic; performance is greater, yet fuel consumption is reduced; and, inevitably, there are ever more electronic driving chaperones to protect you from your distractedness as you play, work and communicate with the ever-expanding onboard connectivity and infotainment technologies.
The all-turbocharged powertrain lineup is as before – 3.0-litre six-cylinder gasoline or diesel engines, or a 4.4-litre V8 -- but with refinements. The diesel finally joins its siblings in having an eight-speed transmission, which alone promises significant advances in efficiency.
At first glance, the 2014 shape is defined not so much by new lines, as a barely perceptible re-arrangement of the existing lines. Many exterior details will vary according to the customer’s choice between three exterior/interior appearance Lines on offer: no-charge xLine or Luxury Line; or the $4,000 extra-cost MSport Line. Also available are four optional wheel styles. Interior aesthetic personalisation is enabled by a choice between Ivory or Mocha Design Packages, as alternatives to five colours of standard leather trim. Third-row seating, intended for occupants below 1.5 metres in height, is optional.
On the dynamics side, BMW’s usual vast inventory of electronic stability and traction aids can be supplemented with options like Dynamic Damper Control, self-leveling suspension, Dynamic Performance Control, Active Roll Stabilization and Active Steering, all of which can optimise driving comfort and/or control according to driver taste.
As well, the standard Driving Dynamics Control’s EcoPro mode (the others are Comfort, Sport and Sport+) now collaborates with the navigation system to select the most fuel-efficient routes, while Proactive Driving Assistant function tells you when to ease off the accelerator in advance of approaching curves or reduced-speed zones.
Don’t even get me started on all the distract-and-protect electronics. Suffice to say that various standard or optional features could theoretically let you, say, process e-mail, make hotel reservations and manage your appointments calendar all while the X5 automatically drives itself in stop-and-go traffic at speeds below 40 km/h; along the way, the car will look out for errant pedestrians, and when you reach your destination it will parallel-park itself. OK, maybe not all of that is yet possible at the same time, but the building blocks are in place. The autonomous automobile draws ever closer, and BMW intends to be ready.