- Athletic handling
- Potent and efficient engines
- Luxurious and comfortable interior
- Huge list of features
- Steadfast high-speed stability
- Standard steering is stiff at low speeds
- Ride may be firm for some
- Hefty price
Take a look at the 2011 BMW X5 and you'll be hard-pressed to notice the differences from last year. The foglights have been moved inward, the rear bumper reflectors were raised a few centimeters and the lower valances were revised. Oh, and the iDrive screen got bigger. In the grand scale of makeovers, the 2011 X5 didn't exactly get the full Heidi Montag. But as "Sesame Street" is so keen to tell us, it's what's inside that really matters.
In the 2011 X5's case, it's specifically what's inside the engine bay that should make you take notice. Gone is the perfectly adequate straight-6 found in the xDrive30i model, and in its place sits the 300-hp straight-6 with its single, twin-scroll turbocharger shared with the 2011 335i. Not only does this impressive engine produce substantially more power and torque than the old 30i mill, it also achieves significantly better fuel economy.
For those looking for an even bigger dose of horsepower, the X5's top-of-the-line V8 model now features the twin-turbo 400-hp V8 shared with the 5 and 7 Series sedans. Both new engines get a slick new eight-speed automatic along with a brake regeneration system, which partially relieves the alternator of the job of fuel-sapping battery recharging.
Beyond its powertrain changes, the 2011 X5 is still the same midsize luxury crossover SUV that caters to those willing to trade some utility for a more sporting driving experience. Its taut suspension keeps the heavy body planted through corners and instills confidence at elevated highway speeds. The steering is wonderfully communicative and well-weighted at speed, but many will find it too heavy in lower-speed maneuvers.
Indeed, the 2011 BMW X5 isn't the biggest SUV around (its optional third row is barely usable) and it's pricey in comparison to vehicles like the 2011 Acura MDX, 2011 Infiniti FX series and 2011 Land Rover LR4. Then there are similarly priced models like the 2011 Porsche Cayenne and 2011 Land Rover Range Rover Sport that are also worth a good long look. Yet the BMW X5 has always had a lofty standing among this group. Given the X5's dramatically improved powertrains for 2011, that standing just got even loftier.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2011
The BMW X5 gets significant powertrain changes for 2011. The base engine is BMW's latest 300-horsepower turbocharged six-cylinder, while the V8 gets upgraded to the same 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 first seen in the 7 Series. A new eight-speed automatic becomes standard on all but the diesel-powered xDrive35d, which carries on unchanged. The 2011 X5 also gets a mild styling refresh and the wider iDrive screen now found throughout the BMW lineup.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2011 BMW X5 is a midsize luxury crossover SUV that comes standard with five-passenger seating. An optional third-row seat provides room for two (small) additional people. There are five trim levels available: xDrive35i, xDrive35i Premium, xDrive35i Sport Activity, xDrive35d and xDrive50i. The last three digits in the xDrive name indicate the engine. There is a high-performance version known as the X5 M that we address in a separate review.
Standard equipment on the xDrive35i includes 18-inch wheels, foglights, automatic and adaptive xenon headlights, automatic wipers, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 10-way power front seats, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery and a 12-speaker sound system with HD radio, a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The diesel-powered xDrive35d is equipped similarly, but adds a panoramic sunroof and the availability of additional options.
The xDrive35i Premium adds to the 35d's extra content 19-inch wheels, roof rails, privacy glass, a power-adjustable steering wheel, leather upholstery and an iPod/USB audio interface (all optional on xDrive35d). The xDrive35i Sport Activity adds an upgraded suspension, 20-inch wheels, sport seats, a thicker steering wheel, darker exterior trim and an increased top speed. This equipment is optional on the xDrive50i, which instead gets a V8 engine and a 16-speaker premium stereo, but downgrades to 18-inch wheels.
The base xDrive35i has the fewest number of optional items available, with only a Convenience package (panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors, BMW Assist telematics and Bluetooth), heated front seats, satellite radio, the iPod interface and navigation system available.
These items, plus a veritable cornucopia of others, are available on the higher trims both in packages and as stand-alone items. They include a power tailgate with adjustable opening height, parking sensors, a multiview parking camera, sideview cameras, active steering, an adaptive suspension, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, the third-row seat, Comfort Access keyless entry (push-button start is standard), four-zone climate control, 14-way "multicontour" front seats, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a head-up display, a rear seat entertainment system, the 16-speaker premium sound system and satellite radio.
The M Sport package available on the xDrive35i Sport Activity and xDrive50i includes different 20-inch wheels, the adaptive suspension, parking sensors, a body kit and an M steering wheel.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The X5's interior layout is restrained and elegant, with precise construction and high-quality materials. The front seats are nicely shaped and adjust for a wide range of body types (the optional comfort seats offer even more adjustment). With last year's inclusion of the latest iDrive system, one of our biggest previous pet peeves was remedied. The new iDrive is much easier to operate thanks to the addition of physical buttons for commonly used functions and a much larger screen.
The 2011 X5's cabin is not without its drawbacks, though. The second-row seats are mounted a bit too low to the floor, even though headroom is plentiful. Longer-legged passengers will likely bemoan this seating position, as it forces knees upwards. The optional third row is even more cramped and is suitable only for children. With both of these seats folded, cargo space measures 75 cubic feet, which is about average in this class.
Standard safety equipment for the 2011 BMW X5 includes antilock brakes, stability control, brake drying and standby features, a rollover sensor, front side airbags and side curtain airbags for the first and second rows. In government crash tests, the X5 scored a perfect five stars for frontal-impact driver protection and four stars for frontal-impact passenger protection. It got a perfect five stars for front and rear side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the X5 its highest rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
In Edmunds brake testing, the xDrive35d with optional 19-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet -- an average distance.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
Every 2011 BMW X5 is all-wheel drive (hence xDrive), but there are three engines available. The xDrive35i gets a 3.0-liter inline-6 turbocharged to produce 300 hp and 300 pound-feet of torque. Both this engine and the xDrive50i come standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission. According to BMW, the 35i will go from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds -- quicker than the old V8 model. At the same time, its estimated fuel economy of 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined are better than the old six-cylinder.
The X5 xDrive50i gets a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 producing 400 hp and a robust 450 lb-ft of torque. It'll do the 0-60 run in 5.3 seconds. Its fuel economy is a less thrifty 14/20/16.
The X5 xDrive35d features a 3.0-liter inline-6 turbodiesel that produces 265 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque. It comes with a six-speed automatic. In Edmunds acceleration testing, it went from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. This engine, which features so-called "clean diesel" technology returns estimated fuel economy of 19/26/22.
The 2011 BMW X5 is one of the best-handling midsize luxury crossovers you can buy. Whether driving on back roads or on an endless expanse of interstate, the X5 is a champ. Some competitors offer more utility and off-road capabilities, but the X5 ably brings BMW's legendary handling prowess to the SUV arena, though the elevated ride height and considerable curb weight are noticeable on tight roads. Engine performance is strong , especially the new base mill.
The X5 isn't perfect, though. We've found the steering to be overly heavy at parking lot speeds, even if its hefty nature adds precision on the open road. Even though we're not fans of optional active steering in other BMWs, it seems well suited to an SUV like the X5. Road and wind noise are pleasantly muted, but buyers looking for a Lexus-like comfy-couch ride may find this Bimmer a bit firm.
When it comes to luxury crossover SUVs, the 2011 BMW X5 is a standard-bearer in terms of handling and performance. However, it comes up a bit short on utility and value when stacked up against the competition.