• 34
2009 BMW X5 xDrive35d - Click above for high-res image gallery

BMW heralds its X5 sport utility vehicle as a "Sport Activity Vehicle." The tactic is designed to focus attention on the vehicle's on-road handling and driving dynamics, but it's also an attempt to eliminate any need for the automaker to apologize for the X5's limited cargo space and restricted off-road capabilities. Regardless, consumers don't seem to mind, as they've been snatching up the SAV since its introduction in 1999.

BMW delivers the goods with three capable gasoline-fed engines, including a new 555-hp twin-turbocharged X5M, that keeps the ute's fun-to-drive factor higher than nearly every SUV on the road. So with on-road performance such a high priority, why has BMW decided to fit the 335d's 3.0-liter turbodiesel into its biggest SUV? More to the point, how does the fuel-efficient oil-burner fit into the mix and does it affect drivability and performance in the process? All that and more after the jump.

Photos by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

Just over ten years ago, BMW debuted its first sport utility vehicle. Its introduction helped mark the start of the unibody crossover era which is still dominating the market today (the Mercedes-Benz ML320 did beat the X5 to the showroom by a year, but it rode on a body-on-frame platform). Unlike the Lexus RX300 (also new for 1999), which shared components with the sedate Toyota Camry, the E53-platform X5 was a close cousin to the E39 5 Series – an award-winning sport sedan.

Manufactured in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the first-generation X5 was offered in many different configurations with both six- and eight-cylinder gasoline powerplants and a multitude of trim level, including the "X5 Security," with bullet-resistant windows and ballistics-resistant armor for high-risk clientele.

The second-generation, E70 debuted as a 2007 model. Wider and longer than its predecessor, the updated X5 was now available with an optional third-row, bringing seating capacity up to seven. Loaded with new technology and innovations, including composite front quarter panels and an extensive use of aluminum components, the X5's curb weight was down and overall balance nearly perfect as on-road performance was still a primary engineering objective.

Today, BMW offers the X5 with a choice of powerplants. The standard engine is a 3.0-liter gasoline inline-six (260 hp) or an optional 4.8-liter gasoline V8 (350 hp). Those seeking even more performance (and a quenched ego) will seek the X5 M with its twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 (555 hp) and laundry list of go-fast components. While the new X5 M scoots exceptionally well around a race circuit, its existence isn't nearly as significant as the new xDrive35d -- the efficient diesel variant.

With the exception of a small badge on the lower part of each front door and slight trim changes to the front grille, the diesel model is nearly indistinguishable from its gas-fueled 3.0-liter (xDrive30i) sibling. However, lift the hood and an all-aluminum, twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter oil-burning inline-six greets you, with common-rail direct fuel injection (feeding fuel at up to 26,000 psi) and a compression ratio of 16.5:1. While the 265 horsepower at 4,200 rpm isn't particularly impressive at first blush, like all modern diesels, it's the torque output that's important. At just 1,750 rpm, the high-compression oil-burner churns out 425 pound-feet of twist (trumping both diesel offerings from Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen) sending its prodigious grunt through a ZF-sourced six-speed automatic (6HP26 TU) gearbox.

All standard X5 models, including this diesel model, are fitted with BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system. Under normal conditions torque is split favors a rear bias (40/60). The torque split, through its multi-disc clutch, is variable; ratios constantly change based on road conditions. The vehicle's stability control electronics (DSC) take advantage of its adaptive ability to enhance handling. If DSC senses oversteer, it's able to send the maximum amount of maximum to the front wheels. If the electronics detect understeer, the front wheels receive no torque. As expected, xDrive works completely seamlessly and automatically.

Our diesel-powered xDrive35d ("35d") test vehicle carried a base price of $51,200 (the gasoline-fed xDrive30i starts at $47,500). This particular Mineral Green Metallic over Tobacco Nevada leather model was fitted with the Premium Package, Cold Weather Package, Technology Package, heads-up Display, satellite radio and Comfort Access, among other features. It also had the Sport Package, which includes 19-inch wheels and electronic damping control, bumping the MSRP to $66,620. (BMW has been carrying a $4,500 rebate/incentive on its diesel models for several months, effectively lowering the base price below the gasoline model.)

Our week with the 35d was busy. We ran errands, drove soccer carpools and visited business clients. We climbed over mountain passes, sped down the highways and sat cursing in traffic. One morning we loaded the whole family for a one-day round-trip from Los Angeles to Morro Bay (California's central coast) and the 425-mile trip was easily covered in a single tank of fuel.

From the driver's seat, the view outside is commanding. Thanks to its unibody construction, and a seat raised off the floor, there's a nice footwell with generous legroom and a large dead pedal for resting the left leg. The sport seats (standard in the Sport Package) are well-bolstered and offer medical-grade lumbar support. Our tester wasn't equipped with the optional third-row seating (skip it unless you need it for small kids), but the second row is roomy and incredibly comfortable for any sized adult thanks to artfully sculpted driver and front passenger seatbacks. Both the console-mounted transmission shifter and parking/emergency brake are electric, thus freeing up a large bit of storage in the center console (plus there is a big glove box on the passenger's dash). Overall cabin ergonomics are typical BMW -- once you're introduced to the layout, and become familiar with switchgear locations, it soon becomes second-nature.

Outward visibility is good for an SUV. The exterior mirrors are large and well-positioned for viewing the flanks while parking near curbs or driving through traffic. The Technology Package on our 35d included the "Rear-view camera." Although these back-up video devices are a godsend on just about every SUV, we found this one on our X5 quite useless. We would be several seconds into our reversing maneuver when the camera would finally initialize -- too late for whatever hapless animal or vehicle happened to be sitting immediately behind us. The "Park Distance Control" parking sensors with the visual display and audio tone, on the other hand, were priceless.

Like most BMW models, the steering effort on the X5 xDrive35d is high but very accurate (while the X5 30i and 48i are offered with BMW's controversial Active Steering option, the 35d is not). At speed, the heavy steering lends a substantial and very stable feel to the overall driving dynamics. There's no wandering or tracking -- traits commonly associated with traditional trucks and SUVs. Most BMWs feel securely "planted" on the highway, even with irregular road surfaces, and the X5 is no exception.

With handling dynamics taking precedence on the engineering check list, the effort has paid off. Even in diesel guise, the BMW X5 is one of the few SUVs that's truly enjoyable to flog in the canyons. In addition to the lightweight, multi-link rear suspension, the front setup of the X5 is unique in that it's a double wishbone multi-link design with upper A-arms combined with double-pivot lower links similar to the setup on the 7 Series (at its introduction, it was the first non-strut design on a BMW since 1961 -- with the exception of the mid-engine M1).

Like the Porsche Cayenne and Infiniti FX, the two other top sport-oriented contenders in this segment, the X5 more than holds its own far above posted speed limits. Body roll is well controlled (especially with our test model's Electronic Damping Control) and grip is excellent thanks to 255/55R18 tires on all four corners and plenty of negative rear camber. Brake late, get on the throttle and all 425 lb-ft of torque pulls the 'ute through the bend with ease. The X5 is one of those rare SUVs that can shame many self-proclaimed sport sedans on a circular onramp, but if pushed too hard, the X5 will safely understeer and remind the driver that they're getting too frisky with nearly 5,300 pounds of machinery. In all honesty, you really aren't supposed to have this much fun in a diesel-powered truck.

We don't normally electronically test for acceleration numbers, but this time we made an exception. We happened to have a 2008 X5 3.0si model within arm's reach for a few timed comparison runs (they both share 3.0-liter inline-six powerplants) and using a rather simple Escort G-Timer GT2, we left the transmission in "Drive" and ran each SAV on a long straight for a quarter mile. Without any of the diesel's slight turbo lag, the gasoline model was marginally quicker to 20 mph. After that, the turbocharged diesel took the lead and never looked back. The gasoline variant hit 60 mph in 8.42 seconds while the diesel model did it in 7.28 seconds. The quarter mile came up in 16.37 seconds at 84.70 mph in the gasoline model, while the stump-pulling diesel ran the same distance in 15.58 seconds at 90.60 mph. The diesel doesn't just pull better numbers -- it feels remarkably faster than its gasoline sibling.

The particular sound of the X5 35d deserves mention. While the inline-six is noticeably smoother than Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volkswagen's six-pot diesel offerings, it's also louder. The diesel mill's unique clamor permeates through the firewall like a trustworthy Cummins at low speeds. However, at highway speeds it's unnoticeable. It's not annoying (in fact, one passenger thought it sounded "cool"), just very different from BMW's familiar silky inline-six gasoline note.

While the torque and power of the engine is exceptional, the fuel economy is downright extraordinary. The EPA rates the X5 xDrive35d at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway (for comparison, the gasoline-fed xDrive30i is rated 15 city and 21 highway). During our highway trip up the California Coast we were sipping diesel at a rate of 29.4 mpg, according to the on-board computer, and burning less than a quarter tank of fuel every 125 miles. After one full tank of city driving, we hand-calculated 19.31 mpg overall (for comparison, the same driving in the 3.0-liter gasoline model averages 14.48 mpg). Our math says that the X5 diesel will earn about 25 percent better real-world city fuel economy, and about 30 percent better on the highway, when compared to its 3.0-liter gasoline sibling.

A few more honorable mentions... Bonus points go to the X5's excellent adaptive xenon headlamps. Not only do they track corners and illuminate far down the road, but the fog lamps are programmed to automatically (and individually) provide fill light during low speed maneuvers. The seats (front and rear) feel firm at first, but your spine will be very happy after a seven-hour shift in the cabin. The optional heads-up display didn't make our greatest hits list, as we couldn't see it with polarized glasses during the day and its limited information was rather useless at night (M cars get a unique HUD with a more useful information).

The arrival of the diesel to the X5 lineup really shouldn't disturb owners of either V8 model. Those horsepower connoisseurs enjoy the instant power underfoot and rarely check the monthly fuel bill. However, owners of the 3.0-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.

Without question, we really enjoyed the BMW X5 xDrive35d. While it is not the fastest, most cavernous, or best handling sport utility on the market, the innovative diesel variant offers more than a generous balance of those three important traits -- and it delivers very impressive fuel economy -- without sacrificing anything to its gasoline equivalent.

Photos by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I am a sales advisor at a BMW dealership and although I would consider myself a "purist" as we call ourselves in the sports car world, the X5 3.5d is an amazing vehicle for what it is. Although SUV's, SAV's, CUV's aren't my cup of tea, they do serve their purpose for the people who are into those type of vehicles, and also want the driving dynamics/handling/safety/luxury that go along with a BMW, as well as having a roundel on the front of their hood. Most people who buy these, are using them as modes of transportation for their families, and have no intentions of ever taking them off road, and to be honest I don't think I could ever justify taking a $50k + offroad anyways. There have been several ignorant comments made about this vehicle such as "I don't get the point of this" or "only manages 19 mpg" and so forth. There are many more variables that go into those numbers than what you are considering. For one, this is a 5300 lb vehicle, that's getting nearly 20mpg in town and 30mpg highway. That in and of itself is outstanding for a vehicle of its size. Then thow on top of it that it has 265hp and 425ft/lb's of torque, and those mpg ratings are even more impressive. On top of all that, this vehicle is less expensive than the gasoline variant, making it a no brainer.

      I've driven all 4 variants of the X5, and unless you have a huge ego and need to best your neighbor who just bought a Porsche Cayanne, the diesel is the way to go. Yes the 4.8 and X5M are faster, but the 4.8 isn't THAT much faster to justify the price difference, and the fuel savings of the diesel make buying it even more justifiable. The X5M, is a spectacular performing vehicle for its size, but at nealy double the price, it's only for a select few that just have to have the next biggest baddest car on the market.

      Additionally, contrary to popular belief, people who buy $50k+ BMW's ARE concerned with fuel economy and savings. From my short experience as a sales advisor, nearly everyone who buys a new or CPO BMW is trying to live above their means, and some customers buying new cars between $50-100k have walked away from buying a car because of a few hundred dollars that they wanted taken off the asking price. So not only do buyers of high-line vehicles generally live slightly above their means (as do most americans) but aslo tend to be a bit stingy. Even the people who buy these vehicles who are very well off, tend to pay even more attention to how much money they are spending and or wasting. Most people who become wealthy do not become wealthy by carelessly spending their money, they like to save money and get the most value out of it, which is why the diesel makes even more sense to the wealthy who are in the market for a car like this.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "...if pushed too hard, the X5 will safely oversteer..."

      You may want to look into that. That's not right.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Sure it is, if you follow BMW's autobahn tire pressure recommendations.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Figured it was just a typo. Thanks for the fix.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Thanks for catching that. Fixed. That was obviously a typo.

        I've tracked many X5 models over the years (E53 and E70 models including the X5 M). They hold up well, but you can't escape the mass. Eventually, they push and understeer.

        - Mike
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sorry, but the RAV4 started the crossover fad in the US in 1996. The RX300 was the first luxury crossover in 1998.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I assure you we do not have the same idea. When I say that a crossover is built on a car frame, I do mean that it is completley based on the platform of a passenger car. In every case where I see the term crossover, I can tell you that when the term is used correctly, there is a related "car" built on the same platform and in virtually every single case, that car came first.

        Basically, in your definition (which is wrong, despite your insistance), any unibody SUV is a crossover. That's inherently wrong and where I disagree with you.

        Once again, my definiton of a crossover (which also happens to be the predominant definiton), is an SUV that is built upon the platform of a car. In simpler terms, a car-based SUV. Again, there is no car that the Cherokee was built off of. Being unibody does not make it a car any more than being BOF makes something a truck.

        I do not make the jump that since cars are unibody that any unibody SUV is a crossover. That seems to be the gist of your opinion. Remember that cars were not always unibody either, they were BOF before that as well. If we really wanted to take your definition to its ultimate end, all vehicles are the same. Obviously, that doesn't help matters much and thus we have the definitions that we do now.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Actually the jeep cheorokee could be considered the first crossover (before they were called that)

        • 5 Years Ago
        The Outback at the time is really just a tall wagon, like the Audi allroad.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I gotta disagree with you Montoym. The 1st-gen GM Theta CUVs, the GM Lambda CUVs, VW Touareg, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, and the Mercedes ML and GL are widely considered to be CUVs but they are not based on car platforms. In all of those cases, the vehicles were built from purpose-built unibody platforms but all are considered CUVs. Even the Wikipedia link you mentioned lists all of those as CUVs but doesn't identify them as being based off of cars.
        • 5 Years Ago
        My definition is a integrated frame meaning not a frame with a body on top, which is what the cherokee was while all other "suv"s were on truck frames.

        We have the same idea, however we are nitpicking (and wrong) when we use the term a car frame expecting it to come from a previous "car"

        * Disclosure ex jeep franchise owner
        • 5 Years Ago
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossover_(automobile)#CUV_models Perhaps this section will help a bit.

        I disagree with their listing of the ML-Class, and GL-Class vehicles as CUV's. The W164 M-B platform is not linked to any other car platform that I can tell. Wouldn't be the first time I've found issue with a Wikipedia post.

        The others can be traced to car platforms. The GM Theta and Lambda platforms were both based on the Epsilon platform which is a car platform. The Touareg, Q7, and Cayenne were all apparently based on the A6 platform (which I honestly wasn't aware of). Barring that being fact(which nothing else I've read seems to indicate), I'd also lobby for their removal from that list just as I would the ML, and GL M-B vehicles.

        The rest of that list, I stand by wholeheartedly.
      • 5 Years Ago
      About the same interior space as a 3-series wagon with the weight of a 7-series and the off-road capability of a Z4, all so you can fit into a certain image.

      I'll never understand this sort of vehicle.
        • 5 Years Ago
        most suvs are more about road presence and ride height. it's about being the big dog on the road.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Agreed. But I can think of at least two benefits to the stupid SUV craze:

        1) If you buy something else, especially something like a small wagon, you won't see a million of them on the road.

        2) Manufacturers and dealers typically make bigger profits from SUVs and crossovers, which means those customers are in effect subsidizing those of us who prefer other configurations.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Ross: including actual people. The 3-series has 0 back seat room if tall people are in the front.

        The OP is sensationalizing to try make a point.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @why not the LS2LS7?

        i don't get the point why normal people that don't haul anything need a truck.
        the U.S. should put a tax system based on weight of the car.

        diesel beats gasonline
        : )

        like i said a few times, the inline 6 d engine from bmw sounds super sweet.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @dal20402 - you an me both. this. the x6. the 5whateverthehellGT. Who cares though? They're like the cayenne, they're designed to bolster BMW's bottom line with organic sales, and BMW REALLY needs 'em right now.

        I'll be waiting for a lighter, faster 1 series.
      • 5 Years Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well all SUVs/CUVs are chick cars really. I don't know any men who drive one, but almost every woman in my life does. Because women like to sit up high, they feel safer. I do like the way the current X5 looks, but in the end it is still a soccer mom mobile, and always will be.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is a great looking car, and it should have been offered with an oil burner in the USA from the start. But this fad of calling everything which rides higher than a sedan a CUV, Crossover, and the rest of the other acronyms is just a political/marketing ploy to combat the SUV backlash. Can we just stop it please?
      • 5 Years Ago
      You should have used a VBOX for testing acceleration. It is very accurate.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Whenever I see this vehicle I can't help but think about the line in Jay Z's song,

      "We don't drive X5s we give em to baby mommas"

      After that it became the Porsche Boxster of suvs for me.

      I wish he had not made that song because I kind of like the X5....
      • 5 Years Ago
      check the economy specs on the US versions and then go to a UK BMW site and check the specs there then be wowed and amazed at the difference in economy in the models, is someone deliberatly screwing up the engines to deliver very poor MPG i wonder
        • 5 Years Ago
        well i stand corrected thankyou TACHYON, but i have always found it strange why there is such a backward feeling to the newer diesels in the US is anyone making a diesel hybrid?
      • 5 Years Ago
      It will, but saying 7.3 vs 7.28 seconds better reflects the precision that the device is capable of measuring. You still get the percentage difference, but its cleaner to read, doesn't look like it came straight out of some excel sheet, and doesn't make undue promises about the precision of the instrument or any other factors that will affect acceleration times by 0.1 second. I'm sure that errors due to things such as head/tail winds, road temperature and surface friction, tire condition, temperature and pressure, engine, transmission and differential temperatures, the affects of additional wear on the gasoline X5, and possibly different amounts of brake-torquing (if applicable) would give a margin of error for each vehicle of at least +/- 0.1 seconds on each measurement. This isn't an error thats unique to this article, its pervasive throughout the auto reviewing world, but its still assuming too much about the repeatability of runs.

      Kudos for performing the acceleration tests of both vehicles on the same strip and same day though, that will def help the comparability of those numbers.

      • 5 Years Ago
      The 335i is a 3.0L gas engine, not a turbo diesel.

      335d is the diesel.
    • Load More Comments