Runner-Up

2015 BMW X5 xDrive35i

I’ve gotta be honest with you. I loved everything about the 2015 Volvo XC90 and it has ruined me for all other SUVs. Nothing on the market has its combination of modern style, technology, room, and drivability. Which is sad, really, because, now I have to review the BMW X5, a car about which I might otherwise have said many nice things.

How it looks

2015 BMW X5

BMW has had a bit of a design issue in recent years. Their design bureau has decided that the sheet metal on a BMW must be festooned with a variety of folds and creases that serve no discernible purpose. Happily, with the X5, BMW has decided on a more restrained styling concept,  eschewing the many-rippled sheet metal for a more restrained style.

That works out well for the X5, making it look less aggressive, and more restrained. On a high-performance vehicle, like, say, the BMW M4, the in-your-face styling is much more appropriate. In a family/cargo carrier, a more modest styling approach works better, and the X5 benefits from it.

At the same time, BMW has ensured that the X5 is instantly recognizable as a BMW—which is a harder job than you might think. The SUV form factor is basically a big box you sit in, behind a smaller box that contains the motor. Trying to make that form distinctly brand-recognizable is a hard job, but BMW has excelled at it.

Not everyone manages to do this. For instance, take a look at the grossly over designed Lexus GX, a monstrosity that practically screams to be dispatched with a stake through its heart. Or the soporifically dull Infiniti QX60, which, I believe, is a leading cause of automobile accidents, as merely glancing at one driving down the road almost instantly induces deep REM sleep among other drivers. And we won’t even talk about the Audi Q7, whose style you could acquire much cheaper by buying a Honda Odyssey.

On the interior, the BMW X5 is less impressive. Not because it isn’t nice, because the X5 is quite nice indeed. Rich leather and expensive materials adorn the interior. But what’s disappointing about it is best explained in the pictures below.

BMW Interior Comparison

The picture at the top is the interior of the 1994 BMW 540i sedan. At the bottom is the new X5’s interior. What strikes me is that the major design elements of the BMW dashboard remains essentially unchanged from twenty-one years ago. The horizontal strip of wood that bisects the dashboard is still there. There are more things on display in the X5—such as the large color center screen, which appears to have been mounted on the dash as an afterthought—but the fundamental design is one of incremental difference, not a fundamental redesign.

Before I saw the Volvo CX90’s ultra-modern interior, I thought nothing about the interior of the X5. But now it seems dated and old. Perhaps it’s time for a major redesign of the BMW dashboard, ahead of using the same basic design that’s been around since before Friends went on the air.

That aside, the BMW X5’s interior, as you’d expect for an SUV whose price starts at $53,900 and climbs rapidly when options are added, is a nice place to be. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and are swathed in buttery-soft leather. Hard plastic is minimized, with polished wood and aluminum displayed in its place.

Rear seating is also reasonably roomy and comfortable, so all of your passengers will be swaddled in ease during your journey. Sadly, your journey will need to be a relatively short one, as there won’t be a lot of space for their luggage. With the rear seats up, the X5 has 22.9 cu. ft. of cargo capacity. Compare and contrast with the smaller BMW X3, which has…wait for it…27.6 cu. ft. of cargo space with the seats up. Put the X5’s rear seats down, however, and you get 66 cu. ft of space, which is nice, but isn’t nearly as good as the Volvo XC90’s 85.7 cu. ft., though to be fair, the Volvo has significantly less space (15.8 cu.ft.) with the seats up. So, the BMW has more luggage space if you’re traveling with friends, but much less cargo space overall. This is odd, as BMW drivers are generally far less likely to have friends.

The large, 10.2 inch, color screen in the center stack is running the newest generation of BMW’s iDrive system, which is useful, chock full of information, and approximately 35% less likely to make you want to commit suicide when using it, compared to previous generations of iDrive. Still, like almost all automotive displays, the interface is clunky and irritating. How is it, with 2016 nearly here, almost no one has gotten in-car user interfaces right, yet?  

Well, that’s not entirely true. The In-car system in the Volvo XC90 is pretty good. Even though it’s a touch screen that gets rapidly encrusted with your filth as you touch it.

How it drives

P90172715 highRes

The first generation of the BMW X5 was powered by a 4.4L V-8 with 285 HP and 324 lb-ft of torque, and which gave it a 0-60 time of 7.3 seconds. Now the xDrive25i model comes with a twin-turbocharged 3.0L I-6m with 300 horsepower and 300 torques that push the X5 to 60 MPH in 6.1 seconds. Pressing the accelerator, after minimal but noticeable turbo lag, provides a satisfying rush forward. A more satisfying rush can be obtained by spending the extra $20,000 for the 4.4L bi-turbo V8, whose 445 HP and 480 torques result in a 4.7 second 0-60 time, which is properly quick, but fairly pricey. And, of course, totally unnecessary in a SUV. No, the xDrive35i is fast enough for most people, and far more affordable.

Oh, there’s a turbo-diesel option available as well, but I hate diesels, so I’m not going to talk about it, even though that’s probably the version you should get.

The X5 handles more quickly and nimbly than you’d expect for a 4,780 lb. SUV, and provides a near-sedan-like driving experience, while, at the same time, giving you the higher seating and more commanding view of the road. The ergonomics are superlative, placing all of the controls exactly to hand when you need them, and, of course, since they’ve been in the same place for over two decades, the controls are precisely where you expect them to be.

The ride quality has much of the traditional BMW feel, but seems a bit stiff. Even in Comfort mode, the suspension still transmits some of the bumpiness from road imperfections to the seat of your pants. The ride isn’t as smooth or as comfortable as the XC90—which is not to say it’s worse, but it is different. It’s a sportier-feeling ride. I certainly don’t have a problem with a sporty feel, but I’m not entirely sure it’s needed in what is, at the end of the day, a luxury SUV. It gives the X5 and overall ride quality that seems unnecessarily harsh compared to the XC90. Another factor is the active suspension control that acts at all times to counteract the X5’s inertia and limit body roll. You can’t tell, but it’s working really, really hard, and I don’t know how you square the circle between restraining inertia and softening the ride.

Yet, Volvo does it with the XC90, so go figure.

2015 BMW X5

Some people like that BMW stiffness. It makes them feel like they’re strafing the Nordschleife at the Nurburgring. It also contributes to the riding-on-rails BMW handling that we’ve come to love in the 3-series. Or that we used to love in the 3-series before BMW softened and ruined it. But, that’s another review. In any event, the X5 corners well—better, in fact, than you expect from a vehicle of this size. The all-wheel drive gives you some extra confidence, as well, as the X5 seems to laugh at the very concept of physics in general, and inertia in particular, as you chuck its 2.5 tons into a turn.

The X5’s fantastic braking system is powerful, shows minimum juddering under full stop, and showed no signs of fade. What’s more, BMW has a collision mitigation system that applies the brakes if an impact seems imminent, and, it seems to work well in government testing, though, happily, I didn’t personally have to test the system.

Like all modern vehicles, the X5 is equipped with electrically-assisted power steering. It’s well-weighted, and provides increasing resistance at speed. It also seems sticky on top dead center, and not entirely linear in response to your inputs. It’s hard to steer the X5 with much fluidity. Steering the X5 is more like wielding a butcher knife than a scalpel: they both cut well, but the butcher knife isn’t very precise.

Also, the 8-speed automatic transmission—while undoubtedly great at providing the X5’s 23/31 MPG fuel economy, is not so good at other things. First, engine braking is minimal, so you need to be a little harder on the brakes. Second, thanks to the turbos, you need to downshift a gear to two to get the turbos spinning to pass quickly on the highway. Keeping the revs up to keep the turbo in boost will, of course, drastically reduce the rated fuel economy, so, expect around 25 MPG, rather than 31 MPG. 

Still, overall, its better to drive than you’d expect from an SUV, and it still drives far more like a sedan than a truck.

What’s good about it

The X5 is comfortable and luxurious, with plenty of room for drivers and passengers. The large center screen is easy to see. The dynamic handling and braking make it fun to drive, while the AWD system inspires confidence, and greatly improves traction. The fit and finish are outstanding, and the cabin of the X5 is a nice place to spend time.

What’s bad about it

The ride is a bit stiff, and the steering is a bit sticky and lunky. The 8-speed automatic transmission limits your ability to have a bit of naughty fun, except in sport mode, which, in turn, limits your ability to get decent gas mileage. Storage space with the rear seats up is still a bit cramped, though better than in previous generations of the X5. The interior design is a bit busy and dated.

Conclusion

The BMW X5 is a perfectly fine luxury SUV. My problem is that I drove it back-to-back with the Volvo XC90, and, in comparison, the X5 is worse in every possible way. The interior looks old and dated in comparison, the iDrive system with it’s center-stack controller, seems like a stupid information system compared to the XC90’s touch-screen. It lets you feel road imperfections you’d rather ignore. Every minute I drove it, I wished I was in the XC90.

What I probably should’ve done is drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee between driving the XC90 and the X5. That way the X5 would’ve felt better to drive. But I didn’t, so now all I can tell you is, given the same price, if you choose a BMW X5 over a Volvo XC90, then you’re doing exactly what ISIS wants.

UPDATE: Thanks go to various Opposite Lock readers who noticed some incorrect images and engine displacement figures. I was trying to finish this before bed last night, when I realized that all my pictures were of the eDrive version with the plug-in port on the left front fender, so I grabbed some X5 photos, but they were the previous-generation body. In my rush to get to bed on a work night, I didn’t notice. Sorry for the mistakes. I strive for accuracy in these reviews but, I cut some corners last night because I was tired, and they slipped in anyway. I apologize.

Also, you can always count on Oppo readers to let you know how badly you’ve screwed up.

Author: Dale Franks

Dale Franks is the former host of The Business Day, ”a daily, four-hour business and financial news program on KMNY Radio in Los Angeles. From 2002-2004, he was a contributor on military and international affairs for TechCentralStation.com. Currently, he a publisher and editor of the monthly political journal The New Libertarian, as well as an editor of the popular web log, Q and O. Dale served as a military police officer in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 1993, in variety of assignments both in the United States and Europe, where he also was assigned to the staff of the Headquarters of Allied Forces Central Europe. In addition to broadcasting, writing, and speaking on various topics, Dale has also been a long-time technical training instructor on a variety of computer software and technology subjects. Dale has also long been involved with information technology as an accomplished web designer, programmer, and technologist, serving as the corporate knowledge specialist for Microsoft Outlook at SAIC, the nation's largest employee-owned corporation. Additionally, he is the author of a number of software user guides used for classroom training by one of Southern California’'s premier computer training and consulting firms. His book, SLACKERNOMICS: Basic Economics for People Who Find Economics Boring, is available from Barnes & Noble.

2 thoughts on “Runner-Up”

  1. “This is odd, as BMW drivers are generally far less likely to have friends.”

    Isn’t Michael Wade a BMW guy?

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