Beautiful is synonymous with Vancouver. The scores of visitors that flock to Beautiful British Columbia (the province’s tagline) never fail to comment on the beauty of the country’s postcard-perfect city. “Manhattan with mountains,” wrote Timothy Egan in a story for The New York Times when covering the 2010 Winter Olympics. “It’s a liquid city, a tomorrow city, equal parts India, China, England, France, and the Pacific Northwest. It’s the cool North American sibling.”
Schön (beautiful) was the precise word the executives from German automaker BMW vocalized when welcoming journalists to Vancouver, the chosen launch city for the new X5, the third generation of BMW’s SUV which the Bavarian Motor Cars company insists on calling “Sports Activity Vehicle”.
Fourteen years ago when the first model was launched, the X5 became an instant sales success. Its sporting credentials were upgraded with the second generation in 2007—one of BMW’s bestsellers—and so, unsurprisingly, it is a conservative approach of change for the 2014 model. The new X5 has a more square front end and more upright rear, and both length (32mm) and width (5mm) of the vehicle have been increased, albeit not by much. The design of the kidney grille, set within the triangle of the dual round headlights and front fog lamps, and the bumper’s X-shaped contour lines identify it as a member of the X model family, the X5, often referred to as “the boss”. On the whole, the 2014 model looks remarkably similar to its old self.
The lineup debuts with the familiar xDrive35i, a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline-six with 300 horsepower, and xDrive50i, a 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 with 445 horsepower. BMW claims—and I tested—a 0-to-100 km/h time of 6.2 seconds for the six and 5.0 seconds for the V8. In early 2014 a 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel will return, badged as the xDrive35d, and will offer 255 horsepower, 413-lb-ft of torque, and a 0-to-100 km/h time of 6.9 seconds. This new diesel engine will produce fewer emissions and, together with some additional fuel-saving technology, like an 8-speed automatic transmission, reduce fuel consumption.
A drive up the Sea-to-Sky Highway, from Vancouver to-and-past Whistler on to Lillooet, serves up some of the world’s most spectacular views. The road hugs the Pacific coastline around Vancouver, with eye-catching vistas of Howe Sound, a series of fjords that stretch inland from the Pacific, before pulling away from the water and up into the Coast Mountains. As the towering western red cedars of the coastal temperate rainforest around Vancouver give way to hardy mountain evergreen trees at the end of the road around Lillooet, the climate change from sea to sky in this part of British Columbia is remarkable. And, although there were plenty of “Watch for Bears” warnings, none, disappointingly, were spotted.
The curves of the highway are ideal conditions to test the X5’s behaviour, governed by a number of settings from the efficiency “Eco Pro” to aggressive “Sport+” modes. The former can separate the driveline when the driver lifts off the accelerator without hitting the brakes, as well as tailor the climate control and heated seats. Sport+ heightens shift and throttle response, while also firming up suspension and steering. There are also Comfort and Sport modes. The 2014 BMW X5 uses lighter materials in its construction to save between 170 and 230 pounds, depending on the model.
Inside the new X5, pleasing shapes and materials are abundant, with three trim packages available: xLine, Luxury Line, and M Sport Line. An ultra-sophisticated telematics and driver information system is par for the course and a navigation system with real-time traffic info, touchpad, and a free-standing 26cm Control Display Monitor. BMW offers three audio setups: the base system; the mid-level Harman/Kardon unit; and a top-of-the-line, 1,200 watt, 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen system. Mobile-office functions and BMW’s own apps—access to Twitter and Facebook among others—are available, but only with an iPhone. Third-row seating is available.
The 2014 BMW X5 is a refresh, not a revolution, and with some 1.3 million vehicles sold since its premiere in 1999, it’s proof that you don’t have to mess around too much with a success story.