2010 BMW X5 xDrive 35d
Base price: $52,025
As tested: $69,320
MPG: 19 city/26 highway
- Impressive driving and handling dynamics
- Powerful turbo diesel engine
- Annoying turbo-lag
- Diesel cost analysis doesn’t pay off
- Bland interior
By Jim Prueter
X5 adds a diesel option
BMW introduced its first SUV, the X5, back in 2000 and completed a substantial revision for the 2007 model year. Already the builder of the world’s best inline six-cylinder engines along with a respectable V-8 option, last year BMW added two new diesel-powered vehicles to the lineup.
BMW follows German automakers Audi, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz to the U.S. diesel market. Both Audi and Volkswagen brand their diesels “TDI” while Mercedes-Benz label theirs BlueTec. BMW marks their diesel-powered offerings 35d in the X5 SUV and 3-Series sedan.
For those of you who are good at decoding the alphanumeric names automakers seem to have adopted, please note the 35d does not signify a 3.5-liter engine beyond the signature twin-kidney grille slats. Rather, both models are powered by a 3.0-liter turbo diesel straight six-cylinder rated at a healthy 265 horsepower with a whopping 425 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Anyone want to move a house off its foundation or pull tree stumps out of the ground?
Diesels are anywhere from 25 to 40 percent more fuel efficient than their gasoline counterparts, and are thus wildly popular in the European auto market, where fuel prices of $7 a gallon are common. With ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel now widely available in the U.S., and California-legal exhaust technologies in place and high fuel costs, you would expect the auto-buying public to be lining up for diesels. They’re not. The problem is, Americans still remember diesel-run vehicles as noisy, belching black soot and smoke out the tail pipe, and fear they won’t be able to find diesel fuel available everywhere they travel. It’s too bad because modern diesels couldn’t be farther from this image.
Still the diesel powered X5 was less satisfying than the Mercedes-Benz ML 320 BlueTec diesel we tested earlier in the year. For one, the X5 was nosier with telltale diesel clacking and clatter when starting and at takeoff. And, there is annoying acceleration and turbo lag when attempting to take off quickly. However, once underway there was never want for more power and the high-torque diesel power never disappointed.
But the reason you would buy a diesel-powered X5 over the gasoline-powered model is for improved fuel economy. Government ratings for the X5 diesel is 19 miles per gallon in the city, 26 highway, 22 combined, versus 15/21/18 for the six-cylinder gasoline engine. We averaged 22 mpg during our week of testing in a mix of highway-city driving. Not bad for a vehicle weighing over two and a half tons. However, the diesel option will cost you $3700 more than the six-cylinder gasoline X5. With the cost of diesel fuel currently averaging $.35 per gallon more than regular unleaded the math case for a diesel just doesn’t make sense.
All this detracts from the attractiveness of diesel-powered vehicles and doesn’t make much of a business case for consumer consideration.
Unrelated to the disappointing diesel power plant, we found the handling and driving characteristics exceptional, which is why I suppose BMW markets itself as “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” No disagreements here.
The standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are strong, there’s minimal body roll on curvy mountain roads and no excessive road or wind noise in the cabin at highway speeds.
The exterior appearance is unmistakably BMW with its muscular bodylines, oversized wheels and tires. The overall upscale look is the complete opposite of the insipid interior presentation. Surprisingly “Darth Vader-esque” with dark, flat, un-textured leather seatsthat looked more like vinyl, and dark wood with little in the way of accent material. Seats were firm but surprisingly more comfortable than expected on a 250-mile road trip. Our tester lacked the optional third-row seats so cargo space was ample.
The dash is functional, with a large LCD screen on the center stack that is used to display the functions for iDrive, optional navigation and rearview back-up camera, which, by the way, stays on way too long after you start moving forward.
We’ve expressed our displeasure with BMW’s dreadful iDrive system in other reviews. iDrive uses a mouse-like knob on the center console to navigate the vehicle’s operating features, including the audio, climate control system and other functions. Simple operations are still way too complicated and difficult to use, but for some reason the folks at BMW refuse to concede it’s mistake. BMW has introduced a fourth-generation iDrive for the X5 this year, and it is admittedly a major improvement.
Standard safety gear on the X5 includes all airbags, traction and stability control and other features expected in a vehicle of this class. It received the highest rating of “Good” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and 5 out of 5 stars in government crash tests for driver protection and 4 out of 5 stars for front passenger protection.
With a starting price of $52,025, including $825 for shipping, our tester quickly ballooned to over $69,000 with options. Check every option box and the price reaches the rarified air of over $80,000.
Overall we found too many things we didn’t like about this vehicle, even when considering its excellent driving dynamics, to justify its lofty price. Yet, when considering the relative popularity of this vehicle, we expect the venerable X5 will continue to be a favorite choice of the well heeled.