The BMW X5 is, for now, the largest model in the automaker’s lineup. More importantly, this one is a diesel, which means that it backs up its enormous girth with plenty of pound-feet of torque and more mpgs than most of its gasoline-powered siblings.
Our example arrived coated in Space Gray Metallic paint — or, as I called it, MacBook Gray — a $700 option that foreshadowed two interesting details: This SUV works well with Apple products and the options are about to get really expensive. However, the most interesting thing about the 2017 BMW X5 xDrive35d is just how well suited this SUV is for long hauls and road trips.
Let’s start with what makes the X5d, for short, fairly unique among its peers. A 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine converts diesel fuel into a respectable 225 horsepower and an impressive 413 pound-feet of torque. That torque flows through an 8-speed automatic transmission — the only option available — to BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system, where it’s split between the four contact patches. All X5 diesels feature the xDrive system, but the gasoline variants can be in a rear-drive configuration.
One of the advantages of going diesel is having all of that torque available, which makes for quiet cruising at low engine RPMs and confident passing at highway speeds. It’s like a tiny freight train engine.
The other diesel advantage is highway fuel economy. The X5 xDrive35d averaged 27.9 mpg during my highway-heavy week of testing. The EPA reckons a 29 mpg estimate on the highway and 25 mpg combined. That makes the diesel one of the most fuel efficient variants of the X5 chassis available; only the plug-in hybrid xDrive40e model is thriftier, but that’s with regular recharges and a mostly urban driving cycle.
However, the diesel is the undisputed king of range, able to cruise up to 560 miles between fill ups — I drove nearly 300 miles during my testing and only just barely passed the half-tank mark — making it an excellent road trip option for those who don’t like to stop for fill ups. It can’t, however, do anything to help with stopping for bathroom breaks.
Handling and ride
Likewise, the BMW’s suspension feels like it was tuned for optimal highway performance.
The ride feels fine on a twisty road where its firm damping helps keep the car feeling flat and agile around corners. However, over bumpier substrates, the ride can feel a bit too firm. It’s not quite harsh, but the X5 tends to roll over bumps in the road rather than soak them up like most SUVs. This translates to quite a bit of bouncing around in the seat on bumpier back roads.
However, at higher speeds, the dampers do a much better job absorbing the energy from the types of bumps you encounter on the highway — cracks in asphalt, expansion joints in cement and those obnoxious metal patch construction plates, for example — and the ride seems to smooth right out the faster you go. The firmness felt at low speeds also makes for a planted and stable feeling at high speeds during lane changes and emergency maneuvers.
One nit I have to pick is that the X5’s seating position feels a tad tall for my preference. It was as if I was seated atop the “Ultimate Driving Machine” rather than down it. Yes, I realize that this is an SUV and a taller seating position is part of the package, but BMW has done a better job giving its smaller SUVs more of a cockpit feeling that I’d like to see here.
That said, the view from up there is, as they say, commanding. I can concede that for the average SUV driver visibility is more important than a cozy cockpit and the visibility is great for the X5 all around thanks to an airy greenhouse and well-placed pillars. That’s likely why they’re in an SUV and not a sedan — they’re certainly not here for the offroad performance.
BMW’s cabin design is top notch for this generation of vehicles and our optioned up X5 is no exception with excellent and varied use of materials on the dashboard that’s just pleasing to the eye and to the touch.
Our example was loaded up with luxury amenities, including black nappa leather and wood trim. We’ve got heated and ventilated seats and a heated steering wheel, adaptive full-LED headlamps with automatic high beams, interior ambient illumination, 4-zone climate control, a powered liftgate and a massive panoramic moonroof.
Driver aid tech
What our specific example didn’t have was much in the way of advanced driver aid tech, though quite a bit is available to X5 owners at the time of purchase.