• All-new, 4th-gen luxury crossover gains technology, safety features, and amenities
  • Choice of new 6- or 8-cylinder turbo engines at launch, with plug-in hybrid coming
  • Price starts at $60,700 plus destination when it goes on sale in November

 

Ever since it was introduced nearly two decades ago, the BMW X5 has bristled at the notion of being called a sport utility vehicle, or SUV. From the start, BMW called it an “SAV” – that’s for “Sports Activity Vehicle,” thank you very much. And since its introduction for the 2000 model year, the X5 has lived up to that nomenclature. Compared to rivals like the Acura MDX, Lexus RX and Mercedes-Benz GLE (formerly, the M-Class), this German luxury hauler has indeed felt more athletic, more nimble, more... well, BMW-like.

Fast-forward to today and we are knocking on the door of the all-new 2019 X5, slated to go on sale in November. This marks the fourth generation of this midsize luxury crossover SUV, and with it come the expected upgrades to technology, safety, power, and amenities. As before, it comes in standard form with two rows and seating for five, or with an optional small third row and seating for seven.

But BMW’s X5 now offers something it never had before: some credible off-road chops. Is the SAV turning into more of an SUV? Possibly. But the good news is, even with its newfound off-highway skills, the BMW X5 remains a thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly agile, and thoroughly impressive vehicle.

Two engine choices at launch, with more on the way

Before we get to how the new X5 drives, a brief mention of what drives it. When the 2019 BMW X5 hits showrooms, it will arrive in two forms – the xDrive40i, powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder, or the xDrive50i with a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8.

As we reported in our preview of the 2019 BMW X5, both engines are connected to an 8-speed automatic transmission, and both models come standard with all-wheel drive, which BMW calls “xDrive.” The 6-cylinder puts out 335 horsepower – 35 more than the previous inline-6 – and is rated to move the X5 from 0-60 mph in a swift 5.3 seconds. The V8 is now rated at 456 horsepower – an 11-horse bump – and drops the new X5’s 0-60 mph time to a scant 4.6 seconds.

This is where you might be wondering about other variants. The 2018 X5, for example, offered two such gasoline engines, plus a diesel 6-cylinder, a higher-power V8 in the X5 M, and a plug-in hybrid that tied a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder to an electric motor.

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The only other powertrain that BMW has announced for the new X5 is a forthcoming plug-in hybrid. Dubbed the xDrive45e iPerformance, it will tie an inline 6-cylinder to an electrified powertrain. Total power is estimated at 394 horsepower, and electric-only driving range is expected to be around 50 miles. It is slated to arrive in 2019 as a 2020 model.

As for another diesel X5, those are available overseas, but are forbidden fruit for the American market. In a statement regarding the matter, BMW would only say, “The final decision as to whether or not the BMW X5 diesel variant will come to the U.S. market has not been made. BMW of North America continues to monitor customer preferences and is prepared to adjust the product portfolio accordingly.”

As for a next-gen X5 M with a higher-power V8, we can only speculate that one will arrive at some point. These future powertrains will all be icing. In the here and now, the 2019 BMW X5 has already proven it shines.

Expectedly rewarding on-road performance

The first X5 was also among the first luxury SUVs to prove that such a vehicle could have sports-sedan performance and the practicality of a utility vehicle. That trait has only blossomed, as have competitors ranging from Porsche and Audi to Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz.

The only model provided to U.S. journalists for the X5’s global media launch in Atlanta was the 6-cylinder xDrive40i, and while we would have loved to prod the V8, even this 6-cylinder proved to be more than enough. And in reality, this is the engine that will power most models, as BMW reps say this will be the volume model for the brand. Like all X5s, including those for export, it is built just one state away in South Carolina at BMW’s massive Spartanburg plant.

We’ve already noted that with a 5.3-second 0-60 mph time, the new X5 is quick. Considering this X5’s weight of over 4,800 pounds, this is no mean feat. Yet for its sizable mass, the X5 feels lithe and athletic. Various drive modes, ranging from Eco Pro and Comfort to Sport and Sport Plus, tailor the characteristics of BMW’s midsize SUV to the preference at hand. Changing the settings truly changes the nature of the vehicle.

For example, on the highways outside of downtown Atlanta, the 2019 X5 felt its best in Comfort mode, where it provided a plush yet taut ride. In territory such as hills and narrow 2-lane winding rows beyond the suburbs, the Sport and Sport Plus modes were best exploited. In its most aggressive mode, the steering felt sharp and precise, and body roll was kept to a minimum. The X5, thus, remains a utility vehicle that is indeed sporty and fun to drive. In this regard it stands out above almost every other rival except a Porsche Cayenne or an AMG-enhanced Mercedes GLE. And this was only with the base engine.

Hands down, the X5’s turbocharged inline-6 is a honey of an engine. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it’s a V8. The power is that good, and the response is that assured. Just about whatever you want, this engine is willing to give. The X5 eagerly goes where you point it, whether that’s blasting down the freeway at extra-legal speeds or crawling up a dirt hill rutted with roots and debris. And that latter case brings us to our next point.

Unexpected off-road capability

Truth be told, we weren’t that surprised about the X5’s athletic on-road manners that reminded us more of a 5 Series sedan than your typical SUV. It was the next stage of our test-drive that most impressed, one that showed off the X5’s newfound off-highway capability.

While the outgoing X5 could handle some light trails, climbing and clambering over muck and various terrain were not its strengths. A few years ago, when we took one out for such an adventure, we dragged the bottom front end on a moderately angled mogul. We can still hear that scraping sound.

That wasn’t case with the new BMW X5. Thank the new Off-road Package, a first-of-its-kind offering for any BMW X model. Priced at $3,950, it brings underbody protection, an electronically controlled rear differential lock, multi-terrain drive modes, and most significantly, 2-axle air suspension.

This last feature is significant because it allows the X5 to raise itself to clear obstacles and tackle tougher terrain. The X5 already comes with a substantial 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and that can be raised another 1.6 inches (conversely, it can also be lowered for easier loading). With the off-road package, the air suspension can be raised manually with the press of a button, or when an off-road setting is selected. For instances when even more clearance is needed, say to get over a log or rock, an X5 equipped with the air suspension can automatically raise itself an extra 2.8 inches beyond the standard 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

For our test, we used the X5’s “Rock” mode, it’s most aggressive off-road setting. We also turned off the stability control, which further allowed the X5 to claw its way up and down dirt trails. And claw it did, with impressive tenacity.

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To give you a sense of the legitimacy of the course, the one we were on is also used by Land Rover vehicles, which stakes its claim off-road ability. While the X5 is still no Discovery, it’s no slouch. Along with the air suspension, our tester had a cadre of other features including cameras to see objects at the front bumper level and hill-descent control, which is akin to an off-road cruise control. On a steep grade, you simply set the speed – say 2 to 3 mph – and the X5 manages the brakes and grip, leaving you only to steer.

The truth is, almost no new X5 owner will take their luxury SUV beyond a dirt parking lot. But should you want to venture on roads less traveled (or just be assured that you can should the need arise), the new off-road package gives the 2019 X5 rugged chops like never before.

In addition to its off-road capability, we also like what the air suspension does in general: providing a smoother, more refined ride.

Premium product, premium pricing

For all the things the X5 is, the one thing it isn’t is cheap. Including the destination fee, a base X5 xDrive40i with the 6-cylinder engine starts at $61,695. If you want the V8-powered X5 xDrive50i, that will run you nearly $77,000. These prices actually aren’t far off from the outgoing model, but they remain higher than competitors like the Audi Q7, Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Volvo XC90, Audi MDX, and Infiniti QX60.

Still, the X5 remains a highly tempting choice among luxury SUVs. Beyond significant badge appeal, it touts terrific handling, bold design, and now newfound ruggedness.

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