The X5 has always been a lightening rod for loyal BMW enthusiasts. An SUV (or SAV or crossover depending on who you talk to) it went AWD when BMW’s were about rear wheel drive. It’s catered to utility and high seating positions when BMW’s were suppose to be about driver involvement. And it was big. The current six cylinder X5 weighs in at 4982. The 48i model with the naturally aspirated V8 (soon to be repaced with a twin turbo unit) pounds the pavement to the tune of 5335 lbs. To put that in perspective that is more than double the 2227 lbs typically listed for the early 70′s BMW 2002tii. While not a natural comparison but it’s worth noting at the very least that the BMW X5 has strayed more than any other vehicle in BMW’s current fleet from the origins of the sports sedan that made the brand the ultimate driving machine.
Yet the X5 is astonishing in what it can do, how it feels and yes, how it performs. And no where in the range is this more evident than with the new X5 35d. The 35d is the first X5 diesel to be sold in the US and uses the same 3.0L twin turbo diesel found in the 335d we tested last month. The results aren’t surprising on the surface. The 35d is endowed with 425 ft lbs of effortless torque. Yet on the highway we saw around 30 mpg with a careful right foot. It’s the kind of effeciency I’m used to with my 2004 330i ZHP yet with more power and almost double the torque. Oh and another 2,000 lbs.
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Diesel efficiency aside, lets take a look at what the X5 offers. First there is the extra ground clearance and greater soft-roading prowess over the 5er wagon that could be considered a close cousin. Then there’s the aggressive styling and the higher seating position. Finally the X5 offers an optional 3rd row of seating effectively eliminating most of the luggage space. Granted the comfort of this 3rd row is pretty questionable – even for children. But it’s safe to say that BMW has created the X5 to exude utility first and performance second.
So with that said there’s little question why some enthusiasts question the point of the X5. The 5 Series wagon offers more space, slightly better performance and efficiency. To me it comes down to attitude. The higher seating position appeals to a large set of buyers as does the more aggressive styling. For those so inclined there is little question the X5 has more of everything. Including the largest side view mirrors this side of a Dodge Ram
The X5 35d doesn’t hide the traditional diesel clatter quite as well as the 335d we tested a few weeks ago. I’m not sure if it’s the exhaust placement, the height of the vehicle or some other various plumbing of the engine but at low and moderate speeds it’s quite clear you’re driving a diesel. Yet it’s a sound is strangely appealing and in some ways welcome. If I’m honest the X5 (and any crossover for that matter) has the tendency to feel a little like a poseur. In many ways the design and concept as a whole is a characterature of an aggressive off-road/on-road vehicle. The reality is that it’s really nothing more than a tall wagon. The engine, the sound and the torque all make the X5 feel more utility based and more of an authentic product. It’s a character that suits the shape (and I would say the design) better than the petrol powered inline six offered in the X5 30i.
The numbers also help. BMW lists the X5 35d at 19/26 mpg in the US cycle – 3 and 4 mpg better respectively than the petrol version. The V8 embarrassingly limps along at 14/18 mpg in comparison. Those numbers have never looked more gaudy than when they are compared to the new 35d.
But as is customary we found BMW’s claims to be rather conservative.. On several long distance trips (with a careful right foot) we found 30 mpg easily attainable cruising at 70 mph. That would bump the claimed 585 miles on a tank to over 650. And those who take note of such things, BMW claims 20% less CO2 output as compared with the X5 35i as well.
Then there’s the performance. The X5 has always had more feel and better handling than anything 5000 lbs has a right to. While our tester didn’t come equipped with the sport package (an absolute must on anything other than an all-wheel drive 3 or 5) this latest X5 continues to live up to that expectation. Relatively sharp turn in response, good brake feel and that effortless power that is the hallmark of the 3.0L twin turbo diesel, the 35d felt as you’d expect in a modern BMW.
Inside the X5 features all the things you’d hope for in a $65,000 BMW crossover. A meaty steering wheel, great driving position, and well placed controls are there as you’d expect. Additionally our tester came with heads-up display that (despite also being found in 80′s era Pontiacs) cannot be under-estimated in terms of importance. While this wasn’t the updated version found on the new 7, its integration with the rest of the onboard systems (inluding nav) was welcome. I wish I could say the same for the iDrive system however. Coming from the new iDrive (v4.0) in our last two test cars made the previous system’s faults all the more glaring. While it’s usable, it’s certainly not a fun or engaging system. Frustrating at the worst of times and adequate and the best of times, it’s a good reason to wait for the new version to be fitted to the X5 in 2010 when BMW is set to release a mild refresh.
Despite the design, performance and efficiency, the X5 35d doesn’t really start to make a case for itself over other X5 derivatives until you consider price. With the 35d endowed with more torque than the 48i’s V8, yet 40% more efficiency, the case is a compelling one. However it gets even stronger when you consider the 35d is $4,600 less than the V8 powered X5 48i. In fact one could argue that its this math that makes the 35d much more compelling in it’s pricing than even the 335d.
The more I drive these BMW diesel twin turbos the more I realize that, while the petrol powerplants are all glitz and glamor, it’s the diesels that are quietly stealing the show.