2014 BMW X5: sweating the details

To be honest, I don’t think the second-generation X5 was over the hill. It still represents a solid choice in its category, but since it's been around since the 2007 model year, a redesign was in order.

VANCOUVER (B.C.) – Six years ago, the X5 was soundly beating virtually all its competition in sales, but not anymore. Since then, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, the Porsche Cayenne, the 2014 Range Rover Sport and the 2014 Acura MDX have all been rebooted, and are astoundingly good. BMW wants to make sure the X5 is better than that.

And as a nod to the X5's athleticism, BMW chose Vancouver, host of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, as the location for the worldwide drive program. Journalists are currently being flown in from all over the globe and prodded to pilot the X5 up and down the Sea to Sky highway separating Whistler from the B.C.'s capital.

Sculptured design

Looking at the old X5 and the new X5 side by side, one might notice that they're not all that different. What sets the 2014 BMW X5 apart, actually, are all the little details here and there that make it a better all-around product.

Led by the artistic creativity of BMW's head of design Karim Habib, who grew up in Montreal, the company's stylists decided to go for an evolution of the previous-generation X5's shape, instead of a revolution. As far as dimensions go, the 2014 model is 32 mm longer and 5 mm wider.

A lot of work was put into giving the truck more character lines, which in turn provide additional sunlight reflections and shading, for a more dramatic look. In addition to the beltline crease that integrates the door handles, the 2014 BMW X5 gets a shark gill behind the front wheel as well as a lower-body crease between the wheel wells and another one above the rear wheel arches.

Up front, the X5's nose is now highlighted by a more upright brand signature kidney grille, which is larger and extends to the headlight clusters. The latter now incorporates illuminated LED rings that are flattened at the bottom, and cut off at the top by eyebrow-shaped LED daytime running lights. While the roofline is virtually identical, the rear window is now positioned at a more vertical angle. The L-shaped taillights remain, although their illumination pattern has been reworked.

Familiar powertrains

The 2014 BMW X5 will arrive in Canada sometime in October with two carryover engine choices. The xDrive35i will boast a turbocharged 3.0L inline-six that produces 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, as before. The xDrive50i gets a twin-turbo, 4.4L V8 that now serves up 445 hp and 479 lb-ft. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Our drive started in Vancouver's Coal Harbour district, bustling with pedestrians, cyclists, dogs, boats and small airplanes in front of a breathtaking mountain backdrop. We hopped in a V8-powered X5 and exited the city in order to blast up to Whistler.

The xDrive50i provides gobs of power and a nasty snarl; anytime you need muscle, it's there. That is, as long as you don't flip the drive control system to ECO PRO, which retards downshifts and relaxes throttle response, among other things, to save fuel. Aboard this all-wheel-drive, 5,150-lb (2,336-kg) missile, you'll hit 100 km/h in 5.1 seconds.

Those who are looking for a sweet compromise can choose the xDrive35d, although they will have to wait until next spring for it. The 3.0L turbodiesel mill in this version now dishes out 256 hp and 413 lb-ft, and according to BMW, achieves 6.2 L/100km while combining city and highway driving. About 35% of the outgoing X5's sales in Canada consisted of the diesel variant, and we expect it to remain as popular in the new generation.

From a rational point of view, the X5 xDrive35d has the thrust and the efficiency to suit everyone's needs, along with a great towing capacity of about 6,000 lbs. And unless you're applying full throttle, you'll forget you're driving a diesel, not that its sound is displeasing.

In the sticks

A Dynamic Handling Package is now available, which enhances the vehicle's roll stability and includes a torque-vectoring rear differential. An M Sport Package that features firmer settings and a self-levelling rear air suspension is also offered. Finally, a yet-unnamed package will bundle most of the two other packages together.

Our route took us to the Whistler Olympic Park, where the ski jump competitions and other disciplines were held during the 2010 festivities. BMW set up an off-road course in the mountainside in order for us to sample the X5's capabilities.

It wasn't a very challenging terrain, but it did give us a good idea of how well the truck's suspension can articulate, the xDrive system neatly splits engine power to the wheels with the most traction, and the hill descent control works diligently. As for the latter, you can adjust vehicle speed from 0 to 25 km/h, so the driver feels in total control of the situation. Basically, a Range Rover Sport might be more capable off road, but we took the X5 where very few owners would and it performed brilliantly.

Distinct trim lines

In order to provide even more customization, the 2014 BMW X5 now gets a choice of three trim lines, available on all versions. The first one is called xLine, and it includes matt silver bumper and grille trim and satin aluminum trim around the side windows.

The second one is called Luxury Line, and it includes body-colour wheel arches replacing the standard black ones, black grille bars, glossy silver bumper trim and elegant 19-inch, multi-spoke alloy wheels. The third one is the M Sport Line, which features a body kit and M-specific double-spoke alloys.

Inside, the personalization continues with a choice of five leather upholstery colours, including two design packages that offer higher-grade Nappa leather in either Ivory White or Mocha. They both look fabulous, although I prefer the brown one for the appearance and the fact that my kids would involuntarily dirty up that white cowhide in a heartbeat. The finishing touch is applied with a choice of three wood and two aluminum trims.

The usual plethora of equipment is either standard or optional in the 2014 BMW X5, including multi-adjustable power seats, four-zone climate control, cooled front and heated rear seats, a surround-view camera system, rear-seat entertainment, a panoramic sunroof and a marvellous Bang & Olufsen surround sound system. One noteworthy addition to the iDrive system is the touchpad on the top of the multifunction knob, on which we can doodle letters and numbers for quick address entry in the navigation system.

The X5's versatility gets cranked up a notch or two with the addition of a 40/20/40-split folding rear seat, which allows loading long and slim objects like skis but without sacrificing room for back-seat occupants. Oh, and a third-row seat is optional, too, although none of our test vehicles were equipped with it.

The final word

The 2014 BMW X5 xDrive35i will start out at $62,900, while the xDrive50i will begin at $76,500, slight increases compared to the 2013 models. The xDrive35d variant hasn't been priced yet, but expect an MSRP of about $65K.

Like its exterior design, the new X5 is an all-around evolution than a complete change in philosophy. Then again, why mess a good thing? On the other hand, where the SUV has improved the most is in the quality and appearance of its cockpit as well as the greater number of tantalizing trim options and packages. Like an athlete in training, the 2014 BMW X5 is all about perfecting a bunch of little details, which makes it that much better.


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