BMW X5 xDrive35i

BMW X5 xDrive35i

Is it possible that the BMW X5 has a better reputation than it deserves? While the first-generation model earned kudos for its lithe dynamics and athletic looks upon its debut as a 2001 model, the subsequent two generations grew larger, more unwieldy, and less BMW-like in their quest to capitalize on the luxury-SUV mania.

We can’t exactly fault BMW’s strategy from a business standpoint. The X5, at this point a bedrock vehicle among high-riding luxury haulers, has sold well. But we can question the execution of the third-generation X5, which is nearing the end of its life cycle with a fourth-gen car already waiting in the wings. This test of a midrange 2018 X5 xDrive35i (translation: an all-wheel-drive model powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six) only served to confirm the model’s last-place ranking in an earlier comparison test and to corroborate our impression that this BMW is a disappointing luxury SUV.

Let’s start with the bright spots, though. As with nearly all Bimmers, the turbocharged inline-six under the hood is a great engine that can somewhat compensate for the X5’s flaws. Not only does it make a satisfying sound as it revs smoothly and swiftly to its 7000-rpm redline, it also makes an ideal pair with the eight-speed automatic transmission, which kicks down promptly and is rarely caught in the wrong gear. Acceleration performance isn’t quite class-leading, owing to the X5’s prodigious 4911-pound mass (a whopping 689 pounds more than an Acura MDX), but it nonetheless managed a competitive zero-to-60-mph time of 6.0 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 14.6 seconds at 95 mph. More impressive was the 27 mpg it recorded on our real-world 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, beating both its EPA highway estimate and the V-6–powered Audi Q7 by 3 mpg, while also surpassing even the considerably less powerful four-cylinder Q7 by 1 mpg.

If its heart lives up to BMW’s billing as an expert engine builder, though, the X5’s overall comportment on the road does not measure up to the Ultimate Driving Machine credo. Although we don’t expect any three-row luxury SUV to be a corner scorcher, we do expect BMWs to be among the best to drive in any given class. The X5 is far from that. It exhibits sloppy body control and lifeless steering, as well as unrefined ride quality over rough surfaces (the Pirelli Scorpion Verde All Season Run Flat tires might be to blame for some of the impact harshness, but non-run-flat tires aren’t available). A low grip threshold of 0.81 g and a longish braking distance of 178 feet from 70 mph are nothing to write home about, either. Numerous competitors come to mind that offer both nimbler handling and better ride comfort, such as the 10Best-winning Audi Q7, the Acura MDX, and the Porsche Cayenne.

We wish the X5’s dynamics reminded us of early-2000s BMWs as much as the interior does. The atmosphere in there is decidedly familiar—mostly in a good way—with no-nonsense white-on-black gauges, a chunky steering wheel, and a climate-control panel that could’ve been taken straight out of an E90 3-series. While there’s some merit to complaints that the X5 looks a bit dated inside, we’re not displeased by the dashboard’s appearance. The iDrive controller functions intuitively, and the 10.2-inch central display screen’s graphics are crisp and entirely modern. Apple CarPlay is, perplexingly, a $300 option, and Android Auto is not available at all.

Our X5 came equipped with the $1700 third-row seat, an option you’ll want to mull over before choosing. There’s a paucity of space back there, even compared with its many rivals that set a low bar for comfort in the wayback seat. It’s really for small children only. If you want additional third-row space, you’re better off either waiting for BMW’s upcoming X7 or looking elsewhere, such as Mercedes-Benz’s GLS-class, another Car and Driver 10Best winner.

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