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2009 BMW X5 xDrive35d Review – Advanced diesel technology meets the luxury SUV

Thursday August 6th, 2009 at 2:88 PM
Posted by: AKramer

2009 BMW X5 xDrive 35d

By Alex Kramer

Pros:

  • Dual-turbocharged 6 cylinder diesel engine = tons of torque
  • Impressive handling for a 5,100 pound SUV
  • Excellent fuel efficiency
  • Well-appointed, spacious interior

Cons:

  • Annoying throttle lag, especially at low speeds
  • iDrive interface is still clumsy and confusing
  • Steep $68,000 sticker price


Introduction

Ask an American what they think about diesel engines and you’re likely to get one of the following looks: a blank stare, as if the person has never heard of such a thing, or a distasteful frown, like they just ate something past its expiration date. Go to Europe and ask the same question, and people will simply show you by taking you for a spin around the block. While diesels account for just a fraction of U.S. auto sales, Europeans of have long enjoyed the efficiency of diesel technology, with almost half of all cars in Europe running on diesel.

Luckily, things are about to change. With high gas prices driving Americans to more seriously consider fuel efficiency and with European manufacturers developing advanced diesel engines that can meet strict U.S. emissions standards, diesel sales are set to take off.

For 2009, BMW is rolling out its first diesel powered cars in over 20 years. Using BluePerformance urea injection, these new models are legal in all fifty states, even those following California’s strict emissions standards. Having driven the X5 xDrive35d throughout California for a week, we’re ready to weigh in on whether this new take on an old technology can deliver both efficiency and performance in a luxury SUV.

2009 BMW X5 xDrive 35d

Driving Impressions

The X5 xDrive35d features BMW’s 3.0L sequential twin-turbocharged, inline six-cylinder diesel engine. Producing a healthy 265 hp and 425 lb ft of torque (at a low 1,750 rpm) this engine has more than enough muscle for the X5. There is quite a bit of throttle lag at low speeds that prevents the car from launching hard, but once the engine spools up there is an abundance of thrust that should satisfy all but the most hard-core speed freaks. With so much torque on tap, passing at speed is almost effortless and climbing steep hills is accomplished with little drama.

The X5 xDrive35d also features a smooth shifting 6-speed automatic transmission with steptronic gear selection and sport mode that does a nice job of keeping the engine in its powerband. Those concerned about the less than refined knocking noise most diesels make will be pleasantly surprised that this engine runs quite smooth and rarely sounds like a diesel from inside the car.

To top it off, fuel efficiency is far better than an equivalent gas engine, with the 3.0 liter Advanced Diesel twin-turbocharged engine making close to 30 mpg when cruising on the freeway. Compared to the V-8 powered X5 we tested last year, which only averaged a measly 14 mpg, the X5 xDrive35d should easily average in the low to mid 20’s as long as you’re not too heavy on the throttle.

2009 BMW X5

Anyone afraid that the X5 doesn’t live up to BMW’s reputation for stellar handling needn’t worry; this is one of the few SUVs that can hustle. Despite a hefty 5,100 lb curb weight, the X5 is quite agile and more than willing to tackle twisty roads. The suspension is perfectly tuned, keeping the X5 nice and flat while cornering, but without becoming harsh over rough or uneven surfaces.

Push the X5 hard and the wide 19” all-season Michelins will start to howl, but even at the limit the car remains quite neutral, with relatively little understeer. Should you get too carried away, the X5 features a host of electronic safety features, including dynamic stability, traction (DSC), and braking control, to keep things in line. Although we couldn’t really test the xDrive intelligent all-wheel-drive system (that darned California sunny weather!), having all four wheels available for power delivery sure doesn’t hurt, especially with such a gutsy engine.

Interior/Exterior/Build

For 2009, the interior and exterior of the X5 carry over. On the outside, the X5 is still a stylish machine, with clean lines and in the case of our test car, beautiful Monaco Blue Metallic paint. Step inside and you are greeted by luxurious tan leather seats and an impressively large panoramic sunroof. Overall interior room is quite good, although the optional 3rd row seats are rather cramped. Fold everything down in the back and you have plenty of room to throw in a bike or other large object.

BMW X5 interior i-Drive System with onboard computer X5 head-up display

As is customary with BMWs, the car is solidly built, although a few squeaks and rattles did make themselves known. Sound dampening is excellent, with low road noise and minimal engine noise. As previously mentioned, from the driver’s seat the diesel engine almost sounds like a conventional gas-powered V-6 or V-8.

3rd row seats Rear cargo easily fits a bike

Our tester came loaded with options, including the cold weather package (heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, retractable headlight washers) and premium package (automatic tailgate, auto-dimming mirrors, lumbar support, universal garage door opener). Throw in the sport package (19” wheels, sport seats, electronic damping control, etc.) and technology package (rear-view camera, Park-Distance control, Nav system) and you have a car with features galore. There is even a nifty heads up display that lets you know how fast you are going without taking your eyes off the road.

Unfortunately, controlling all of these electronic features is BMW’s iDrive interface, a system that hasn’t gotten any better with age. Since it’s introduction 2001, iDrive has been much maligned for its lack of intuitiveness and potential for driver distraction, and rightfully so. Trying to access the various menus and sub-menus with the single controller can be maddening, and trying to do so while driving is unnecessarily risky. Some BMW models received an updated iDrive for 2009 with a new controller and larger LCD panel. Until the X5 gets the upgrade, this is one feature we wish we could omit from the option sheet.

2009 BMW X5

Verdict

The X5 is a stylish, well-built luxury SUV. With a powerful and efficient diesel engine, the X5 35d ups the ante and makes a strong case for the further adoption of this old technology in America. Although diesel engines still carry a large stigma in this country, if enough people get behind the wheel of this car, and others like it, that image is bound to change.

About the only major downside to the X5 xDrive35d is a whopping price tag of over $68,000. Granted, that figure includes over $17,000 in options, but even with a few less features the X5 remains pricey, especially compared to the Japanese competition. But for some, the allure of a German nameplate is powerful. Add in the cost savings of the more efficient diesel engine, and you have an intriguing and compelling new option for luxury SUV buyers.

Build Interior Performance Handling Styling Value Overall
Rating 4.5 4.0 4.5 4.5 4.5 3.5 4.25/B+

BMW X5 Photo Gallery

BMW X5 Specs

BMW X5 xDrive35d Specs

BMW USAThe official BMW of North America website – www.bmwusa.com

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