Nearly two decades after its debut, the original BMW X5 luxury family hauler gets a much needed redesign for its fourth generation.
For years the BMW X5 midsize SUV has reigned over the German automaker’s lineup. It’s sold 2.2 million units globally since its introduction in 1999.
But its smaller sibling, the X3 crossover, which was overhauled for the 2018 model year, outsold the X5 for the first time last year and is leading it through the first eight months of 2018.
That’s expected to change once the all-new 2019 BMW X5 arrives in dealer showrooms in November.
Marked by athleticism, style and a sportiness that surpasses rival models from Mercedes-Benz and Audi, the five-passenger utility vehicle now comes with an array of performance technology and off-road chops, including a new, more powerful V8 engine and a drive mode tuned for crawling over rocks.
Utility vehicles have been a bright spot for BMW, with sales up 17.2 percent for the first eight months of 2018 compared with the same period last year. But the brand needs to remain sharp to compete with other midsize luxury SUVs, including the Mercedes-Benz GLE, which is due for a refresh this year.
“This is an important point because the X5 doesn’t reside at the entry end of the brand,” said Ed Kim, industry analyst with consulting firm AutoPacific.
“This is a higher-priced model with a lot more margin compared with BMW’s entry-level models,” Kim said. “Being both high volume and high margin, its importance to the brand cannot be overstated.”
Longer, wider and taller than the previous generation, the new X5 sports a bold, S-shaped character line, angular wheel arches and “a smaller number of accurately applied lines,” Marco Moeller, product manager for the X5, said at the vehicle’s global launch in Atlanta this month.
It retains signature touches, including the BMW kidney grille, as well as adaptive LED headlights that turn with the direction of the car and taillights with the brand’s L-shaped 3D design.
But the latest version is even beefier, with an optional off-road package that lets drivers select from four driving modes — rock, sand, gravel or snow — to adjust height, acceleration response and transmission control to the terrain.
On a potentially punishing off-road course at Painted Rock Farm outside Atlanta, the new X5 proved itself repeatedly. Using more than a dozen sensors, it expertly combed its way through the 1.8-mile route in an hour, scaling inclines, descending craters and even crossing a small river. In rock mode, it gained 1.5 inches of clearance, aided by surround-view cameras and hill-descent control.
The X5 demonstrated control and agility throughout the course, harnessing a host of new chassis systems, including two-axle air suspension and Integral Active Steering, which “allows the vehicle to be controlled in a more precise and sporty style,” said Martin Brenner, project manager for driving dynamics.
The SUV’s electronically controlled differential lock at the rear axle, available in the dynamic handling package, and the xOff-Road package, modulates power to provide surface grip. The xDrive system uses its intelligent all-wheel drive system to divide torque between the front and rear wheels and also from side to side.
To enhance its off-road credibility, BMW is offering 22-inch wheels as an option on the X5 for the first time.
The xDrive40i base model delivers 335 horsepower using a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine. The xDrive 50i gets a 456-horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8. Both come with an eight-speed automatic transmission and are available with the xLine or M Sport packages.
Coming in 2020, the xDrive45e plug-in hybrid version will run on a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine and an electric motor for a total output of 389 horsepower, compared with 308 for the previous generation. It will be able to travel more than twice as far on a fully charged battery than the outgoing model’s 14-mile electric range.
From optional wireless charging for smartphones to heated and cooled cup holders, the new cabin boasts an array of cutting-edge amenities. During the drive on the obstacle course and Atlanta’s surface streets and highways, the comfortable, leather- and wood-trimmed cabin provided a notably high seating position. A prismatic glass shifter-knob added a flourish to the center console.
A pair of crisp, 12.3-inch screens display BMW’s new iDrive 7 operating system. One displays infotainment options in the center stack and the other replaces the traditional instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. There also is a large head-up display.
Both rows of seats feature ample room for passengers. Buyers can opt for a third row to raise seating capacity to seven. The trunk gets more space and a two-section tailgate and a hands-free liftgate for easier loading.
The X5 also comes with a suite of safety technology engineered to avoid collisions and keep the car in its lane. Parking Assistant Plus helps accelerate, brake and steer into a spot, and Back-up Assistant helps the X5 retrace its path in reverse for up to 50 meters. BMW said the new function was equally useful for navigating tight garage spots or narrow Italian villages.
Meanwhile, BMW continues to pump out SUVs, investing $600 million in its plant in Spartanburg, S.C. Earlier this year, the brand launched the all-new X2 subcompact utility vehicle and the second generation of its coupe-like X4 crossover. Younger customers, especially millennial parents with young families, are crucial to the automaker’s growth.
“Customers of luxury SUVs also tend to be younger than customers of luxury sedans, so the success of the X5 is vital to BMW’s health,” Kim said. “BMW’s ability to keep the age of its customer base lower ensures a steady stream of repeat buyers as they go through their various life stages.”
Editor’s note: all photos courtesy of BMW. To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event where BMW hosted travel and lodging.