Introduction – Find the best BMW deals!
Squaring BMW’s “ultimate driving machine” brand ethos with an SUV was a challenge when the automaker introduced the first X5 over two decades ago. Today, as far as pavement-biased luxury SUVs go, BMW has cemented the fourth-generation X5 as a leader in performance, though it isn’t the only choice when seeking to blend utility and rugged looks with enjoyable driving dynamics.
Redesigned last year, the X5 lineup expands for 2020 with high-powered M50i and X5 M variants, helping BMW to feed its customers’ need for speed. These complement the existing sDrive40i (rear-wheel drive), xDrive40i (all-wheel drive), and xDrive50i (AWD) versions of the SUV. Otherwise, BMW adjusts option package contents and availability while adding a handful of features to the standard equipment list, such as keyless entry and engine starting for all versions and both wireless smartphone charging and a Wi-Fi hotspot for xDrive50i and up.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated the popular X5 xDrive40i, equipped with xLine trim, extra-cost paint, running boards, 20-inch wheels, M Sport brakes, and a 2-axle air suspension. The test X5 also had leather seats, a leather-wrapped dashboard, heated front seats and armrests, and a Harman Kardon premium sound system. Option packages included the Convenience Package, Premium Package, Executive Package, and Driving Assistance Professional Package. The price came to $76,120, including the $995 destination charge.
What Owners Say… – Find the best BMW deals!
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 X5, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
Based on J.D. Power data, BMW X5 owners are overwhelmingly male, at 76% (vs. 63% for the segment). Their median age of 58 years matches the segment, but X5 owners enjoy a significantly higher median annual household income of $267,045 (vs. $198,923). People who buy the BMW X5 most often identify as Performance Buyers, which is true across the segment. But nearly two-thirds of X5 owners check that box (64% vs. 41% for the segment).
BMW includes three years or 36,000 miles of free maintenance with its vehicles, which might explain why 70% of X5 owners agree they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs. Still, that’s a lower percentage than owners across the entire segment (80%). Fuel economy isn’t a priority, either, with 29% of X5 owners agreeing that it is a first consideration when choosing a vehicle (vs. 40%). BMW X5 owners are also less likely to agree that reliability is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (52% vs. 60%), or that they’re willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (47% vs. 52%).
Performance is the X5 owner’s priority. According to J.D. Power data, 73% of them strongly agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and strong acceleration (vs. 58% for the segment). Perhaps due to their need for speed, BMW X5 owners are more likely to strongly agree that they will pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (50% vs. 44%).
Naturally, more BMW X5 owners agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (73% vs. 66%). Only 16% of BMW X5 owners agree that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (vs. 27%).
Owners say their favorite things about the X5 are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, driving dynamics, interior design, exterior styling, and seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the X5 are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, infotainment system, storage and space, climate control system, and fuel economy.
In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the X5 ranked 3rd out of 13 premium midsize SUVs.
What Our Expert Says… – Find the best BMW deals!
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 BMW X5 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.
Instantly identifiable as a BMW X5 thanks to its oversized kidney grilles, quad headlight elements, and classic Hofmeister kink where the rear glass meets the roof pillar, the fourth-generation X5 features clean design and balanced proportions. There are, however, a handful of incongruent details such as the side character line that rises awkwardly to meet the rear door handles.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
The test vehicle had optional side running boards. Note that these simply serve to make it harder to get into and out of the X5, and to soil clothing while doing so. There is no need to step up and into this vehicle.
Equipped with brown leather and handsome wood trim, the test vehicle’s interior displays typical BMW purposefulness and traditional high-quality materials with an uncharacteristic (for BMW) flair for design. There is a sense of style and serenity inside of the 2020 BMW X5, one that buyers in this segment can no doubt appreciate.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
Widescreen infotainment and digital instrumentation present themselves side-by-side as a large “data panel” though they are distinctly separate units. Controls are angled toward the driver, some trimmed in a metallic finish that makes them hard to read on sunny days. The panoramic glass roof extends completely over the rear seat, flooding the cabin in natural light.
Thanks to 16-way power-adjustable front sport seats, comfort is easy to come by in the BMW X5. Add the X5’s thick steering wheel rim, wrapped in soft and smooth leather, and that’s especially true.
Compared to the front chairs, the rear seat cushion is mounted unexpectedly low in the cabin. While it provides proper bolstering, it still lacks thigh support for people with longer legs. BMW deftly integrates USB ports into the front seatbacks, and the Convenience Package adds a 4-zone automatic climate system with rear controls and air vents.
Climate Control System
Choose a temperature, select Auto, and you won’t need to interact much with the X5’s climate controls. They’re also integrated with the voice recognition technology, so you can adjust settings using voice commands.
On testing day, temperatures ranged between the 70s along the California coast to the 90s within inland valleys, with half of the route driven into direct July afternoon sunlight. The X5’s climate system worked hard to combat solar heating while driving west toward the sun, and without ventilated front seats the situation made for a somewhat damp driver.
Had the day been a chilly one, I no doubt would have appreciated the 3-stage front seat heaters, the heated front armrests, and the heated steering wheel. Heated rear seats are also available, and the Executive Package equips the X5 with heated and cooled cupholders.
The latest version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment technology is the most intuitive one yet, but it remains complex and there’s just no getting around its multiple deep-dive menus. When you buy an X5, spend some quality time with the owner’s manual, set the technology up the way you want it, and then while you’re driving you won’t need to mess around with it much.
One thing that goes a long way toward making iDrive easier to use is its touchscreen display. This is just one of several ways to interact with the technology, the others including physical controls on the dashboard, center console, and steering wheel; voice commands; and gesture control.
In practice, gesture control is more a gimmick than a useful replacement for physical buttons and knobs. Inconsistent response and an inability to fine-tune adjustments makes it a parlor trick with which to wow family, friends, and neighbors. After the novelty wears off, you’ll go back to adjusting stereo volume using the dashboard knob and cycling through radio stations using the tuning buttons, the iDrive controller, or voice commands.
Speaking of the voice recognition system, it is excellent. Mimicking digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa, it responds to naturally spoken commands and questions and legitimately reduces driver distraction. But you can inadvertently activate it by speaking “BMW,” which rouses the technology.
The test vehicle’s optional Harman Kardon sound system puts out impressive bass and sounds good across a spectrum of music types. A high-end 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system is available for X5 buyers wishing to immerse themselves in their music.
Storage and Space
Within the X5, practical storage for the things you tend to carry with you on a regular basis is lacking. You get a smartphone tray, two cupholders, and not much else aside from the glove compartment, a center console bin with a split armrest lid, and door panel bins.
A BMW X5 design hallmark, the split rear tailgate design must be a winner with owners because it persists to this day. On the plus side, nothing falls out when you open the rear hatch. On the minus side, it’s harder to reach items near the rear seatbacks when the bottom portion is lowered, pickup truck-style. Also, closing up is a 2-step operation.
Cargo capacity measures 33.9 cubic feet with the rear seat in use, and the test vehicle also had a large storage well underneath the long load floor. Pull rear seat release levers located in the cargo area, and the rear seats fold completely down to maximize volume at 72.3 cubic feet.
Visibility and Safety
Similar to X5s of the past, this BMW provides a tall, commanding driving position behind a large windshield, resulting in excellent forward visibility in spite of the SUV’s fairly thick windshield pillars. High-resolution front and backup cameras also provide exceptional clarity when maneuvering.
When equipped with its optional Icon adaptive headlights, the X5 earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is 4 stars.
Naturally, there is a long list of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) designed to help you avoid getting into an accident, especially when you’ve selected the Driving Assistance Professional Package. However, activating the technology is somewhat confusing and, on the testing loop, it did not prove as effective or as intuitive as what some competitors offer.
In particular, in low-speed dense-traffic situations, the traffic jam assistance system didn’t “see” a vehicle that cut into the gap ahead, forcing me to use the brakes. At higher speeds, the lane-centering assistance proved inconsistent while the lane-keeping assistance sometimes reacted in too aggressively.
More concerning, on a narrow two-lane country road without a paved shoulder, I came around a bend and there was a jogger in my lane, coming toward me. When I steered left over the double-yellow line to give the person a wide berth, the lane-keeping assistance aimed me back toward the jogger. In turn, this required firm action on my part to override the technology’s corrective action, and this entire episode resulted in an irritated look from the jogger.
Ultimately, I preferred driving the X5 with most of the safety systems turned off, which defeats the point of having them in the first place.
For 2020, BMW introduces two performance-tuned versions of the X5 that make as much as 617 horsepower, but I found the X5 xDrive40i to supply all the power most people might possibly require.
Equipped with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine, the 40i makes 335 horsepower between 5,500 rpm and 6,500 rpm, and 330 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,500 rpm and 5,200 rpm. What this essentially means is the engine is making peak torque or peak horsepower across the majority of the engine’s operational range.
Creamy smooth, never-ending thrust characterizes this engine. An 8-speed sport automatic powers all four wheels, and BMW’s xDrive biases power delivery to the X5’s rear wheels for a properly sporting spirit. Depending on traction, steering angle, accelerator position, and more, xDrive automatically distributes power between the front and rear wheels and also on either side of an axle for maximum surefootedness and responsiveness.
Multiple driving modes are also available, including Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Individual, which allows you to mix and match various preferences. In Comfort mode, transmission response can feel a little sluggish. And the automatic engine start/stop system could be a little more refined. But otherwise, this is a flawless drivetrain.
According to the EPA, a BMW X5 xDrive40i is rated to get 22 mpg in combined driving. On the testing loop, the SUV returned 20 mpg. That’s not a significant shortfall but helps to explain why fuel economy is at the bottom of X5 owners’ favorites list.
As equipped with its optional 20-inch wheels, 2-axle air suspension, and M Sport brakes, the tested X5 xDrive40i exhibited a split personality.
In Comfort mode, it felt soft and lazy with excessive body motion and some indifference in terms of drivetrain response. In Sport mode, it stiffened and livened up while adding weight to the steering assist level. Unfortunately, neither mode proved ideal in urban and suburban situations. Therefore, for daily driving, it’s a good bet that you’ll want to use the Individual mode in order to tailor the X5’s ride, handling, and powertrain to specific preferences.
As is true of most German-engineered vehicles, it takes some speed to reveal the BMW X5’s dynamic goodness. At any given posted speed limit, this BMW feels like it is going too slow, and that can make it rather dull to drive.
However, like a fine whiskey gets better with age, the X5 gets better with velocity. Hustle this SUV, and it comes alive in your hands. With so much weight sitting high off of the ground, and managed by so much software, the X5 never quite reaches the state of nirvana you can still achieve in a BMW sedan. But as far SUVs go, this one is an impressive driver on pavement.
Unlike a BMW sedan, the X5 can handle a trail of moderate difficulty. Here, the adjustable air suspension comes in handy, allowing you to raise the vehicle for added clearance. That adventuring capability, coupled with the utility inherent in an SUV, is what makes the 2020 BMW X5 an appealing alternative to a 5 Series.
Final Impressions – Find the best BMW deals!
A pioneer among luxury SUVs, the BMW X5 adheres to the automaker’s “ultimate driving machine” ethos while providing the utility and off-pavement capability that the company’s more engaging sedans cannot. At the same time, dynamic compromises are necessary in exchange for those qualities, and there are areas in which BMW needs to refine and improve this SUV.
Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.
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