Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 BMW X5 xDrive35d

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Diesel power and big SUVs go together like Thelma and Louise, politicians and finger pointing, fries and gravy. And like the latter, it is a pairing more appreciated by Canadians than our neighbours to the south.

Diesel power and big SUVs go together like Thelma and Louise, politicians and finger pointing, fries and gravy.

BMW certainly isn’t discouraging the choice, as the premium for the 2015 X5 xDrive35d is only $1,500 over the gas-powered X5 xDrive35i. Be that as it may, $67,000 ain’t small peanuts.

For this we’re getting the third-gen X5 that bowed as a 2014 model. Sticking to the Ten Commandments of nameplate evolution, Bimmer’s latest lux SUV is slightly longer, wider, has a bigger grille, nicer interior, more gears in the transmission, more tech, gets better fuel economy… is that ten yet? Whatever. It also has one less turbo strapped to the 3.0L inline-six diesel than the previous X5d.

All this translates to a much nicer driving experience. While slightly down on torque and power from the old model, the engine is considerably smoother and quieter, as is the ride. The second-gen X5 diesel rode like an ox cart, and while this 2015 certainly has some starch in its underpinnings, it can be described as pleasantly firm as opposed to unpleasantly crashy.

The diesel-six makes 255 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque, and is hooked to the ubiquitous ZF-sourced eight-speed auto that seems to make everybody and every vehicle imminently happy. The latter has been tweaked for 2015 in the interest of more fuel savings. Average fuel consumption is pegged at 8.7 L/100 km, which, for a 2,346 kg luxo-barge that has little problem getting out of its own way is bordering on the miraculous. My week of predominantly highway and secondary road driving ended at 7.6 L/100 km – exactly what I posted in a Volkswagen Beetle Classic 1.8T the previous week.

Of course, folks will be buying the charming little V-Dub with actual fuel savings in mind. Those purchasing this $77,100 as-tested X5 xDrive35d will be doing so to say they are saving money on fuel.

Nonetheless, diesel fuel is currently 12 cents per litre less dear than regular gas, so as I blast around in this fine handling box of luxury, I can look down on the masses from my elevated perch (both literally and figuratively) and feel somewhat smug in the knowledge that this puppy is cheaper to run than buddy’s Accord over in the next lane.

As a daily conveyance, X5 xDrive35d delivers on all counts. The interior shows all the current BMW design and functional cues. It’s elegant, nicely appointed and makes ergonomic sense once you learn how everything works. Sure, there are some odd nuances, like the electronic shift wand that has you pushing it forward for reverse. And of course the iDrive interface presents a bit of a learning curve, but we have to remember that if you own this car, it’s assumed you will have the time to learn how to use it.

So the argument is not how long it takes a confused newbie or grumpy journalist to learn the ins and outs, but how everything functions once familiarity sets in. I’m familiar with BMWs and I give ‘em a thumbs up. The buttons surrounding the central rotary controller (radio, nav, media, phone, back…) are easily found without looking due to their varying topography. There are real radio preset buttons (which can also be programmed with nav destinations or favourite phone numbers), a good old fashioned volume knob and lots of hard HVAC buttons. And no touchscreen. Voice commands work well too.

The standard seats are a bit flat and lack lateral support – not the usual snugly cosseting affairs we’re used to in BMW products, but surely a reflection of the SUV’s intended demo. It’s all about easy ingress and accommodation for all posterior dimensions. If you want a better seating experience, go for the optional comfort or sport seats.

The central gauge cluster is now completely digital, and as such transforms its look with each drive mode. Eco is blue tinged, Comfort reverts to a standard look and Sport throws up a big red tachometer with digital speedometer. At night, the gauges glow the classic BMW orange.

This tester did not have the $3,500 adaptive damping, but its suspension is expertly tuned to provide sharp handling and a decent ride. The X5 would likely be more compliant on the standard 18-inch rolling stock as this car wore optional $1,200 20-inch Y-Spoke alloys.

Steering feel is not quite up to the best BMW offers in some of its other products, but again, for the demographic it’s just fine.

The BMW X5 xDrive35d can be optioned to the nines, drawing from a lengthy list of interior and gizmo upgrades. This tester had the $4,400 Premium package that includes universal garage remote, proximity key, soft close doors, manual side sunshades, lumbar support, heated rear seats, four-zone climate, lights package, head-up display, Harman/Kardon audio and satellite radio. The excellent active LED headlights are an additional $2,500, and the $1,500 Driver Assistance Package bestows blind spot detection, collision warning, lane departure warning and Active Protection (tighten seatbelts, moves seats upright and closes windows in the event of a collision).

Third-row seating is available in the X5 for $2,100. If you want the suite of radar-based kit that includes adaptive cruise control, you’re looking at another $2,500.

I drove all over hell’s half acre in this rig during its stay at chez Bleakney – city driving, traffic gridlock, sinuous secondary country roads and highway blitzes – and never was the X5 xDrive35d anything less than a stellar drive. The eight-speed ZF is the paragon of smoothness and the relentless torque from the 3.0L diesel is always underfoot. In Sport mode the X5 really wakes up – the throttle response sharpens and the tranny runs in a lower gear.

There’s some audible diesel clatter when outside the X5, but once in the cabin you’d be hard pressed to know this big SUV sucks its life juices from the yellow hose.

Worried about reliability? See how BMW’s warranty stacks up

Still, I couldn’t help but think, even with this tester being blessed with ten grand in options, there were a few expected niceties wanting – adaptive cruise, adaptive damping, the great seats we expect in BMWs and ventilation in said chairs. Sure, the stuff is all on the options list, and for those shopping in this snack bracket, another hun or so on the lease payment is probably not a big deal.

Such is the world of premium German hardware. If you’re lucky enough to play in this sandbox, the 2015 BMW X5 xDrive35d is a fuel-sippin’, fine-driving hauler that ticks all the right boxes, provided you have the financial wherewithal to tick all the right option boxes.

4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Acura MDX
Audi Q7
Infiniti QX60
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Lexus RX
Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
Porsche Cayenne
Volvo XC90

Model Tested 2015 BMW X5 xDrive35d
Base Price $67,000
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $79,295
Optional Equipment
Premium Package $4400; LED Lighting Package $2500; 20-inch Y-Spoke alloys $1200; Driver Assistant Package $1500; ConntectedDrive Services Prof with ARTTI Package $500