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2011 BMW X5 xDrive35i Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

Just as grown children often find themselves caring for elderly parents, the BMW X6 is giving back to the vehicle that spawned it. Based heavily on the BMW X5, the X6 came to market offering the choice of a 300-hp twin-turbocharged inline-six or a 400-hp twin-turbo V-8, even while the X5 languished with—horror of horrors!—naturally aspirated gasoline engines, including a 260-hp inline-six and a 350-hp V-8.

As of the 2011 model year, the X5 languishes no more. A pair of turbocharged gas motors—a 300-hp six or a 400-hp eight—will slot under its Roundel-stamped hood. The 4.4-liter is identical to the carry-over V-8 in the X6, and both vehicles will adopt BMW’s new N55 single-turbo inline-six. The N55 shares the twin-turbo N54’s 3.0-liter displacement and matches its 300 hp and 300 lb-ft, although it stretches the peak torque band 200 rpm lower, to 1200 rpm, and holds it all the way until 5000 rpm. The 3.0-liter diesel xDrive35d remains in the lineup, as does the insane X5 M with its 555-hp, 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8.

The six was the only engine available to us on our early preview drive of the 2011 X5, and we found nothing to complain about. BMW claims that X5s equipped with the new six will match those with the old 4.8-liter V-8 in the sprint to 60 mph, an assertion we don’t doubt. We tested the V-8 to 60 in 6.1 seconds. The six’s 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque are only 50 fewer in each category than the outgoing eight’s, and those figures trounce the old, unblown six’s by 40 hp and 75 lb-ft. And although a six doesn’t have quite the same stirring soundtrack as a V-8, the new, single-turbo N55 does a decent job of mimicking the old E46 M3’s note, with a rawer, more aggressive sound than that of the twin-turbo N54.

And, of course, those needing the barbaric yawp of a V-8 can now opt for the marvelous 4.4-liter, which betters the old eight by 50 hp and 100 lb-ft of torque. The engine proved to be a doozy during our experience with our long-term X6 xDrive50i, propelling the squat off-road “coupe” to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds. There is no reason to expect the V-8–powered X5 won’t match that performance.

Shifting (Lots of) Gears

What’s more, both engines are paired with the new ZF eight-speed automatic transmission used in the current 7-series and 5-series GT. The 265-hp X5 xDrive35d diesel, with its 425 lb-ft of torque, is the only model that will soldier on with a six-speed auto. The eight-speeder is smooth and quick, and the ratios here are spaced such that eight gears don’t seem like too many, as they do in the Lexus IS F. At 75 mph, the transmission’s ultra-tall eighth gear has the inline-six turning at about 1800 rpm, a lazy rate that ought to give highway fuel economy a welcome boost. Fuel economy should get another small nudge northward from BMW’s brake energy regeneration, which pairs a deep-cycle battery with an alternator that only engages and charges it when the vehicle is coasting or braking, thereby reducing drag on the engine.

Our one complaint about the transmission is that it’s somewhat loath to downshift, and the throttle needs a deeper stab at highway speeds before you get a kickdown. Given the rapid spool-up of the N55 single-turbo engine, however, a downshift is really only necessary for aggressive lane blocking and other unethical behavior.

Aside from the new “xDrive35i” and “xDrive50i” badges replacing 2010’s “xDrive30i” and “xDrive48i,” there is little on the exterior of the X5 to distinguish the more powerful new models from those they replace. Three new colors are available: Deep Sea Blue, Platinum Grey, and Sparkling Bronze. If a vehicle isn’t painted one of those hues, though, redesigned lights and bumpers front and rear are barely noticeable with new and old vehicles parked side by side. Really, you’d need a composite photograph of the two models spliced together to show the changes.

No Interior Motives

Inside, unless the previously unavailable Oyster or Cinnamon Brown leather is spec’d, there is not a single visible clue this is the updated model. Equipment could clue in the driver, however, as the 2011 X5 gets a couple of reviled technologies as optional equipment: lane-departure warning vibrates the steering wheel when side-mounted cameras see the car wander. Incidentally, the sun-bleached roads on our Florida drive route were so pale that the cameras couldn’t read the lines and let us meander all over the place. Active cruise control also is available and will bring the car all the way down to a stop. Tech from BMW subsidiary Rolls-Royce (as well as the new 7-series) makes its way onto the X5 options sheet as well, with cameras mounted in the nose looking to the right and left so that X5 drivers can safely inch out from narrow alleys without tripping up bicycle couriers or having the front clip ripped off by a passing dump truck. This is part of a 360-degree, top-down-view camera package that copies Infiniti’s Around View monitor.

Two new trim packages are available on the six-cylinder X5, which, at $46,675, is actually $1800 cheaper than 2010’s base model. The Premium package costs $5800—there’s that cost trickling back in—and includes various items such as 19-inch aluminum wheels, a panoramic sunroof, a power tilting and telescoping steering wheel, USB connectivity for iPods and the like, privacy glass, and upgraded leather. For another $2500—we’re at $54,975 now—buyers can get the Sport Activity package, which lumps in 20-inch wheels, sport seats, Shadowline exterior trim, and a black headliner. The X5 xDrive50i starts at $59,275, a $2100 increase from 2010.

Exercise caution with the options list, and the X5 can still be had for a reasonable price—well, reasonable compared with the rest of the luxury-SUV flock. And like its begotten offspring, the X6, the X5 remains a surprisingly agile and entertaining way to transport the family. The new, more powerful engines will only enhance its appeal.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.

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