Believe it or not, BMW (BMW.DE) has been selling its venerable X5 SUV here in the United States for 20 years. Yes, you heard that right — when Rob Thomas and Santana’s collab ’Smooth’ was dominating the radio airwaves and a young Keanu Reeves took the red pill in The Matrix — the X5 first appeared in BMW showrooms.
Now for the 2019 model year the BMW X5 is all new, and that is a very good thing.
Consumers, journalists, car fans, whatever category you fall into, you’ve likely noticed that almost all SUVS are basically cookie-cutter, identical versions of the same vehicle with different badging.
The X5 range for BMW have been a great seller, and a performance vehicle at that, but they’ve become something of a yawn: competent, but nothing to brag about.
For 2019, however, Rick Newman and I discovered BMW has given its new X5 some needed oomph in the styling department and tech suite as well.
Getting the basics out of the way — There’s a rear-wheel drive base model as well an all-wheel drive version (xDrive 40i), with a twin-turbo inline 6-cylinder that puts out 335hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. For those looking for more seating, an optional 3rd row seat is available.
Where the X5 is starting to stand out, is in the looks department. It’s not as beastly as the new X7, but it’s taken some of its better cues, slimmed down a bit, and voilà — you have a sporty-looking SUV.
Our tester was the X5 xDrive50i, which included BMW’s optional aerodynamic kit which gave the X5’s sporting body and even more athletic look, but more importantly, this trim level gives it the heart of a beast.
A powerful engine
Under the hood is BMW’s 4.4L twin-turbo V8, good for a raucous 456 hp and 479 lb-feet of torque, paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, and, because why not, launch control. And for good measure, hanging off the lower rear end like a sonic cannon was BMW’s M Sport performance exhaust system.
To say this car put a smile on my face upon start-up is an understatement. I was full-on grinning with glee upon hearing the roar out of the exhaust system when that big V8 turned over. Yes, this is why you might spend more on that exhaust system and that engine — it makes a statement every time.
In ‘sport’ mode, throttle response and overall acceleration were at times severe — but in a good way. What was odd was realizing we were flinging around in an SUV that weighs around 5000 lbs, not an BMW M4 coupe.
Dialing it back a notch in ‘comfort’ mode, there was still decent throttle response and light but accurate steering, with that raucous exhaust behaving itself. Very executive BMW-like, if you know what I mean. From the driver’s seat you’re still a little elevated despite the X5’s sporting ambitions, as this is an SUV after all.
Now for those looking more power, the X5 M50i is available, with a monstrous 523hp and 553 lb-ft of torque.
Amenities and ‘gesture control’
One area that BMW has really stepped it up recently, and it really shines here, is the interior. Rick and I were both really impressed with fit and finish, materials, and those great, big dual digital displays.
The virtual cockpit, or as BMW calls it “Live Cockpit Pro,” is really growing on me from a design and functionality point of view: very easy to configure and get all the data you need.
The latest version of BMW’s iDrive — iDrive 7 — keeps improving and becoming more intuitive for drivers to use while driving. One really big knock however: While one year of Apple CarPlay is included when you buy the car, after that you'll have to pay a subscription fee to use it. Yes you read that right, a subscription fee when automakers like Hyundai offer it for free.
Turning back to the controls, while things like the crystal-looking all-glass shifter was a little overkill, one thing that was not was BMW’s ‘natural voice control’ and ‘gesture control.’
While I joked that it was something of a parlor game, being able to control the audio controls — volume, change track, change source — with just hand gestures while driving was pretty cool, and it kept your eyes on the road. And BMW’s voice control was like Amazon Alexa for the car, responding to commands to make calls or send texts, you can also tell the X5 to lower and raise the temperature in the driver’s zone. Cool stuff.
All in all the new X5 is a worthy competitor in the luxury midsize SUV class. You’re going to pay for it (base price: $75,750; price as tested: $91,455), but that’s the cost of admission at that level. Do you need the twin-turbo V8? Probably not for 90% of buyers, but it’s nice knowing BMW will let you get a little bonkers if you feel the need.