The 2019 BMW X5 SUV is your best car for the next 3-5 years. Nothing else touches the versatility of the X5 at the high end and does more of the things you’re likely to want: carry people and cargo, get there safely and comfortably, help with driving, tow a 7,500-pound boat or trailer, and entertain you and your companions en route. No automaker offers more driver, entertainment, and safety technology, most of it useful.
Against the X5’s many virtues, there are these facts: BMW holds hostage a key safety assist feature, adaptive cruise control, in a $1,700 options package. BMW leases you Apple CarPlay on a yearly subscription basis, doesn’t offer Android Auto, and offers no plug-in hybrid version at launch even though BMW is the company with most PHEV models currently offered. For all this, you’ll probably pay $70,000 and up.
Active Driving Assistant: Semi-Self-Driving Tech
BMW has a slick Level 2 self-driving system (steers within one lane, paces the car ahead, and cautiously changes lanes) called Active Driving Assistant (ADA). It’s the aforementioned must-have $1,700 option as it’s the only way you get adaptive cruise control, which BMW omitted off the otherwise complete list of driver safety assists: lane departure warning, daytime pedestrian protection, frontal collision warning with city collision mitigation, active blind spot detection, and rear cross traffic alert. In 2019, $20,000 Toyotas have ACC standard, but not BMW. The X5 has standard what BMW calls Dynamic Cruise Control, which sounds like Toyota’s Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, but BMW’s DCC is plain old cruise control with the ability to slow down a couple of mph going through curves.
As for ADA, hardcore BMW club fanatics will say, “You’ve got a BMW, learn to drive, yuppie scum.” For those who believe there’s nothing wrong with letting technology take the edge off a rush-hour commute or a long holiday trip, ADA does the trick. Engage lane departure warning and adaptive cruise, and you’ve got self-driving that works on highways as long as you keep your hands loosely on the wheel, so the car knows you’re actually still there and awake. A similar feature, Extended Traffic Jam Assistant for limited access highways, drives you in stop-and-go traffic. You don’t like it? Don’t engage it.
ADA worked very well in my tests, including on the twistiest Finger Lakes and Connecticut Valley interstates I could find. The toughest problems with semi-self-driving today are sharply curved limited-access roads and cars cutting directly in front and then immediately slowing. BMW supports narrow roads (those less than the national standard of 12 feet wide) and got cleanly through two sets of construction zones with narrow roadways, but that was also with me paying full attention.
If you take your hands off the wheel and don’t pay attention to the alerts every 10 seconds to put hands (loosely) back on the wheel, the X5 warns, then warns again, then slows the car to a stop, turns on the hazard flashers, and, if you still don’t respond, the car’s telematics system calls for help. This is for the driver who falls asleep, passes out drunk, or has a serious medical condition. If it can, the X5 pulls onto the shoulder. It’s part of what BMW calls Emergency Stop Assistant, which the driver can automatically engage by “pulling on a lever,” the lever being the parking brake mini-lever.
The X5 on the Highway and Back Roads
In a week of driving the V8-powered X5 xDrive50i, nearly 1,000 miles, it was a fabulous companion: calm, competent, with fabulous audio (the upper tier B&W upgrade). It is almost too fast. Twice on a two-lane country road, I pulled out to pass, tromped the throttle, and by the time I was pulling back in, the car was doing 80-85 mph in just a couple seconds. Actually, the best part of the day was in the morning, firing up the 456-hp, 32-valve turbo V8 and hearing the burbling sound as the V8 warms up.
The X5 is also quite capable off-roading, as you can see by some of the photos. Even if you don’t hike one side of the car up by 20 degrees, you’ll feel better know you won’t get stuck on a dirt road leading to the ski slopes.
The dashboard has a pair of 12-inch LCDs, one as the instrument panel, one as the center stack display. The display behind the wheel is so big, you can’t see the upper corners. In the default, somewhat freeform mode, the map in the middle sort of spills into the other displays. It may or may not annoy you. I’d say it will be an accustomed taste.
BMW, for the most part, uses haptic feedback — the steering wheel vibrates — to alert you if you’re drifting out of the lane and your blinker isn’t on. More people like that than harsh beeps alerting the passengers as well as you to the latest driving transgression.
The head-up display is fabulous, big but not so big you can’t see the road for the display. When you’re weaving a complicated path through an urban interstate crossing, the HUD makes it clear which (how many) lanes you should. You can tweak what’s in the display if you want to see less. You cannot see the blind spot indicators in the HUD. BMW says it’s not necessary when there’s an LED in the mirror or A-pillar. Wrong. BMW just doesn’t want to admit little (actually not so little anymore) Hyundai-Genesis and now Mazda beat it to a good idea: When a car shows up in your left or right blind spot, a car or sonar-wave icon shows up in the left or right side of the HUD, and if you try to shift into the occupied lane, the icon blinks and you get a haptic alert as well as a mirror alert.
If you drive with lane departure warning/lane keep assist enabled and try to change lanes without using the blinker, the X5 auto-correct steering tugs the car back toward the original lane. It is a forceful correction, in my opinion, so forceful some drivers may believe they don’t have enough strength to overcome it. A friend with a new X5 asked for help turning it off because she believed it might be unmanageable. If you test-drive the X5, find a road where you can test LDW/LKA and see what you think.
BMW continues to control the center-stack display via the iDrive controller, but also by voice commands, writing an address letter by letter atop the controller and its gesture-recognition pad, tapping the display, or using the optional $190 gesture command system. When you take delivery, pay attention to the pre-flight instructions, then practice, practice, practice. iDrive benefits those who learn the commands. And chant this mantra: hard to learn, easy to use. What’s displayed on the big screen, which can be split 60-40, is easy to understand.
BMW includes telematics and an onboard cellular modem. If you want to get Wi-Fi off the modem, there’s an upcharge for that, plus of course the actual data charges.
Alles CLAR: BMW’s Modular Car Platform
This fourth-generation X5, along with the new 3 Series and 7 Series, uses BMW’s Cluster Architecture, or modular platform. It’s all the rage. VW has the MQB and MLB. Toyota has TNGA, or Toyota New Global Architecture. The same architecture can be used for small, midsize, and large vehicles. All future BMWs and Minis will be built with the CLAR rear-drive platform or the FAAR front-drive platform. Each will accommodate all-wheel-drive (xDrive), too.
The CLAR architecture allows BMW to continue offering a third-row of seats, very snug, in the X5. Small children are about the only suitable occupants.
The X5 is fast. While BMW says 0-60 mph xDrive 40i comes up in 5.3 seconds, some testers have gotten below 5 seconds, this with the inline-six, 335-hp turbo engine and the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. There will be no X5 diesel in the US. The PHEV X5 xDrive45E arrives as a 2020 model, with EV range doubled to about 50 miles. Its mpg ratings may ease the sting of no diesel.
BMW’s confidence in the ruggedness of the new platform led it to include a serious (in price and in capability) off-roading package suitable for rock crawling as well as fording rivers about 20 inches deep. Sorry, no snorkel option.
Is This the BMW You Should Buy?
The 2019 model is fabulous, expensive, and loaded with technology. Our obvious recommendation: Don’t overdo the options. Specifically, the V8 X5 xDrive50i, like the one I test-drove, is overkill. It costs a lot and fuel-economy is so-so. You can drive the $76,745 base price (including freight) to $107,775 by choosing the Executive Tier with Premium and Executive packages, M Sport handling and badging features, 22-inch alloy wheels that tempt the pothole gods, and a piano black finish that will look great on delivery day and then forever showcase airborne dust and reflect the morning sun in your eyes.
The competition includes the Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7/Q8, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Volvo XC90, and the Land Rover Range Rover Sport and Range Rover Discovery. Also, the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX-50, and Lexus RX/RXL. For the most part, US-flagged cars, the good ones and the just-okay ones, draw a different buyer group. Those closest to the X5 are the Cadillac XT5, which gets a major refresh for the 2020 model year, and the Lincoln Nautilus (nee MKX).
Two other 2020 midsize SUVs should give BMW some pause when they ship. The Acura MDX has long shown the world how to provide 95 percent of the X5’s goodness, including handling, for $10K-$15K less. The upcoming 2020 Genesis GV80 midsize SUV could well be a shocker on the order of the 2008 Hyundai Genesis midsize sedan (now the Genesis G80): incredible fit and finish, comfortable ride, reasonable handling, and competitive price. Because handling is BMW’s strong suit, the Genesis initially may pose more of a threat in the Lexus RX/Lincoln Nautilus arena.
There’s also the 2019 BMW X3 (new in model-year 2018) compact SUV and, just arriving, the full-size BMW X7. Look at the X7 ($74,895 for the six-cylinder) if you want something with a snug-but-not-cramped third row of seats and an imposing presence (203 inches long) on par with the aging Mercedes-Benz GLS. Base price is $74,895 with freight and the basic dimensions front and back (headroom, legroom) are all within an inch of each. Both tow 7,500 pounds. If you move downscale to the compact X3, there’s a secret: Compared with the X5, front and back legroom and headroom are within an inch of each other; it’s only on seating width that the X5 is clearly bigger. For a lot of people, the X3 is a solid choice — just with less length, width, and towing capacity (4,400 pounds).
The Best X5 for the Money
Here’s the X5 I’d specify: X5 xDrive40, $60,700 list plus $995 freight, for a starting point of $61,695 (all-wheel drive, 26 mpg, 5.3 seconds 0-60 mph). The most common paint adds $550 (there are two blacks, two whites, one blue, one grey, and beige/tan called Sunstone). Cognac leather is $1,450 (the two vinyl seat materials, called SensaTec, look a lot like leather, but they’re boring beige or black.) Avoid the three gloss interior trims (up to $1,080 extra) for the three non-glare trims, all no cost, such as brown-metallic ash. For sure, add the Driving Assistance Professional Package, $1,700, and Parking Assistance Package (auto-find and steer into parallel and perpendicular parking, ultrasonic sensors, and surround camera view). I’d also add premium audio ($875), running boards ($400), and heated front-and-rear seats/front armrests/steering wheel ($600). If you want black or beige upholstery, the SensaTec is good enough.
You decide if you need the Luxury Seating Package ($1,600 for multi-contour, power-vented, massaging) and Off-Road Package ($3,950, front and rear air suspension, mechanical differential lock, and off-road driving modes).
Among individual options, if they’re not in a package, consider the head-up display ($1,100), steerable LED headlamps ($1,000), running boards ($400), heated front/rear seats ($350), and night vision ($2,300). If you’re taking a lot of long trips, consider acoustic glass ($300), rear side window shades ($250), and the Harman Kardon surround audio system ($875), or if you love music, the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System ($4,200). A trailer hitch that allows towing 7,200 pounds (a lot) is $550. Two more-flamboyant options are the Volvo-like glass controls (shifter, start button, volume control, iDrive controller), $650, and the leather dashboard ($1,200).
My config gets you in at $70,120 or, with $2,500 down, a $1,275 loan payment (five-year loan) or $970 lease payment ($2,500 down, 36 months, 12,000 miles per year).
It’s a lot of money and a lot of car. If you believe in technology making cars obsolete quickly, a lease may be the better bet because 2022 cars will be better still. For 2019, though, this is the state of the art in midsize SUVs. For now, BMW is back on top, in no small part because the X5 is the newest high-end midsize SUV.
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