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The BMW X5 is built to excel at driving dynamics, not cargo capacity or off-road capability. Though not as refined as BMW's sedans, the X5 is the BMW of sport utilities. Think of the X5 as a 5 Series wagon with more headroom and a bit more cargo space.
For 2011, BMW updates the X5's six-cylinder and V8 engines, and mates them to a new 8-speed automatic transmission. The lineup is expanded with six trim levels where there had been four, and all but the X5 M get slightly revised front and rear ends.
All four BMW X5 engines deliver plenty of usable torque for good acceleration, and no matter which you choose, you won't be disappointed. The new 2011 BMW X5 gasoline engines are far more powerful than the engines they replace. The turbocharged inline six-cylinder in the 2011 BMW X5 xDrive35i delivers as much power as anyone could realistically need, delivering far more power than the 2010 model's normally aspirated 3.0-liter. The twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 in the 2011 BMW X5 xDrive50i adds more pepper to the gumbo. If the stunningly fast X5 M didn't exist, you'd swear the 50i engine was the high-performance option.
In addition to the gasoline-powered models, BMW offers a diesel-powered model, the X5 xDrive35d, which is as clean as any of its gasoline counterparts. The diesel model improves mileage 10 percent compared to the X5 xDrive35i with its gasoline-powered turbocharged six-cylinder.
The high end of the 2011 BMW X5 lineup is the X5 M that was added for 2010. This high-performance model uses a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 that makes a whopping 555 horsepower. The X5 M comes standard with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system, a stiffer suspension, and sport seats. Exterior cues indicate its performance potential.
The BMW X5 emphasizes the sport half of the sport-utility equation, even with the diesel engine. The X5 comes up short in cargo-passenger flexibility compared to many luxury SUVs. As opposed to hauling acres of equipment and gear, the X5 provides the equipment enthusiast drivers expect when they want to enjoy the art of driving as much as they're able. Just plan to travel light.
The X5 is styled in BMW fashion, only taller, with traditional BMW cues such as the twin-kidney grille and dual-beam headlight clusters. Inside, it offers plenty of room for five, with a nice, rich finish and nearly all the bells and whistles expected in a high-line luxury sedan. The second-row seat is more than roomy enough for two adults, three in a pinch, and there's enough cargo space in back for a two-day family outing. The X5 can expand to seven-passenger capacity with an optional third-row seat, but that seat won't look particularly inviting to anyone asked to ride in it, and it wipes out the cargo space. The X5 is better viewed as a two-row, five-seat SUV.
The X5 is not a traditional SUV. BMW shuns the SUV tag entirely, describing the X5 with its own copyrighted label: Sport Activity Vehicle, or SAV. With all seats lowered for maximum cargo capacity, the X5 offers less space than do most competitors, from Acura to Volvo. Sport in the X5 context does not mean off-road capability. While the X5 has some mild off-highway prowess, the xDrive all-wheel-drive system was developed for slippery roads and sporty driving rather than sand dunes and rutted hillsides. Indeed, the X5's strength is its ability to get down the road in the step-on-the gas, shove-it-through-corners fashion of a genuine sports sedan.
The X5 can tow a substantial 6,000 pounds, however, and the all-wheel-drive can be a great friend in a blizzard. Those sound like the credentials of an SUV.
The X5 gets high marks for safety. It performs well in both government and insurance industry crash tests.