If you want an SUV that drives like a sports car, you want the BMW X5, experts say. Its performance never fails to impress -- no matter which of the four engine choices you pick -- and testers say it's a useful vehicle, too, with an elegant, comfortable cabin and decent cargo space.
Still, the X5 has its drawbacks. It costs more than its rivals, offers only a minuscule optional third row, and it guzzles gas (except for the turbodiesel version). The fun-to-drive 2010 Acura MDX (Base MSRP: $42,230 to $51,855) offers better space for seven, reviewers say. If spirited driving isn't important to you, the five-passenger 2010 Lexus RX 350 (Base MSRP: $37,625 to $39,025) is critics' safe, dependable luxury pick.
The X5 comes in four versions -- all powerful and nimble, reviewers say. All come with all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission.
First, there's the BMW X5 xDrive 30i (Base MSRP: $47,600), powered by a 3-liter inline-six engine that delivers 260 horsepower and average fuel economy for its class, at 18 mpg combined (15 mpg city/21 mpg highway). This engine "will be enough for most," Car and Driver says. The BMW X5 xDrive48i (Base MSRP: $56,300) substitutes a 4.8-liter V8 for 350 horsepower, but fuel economy drops to 16 mpg combined (14 mpg city/19 mpg highway).
For thousands less, you can get the more fuel-efficient BMW X5 xDrive35d (Base MSRP: $51,300), with a turbodiesel inline-six that's good for 265 horsepower and a whopping 425 pound-feet of torque. It's noisy at low speeds, with obvious turbo lag, testers say, but overall it's just as fast as the V8 and a lot more fuel-friendly, at 22 mpg combined (19 mpg city/26 mpg highway). "Owners of the 3-liter petrol-six shouldn't test drive the diesel model -- it will make sleep impossible knowing a more powerful, quicker, and much more efficient model is on the showroom floor for the same dollar," says Michael Harley at Autoblog.com. Towing capacity is 6,000 pounds.
For "the final word on high-performance sport-utility vehicles," step up to the BMW X5 M (Base MSRP: $85,500), says Chris Walton, chief road-test editor at Edmunds Inside Line. "I'm utterly amazed with how fast this thing is." The X5 M sets new records at Inside Line's drag strip and whips through a slalom at almost 65 mph. It outclasses all other big, fast SUVs in a test at Car and Driver -- including high-powered entries from Porsche, Jeep and Land Rover -- attacking "twists and turns like a cheetah sorting an antelope herd" at "eyeball flattening" speed. It even manages to ride comfortably, testers say. Towing capacity rises to 6,600 pounds. On the downside, experts note the X5 M's thirsty engine -- a twin-turbo, 555-horsepower, 4.4-liter V8 that manages only 14 mpg combined (12 mpg city/17 mpg highway) -- and that steep, steep sticker.
Average cargo space, but a crowded third row
Notably, the BMW X5 xDrive30i and xDrive35d do not include leather upholstery. The two trims come with similar same standard features: panoramic moonroof, wood cabin trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, BMW's iDrive controller for the cabin electronics and a CD stereo with HD radio and an auxiliary jack. Leather seats and a backseat DVD system are among the multiple available options, which can get pricey, Car and Driver says. The V8-powered X5 xDrive48i makes leather seats standard. The X5 M includes leather sport seats, navigation, front and rear parking sensors, headlight washers, 20-inch wheels and summer performance tires.
The BMW X5 seats five, or up to seven with an optional third row (not available on the X5 M). Testers find the front seats extremely comfortable, with a reclining split backseat that can hold two adults nicely, although three across would be a squeeze. The third row is very small and difficult to climb into, reviewers say. With the rear seats folded, the X5 holds 75 cubic feet of cargo.
Crash ratings are good -- just slightly below the class leaders. The BMW X5 earns the highest possible ratings in government and independent side and rear crash tests, with a class-consistent 4 stars (out of 5) in federal rollover avoidance tests. Frontal crash scores are also high, although a 4-star government frontal-driver protection rating keeps them from being perfect. The X5's rollover roof strength has not yet been tested. Standard safety features include antilock brakes, traction and stability control and front and front-side airbags, with curtain airbags for the first two rows.
One trim level -- the BMW X5 xDrive30i -- posts a below-average reliability score in one major owner survey. The X5 carries four-year/50,000 mile basic and powertrain warranties.
Car and Driver writes the most comprehensive reviews of all of the BMW X5 versions, based on thorough, expert road tests. Edmunds.com also covers all of the X5 versions in its excellent reviews. ConsumerReports.org tests the turbodiesel and six-cylinder gasoline versions of the X5 with an eye toward fuel economy, reliability and other practicalities, while Edmunds Inside Line tests the high-powered X5 M with an eye toward breaking track records. Autoblog.com spends a week living with the turbodiesel X5, resulting in a very complete report. We found evaluations of the BMW X5's resale value at Kelley Blue Book and Kiplinger.com, crash scores at SaferCar.gov and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and fuel-economy ratings at FuelEconomy.gov.
1. Car and Driver
The BMW X5 is an Editors' Choice here, thanks to its sharp handling and the high-powered X5 M version that is "plain nuts." This brief buyer's guide summary links to several test drives, including one of the turbodiesel X5 and an eight-SUV comparison test that the X5 M wins.
Review: 2010 BMW X5, Editors of Car and Driver
The BMW X5 handles extremely well and makes Edmunds.com's top recommended list. Still, editors say it does have its drawbacks, including a very firm ride, a tiny third row and a steep price. This review covers all but the X5 M version.
Review: 2010 BMW X5 Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
BMW has actually managed to make an SUV worthy of the M badge, Edmunds.com says in this review of the high-performance, high-priced BMW X5 M. Testers say it's "ridiculously powerful" and "handles better than any midsize crossover SUV has a right to."
Review: 2010 BMW X5 M Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
ConsumerReports.org tests both the turbodiesel and six-cylinder gasoline versions of the BMW X5. Both are rated and ranked against other SUVs based on performance, fuel economy, safety, comfort and more.
Review: BMW X5, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
After a week with the turbodiesel BMW X5, Michael Harley concludes that it's "more powerful, quicker, and much more efficient" than the gas-powered version for the same price. The 2009 model is tested, but it is largely unchanged for 2010.
Review: Review: 2009 BMW X5 xDrive35d Delivers Obsolescence to Gasoline-powered Sibling, Michael Harley, Dec. 17, 2009
6. Edmunds Inside Line
The BMW X5 M is "mesmerizing," chief road test editor Chris Walton says. This pricey, high-performance SUV sets a new record at the Edmunds Inside Line drag strip, runs a slalom at nearly 65 mph and still manages to feel smoother on-road than the regular X5.
Review: 2010 BMW X5 M Full Test and Video, Chris Walton, Oct. 8, 2009
7. Kelley Blue Book
The BMW X5 wins a Kelley Blue Book Best Resale Value Award and a spot on the 2010 Recommended Shopping List. Editors say it offers the power and handling of a German sedan, but they have not yet published a full review of this SUV.
Review: Recommended Shopping Lists: Mid-size Crossovers and SUVs: BMW X5, Editors of Kelley Blue Book
The turbodiesel version of the BMW X5 ties with the BMW X6 for best resale value among large and midsize crossovers in Kiplinger.com's annual awards. This brief synopsis also lists dealer cost, five-year service cost, one-year insurance cost and three- and five-year resale values for the BMW X5 35d.
Review: Best Resale Value: Large and Midsize Crossovers, Editors of Kiplinger.com, March 2010
The BMW X5 ranks just below the top tier of midsize SUVs in government crash tests. It earns perfect 5-star ratings for side crash protection and for protecting the driver in a frontal crash, with 4 stars for rollover resistance and frontal-passenger protection.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of SaferCar.gov
10. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The 2010 BMW X5 earns the highest rating of "Good" in front, side and rear crash tests here, but IIHS has not tested its rollover roof strength.
Review: Midsize Luxury SUVs, Editors of the IIHS.org
Depending which version you pick, the BMW X5 can offer some of the best fuel economy among midsize SUVs -- or some of the worst, according to this government chart ranking 2010 SUVs by fuel consumption. The turbodiesel X5 gets the best gas mileage (22 mpg overall), while the high-powered X5 M gets the worst (14 mpg overall).
Review: 2010 Sport Utility Vehicles, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov