Rocky Mountain high

Putting the next generation of the BMW X5 through its paces.

By Helmut Dostal

It’s no coincidence that BMW selected Whistler’s Olympic Park in the mountains of British Columbia for the international media launch of its third-generation 2014 X5 Sports Activity Vehicle. The scenery is breathtaking and the terrain that played host to the 2010 Winter Olympics offers all the challenges needed to flaunt the off-road capabilities of this new X5.

hf_X5aMy test vehicle is standing by at Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim. It’s a white BMW X5 xDrive50i, which I will later trade for the diesel-powered X5 xDrive35d. The design of the new X5 is a further evolution of the previous model, with a bolder stance and sporty, elegant trim elements, while maintaining the characteristics of a top-of-the-line member of the X family.

While the 445 hp TwinPower Turbo V8 engine purrs in anticipation, I take time to check the interior, reimagined by Oliver Heilmer, Head of Interior Design at BMW’s design lab in California. Here again, the 2014 design keeps enough elements to retain the iconic BMW feel, so coveted by loyal owners. For buyers who like to add more char-isma, a choice of Luxury Line, xLine or M Sport will be on offer.

And, for the first time, BMW is building a seven-seat option into the X5, along with redesigned seats and a choice of fine leathers and woods. The remote-activated, two-section split tailgate is a standard feature, and can also be operated from the driver’s seat.

hf_X5bThe drive north along the beautiful coastal road towards Whistler highlights the X5’s smooth and powerful highway manners, very much the feeling of quiet luxury that I expect in a refined car. The performance for the xDrive50i, not tested on public highways of course, is posted at 5 seconds for 0–100 km/h. The xDrive35i, with its 3.0-litre TwinPower Turbo inline-6 engine, takes 1.6 seconds longer.

But the true test for the X5 is its off-road performance, as we leave the BC highways and drive deep into the rugged terrain of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Our test-drive host team has prepared a taxing course, including a hill-descent challenge that allows me to take my foot off the brake while the vehicle virtually crawls down the gravelly surface of a very steep hill. This gives me steering control under very difficult conditions.

Then there’s a stretch of trail with mammoth potholes, big enough to swallow most of a wheel. The X5 deftly navigates across these obstacles by keeping only two wheels on the ground, while the other two wheels have no ground contact at all. No problem, explains our team leader—the car transfers all the power to the wheels with ground contact and that’s all we need. And right he is, of course.

The X5 emerges from its torture-test intact, and the next stop is a well-deserved lunch break. We dine and spin car writers’ yarns at a grand “log castle” called Cedarstone just outside Whistler. This private luxury estate, built entirely with BC yellow cedar and set among 5.7 acres of woods and streams, is the perfect venue to quiz the attending BMW specialists from the X5 team.  Discussions quickly move to the BMW’s Advanced Diesel technology, as featured in the X5 xDrive35d, which happens to be my post-lunch test car.

Again with TwinPower Turbo technology, the X5 diesel delivers 255 hp and substantial torque of 413 lb-ft at the low 1,500–3,000 rpm range, which makes it quick off the mark indeed. On the way back to Vancouver, the X5 diesel runs as clean and quiet as the gasoline version, with the added benefit of a lower suggested retail price ($64,400 vs $76,500) and preliminary ratings of 20% lower fuel consumption.

With its Connected Drive technology, BMW offers a wide range of performance, comfort and safety options on all X5 models such as the Active Driving Assistant, which maintains a safe following distance at any speed up to 210 km/h. A front camera and full-range radar sensors automatically brake the vehicle to a standstill if the driver fails to react to a warning.

In addition, comfort options such as a self-parking feature and a heads-up display that projects important information onto the windshield are available on all models.

Judging from my impressions behind the wheel, BMW has made a clear success of the third generation of its Sports Activity Vehicles.


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