Test Drive: 2018 BMW X5 xDrive35i

With an all-new BMW X5 in the pipeline for 2019, the question for buyers is whether to wait for it, or to put a 2018 version in the driveway. I haven’t driven the upcoming one yet, but after a week in the outgoing one, there’s more than enough in it to tempt those on the which-one-should-I-buy fence.

Three’s the magic number here: three litres, 300 horsepower, and 300 lb-ft of torque.

Although it didn’t take our recent premium-SUV comparison challenge against three other rivals, the scores were hair-splittingly close. This Teutonic transporter (that’s actually made in South Carolina) stands up well to its competitors, even as an older-gen model.

One spot where it might have scored better was in its third-row seating, which was a $2,100 option to put a third set of two heated chairs at the back. They’re awkward to raise and lower, difficult to access, and they’re cramped (and while they may fit your smaller children now, think about how tall they’re going to get over however many years you have your vehicle). I’d prefer to take mine as a roomy five-seater.

The 2018 version comes in several flavours and my tester was the entry model: the xDrive35i, powered by a inline-six-cylinder and starting at $69,950. Other models are the diesel-powered xDrive35d, starting at $71,950; the xDrive40e plug-in hybrid at $74,950; and the V8-equipped xDrive50i, at $84,250. You can also go into the 567 horsepower X5 M for $110,400.

Of course, “entry” is a relative term, because this is luxury and performance on the hoof no matter what model you choose. But most premium automakers make their option lists fairly thick, and my ride had more than a few added to it. There was a “Premium Package Enhanced” that really upped the ante with a list of 19 luxo items, from soft-closing doors (which draw themselves in so you don’t have to slam) and heated second-row seats, to a Harman/Kardon premium sound system and head-up display. It was a lofty $6,900, but also as with many higher-end automakers, there was extra charge for some things you’d expect to be included in the starting price, such as lumbar support, blind-spot monitoring, and satellite radio.

Several other packages that added such things as wireless charging, adaptive LED headlamps, ventilated seats and the aforementioned third-row chairs brought my vehicle to $93,000 before freight and taxes. It also had an M Sport Line package, which includes 21-inch M-style wheels (with ginormous 325-width rear tires), sport-enhanced transmission with paddle shifters, and M-style steering wheel and styling cues. It all looked great, but I’ve always been of the opinion, right or wrong, that if a BMW doesn’t have an M engine under the hood, it shouldn’t have that letter anywhere else on it, other than parked between the B and the W.

While it’s not the most powerful X5 engine, this inline-six is a beautiful piece of engineering. Three’s the magic number here: three litres, 300 horsepower, and 300 lb-ft of torque that muscles in at just 1,200 rpm. It’s deliciously creamily smooth and moves this big beast with authority. The eight-speed transmission is all but unnoticeable when it shifts gears during moderate driving, but tightens up with a satisfying blip when you push the X5 harder. You’ve heard this from me many times before, but I’m not impressed with the electronic shifter, which needs to be pushed forward for Reverse and with a button to put it into Park. The standard PRNDL lever has worked just fine for pretty much as long as I’ve been around, with little danger of pushing the wrong way and going in that appropriately wrong direction if you’re not used to the vehicle – which can sometimes happen in a multi-vehicle-brand household.

You need to put premium fuel into this vehicle’s flanks. In combined driving, I averaged 12.9 L/100 km, slightly higher than its official NRCan rating.

There are selectable drive modes, and that’s a good thing, because when the suspension is in “Comfort” mode it’s too soft, with a tiresome wallow from side to side. Switching up to “Sport” mode stiffens it to just the right degree: the ride is still comfortable enough for a family hauler, but it’s composed around corners and well-planted on the highway. A surprisingly tight turning circle makes it easy to manoeuvre in tighter spaces. The xDrive indicates all-wheel, which moves torque around as required for the driving conditions. The steering gains some weight in the sportier mode, and it all comes together very well. What’s best is that you can tweak the drive mode into various combinations, and so I was able to combine the sportier suspension setting with a “comfort” engine, so I didn’t have to listen to the extra revving in everyday-traffic driving.

The cabin is packed full of high-end materials – with my tester’s options that included Nappa leather, oak and aluminum trim, and even some real ceramic knobs in place of pedestrian-style plastic – and with a smooth, elegant design. The upcoming 2019 version will feature a completely new design (it goes on sale in November), but the 2018 sticks with BMW’s tried-and-true layout of straight rows buttons and switches.

Save for the cramped third row, the X5’s seats are typically German: they’re not cushy, but they’re extremely supportive and comfortable on longer drives.

The infotainment system is still controlled by the iDrive console-mounted joystick, but BMW has since added touch capability to the screen, which makes everything considerably easier to use. You can also trace letters and numbers with your finger on top of the iDrive controller to bring up addresses or contacts, and the system does a very good job of interpreting your scribbles.

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The second and third rows fold down completely for extra storage space, but I’m not entirely sold on the X5’s “clamshell” rear gate: the top half lifts up conventionally, while the bottom half folds down. If you open the bottom half, you have to reach across it to get your cargo, which can be tough for the short-of-stature; and if you open just the top half and reach in, your clothes brush up against whatever muck is stuck to the bottom. Other than using the open bottom-half as a seating bench for your small fry at the campsite, I’m not really seeing the benefit to it.

So should you buy this last-gen model, or should you wait for the new one? The all-new X5 is close to launch, meaning you’ll be limited to what 2018 vehicles you can find on dealer lots in inventory. But what you will find is a roomy, comfortable, and fine-performing machine that, while pricey, does a great job of moving its passengers around. If you’re in the premium sport-ute market, this one deserves consideration.

2018 BMW X5 xDrive35i
Engine Displacement: 3.0L
Engine Cylinders: I6
Peak Horsepower: 300 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Peak Torque: 300 lb-ft @ 1,200 rpm
Fuel Economy: 13.0/9.8/11.5 L/100 km city/hwy/comb
Cargo Space: 650/1,870 L seats down
2018 BMW X5 xDrive35i
Base Price $69,950
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,480
Price as Tested $95,580
Optional Equipment $23,050 – Premium Package Enhanced (Universal Remote Control, Comfort Access, soft-close doors, manual side sunshades, lumbar support, Storage Compartment Package, heated rear seats, auto four-zone climate control, Lights Package, active blind-spot detection, Active Protection, Driving Assistant, Surround View, park assist, head-up display, satellite radio, Harman/Kardon sound system, ConnectedDrive Services, speed limit information) $6,900; Nappa Premium Seating Package (Ventilated seats, front and rear Comfort Seats, anthracite roofliner, Nappa leather upholstery) $4,900; M Sport Line (21-inch M wheels, sport auto transmission with paddles, adaptive M suspension, M Sport styling package, high-gloss roof rails, oak wood trim, ceramic controls, M Leather steering wheel, M Aerodynamics Package, high-gloss shadow line) $4,000; LED Lighting Package (adaptive LED headlights, LED fog lights, automatic high-beam headlights) $2,500; 3rd Row Seating Package (3rd row heating, 3rd seat row) $2,100; Smartphone Connectivity Package (Apple CarPlay preparation, wireless charging, WiFi hotspot) $750; Driving Assistant Plus $1,900
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.7
8 Styling
9 Powertrain
9 Quality
8 Comfort
7 Practicality
8 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
8 Features
6 Value