Spartanburg, SC – We were ushered in through a nondescript grey door into what appeared to be a secret garage tucked away in the corner of the BMW Spartanburg grounds. Within would be the 2019 BMW X5, free from camouflage in full production form.
Situated on 1150 acres, the Spartanburg plant has its own network of roads. As you enter, there are test tracks on either side; a sprinkler system gives them a thorough soaking as M2s and M3s try to pull of a perfect drift.
The facility—all 6 million square feet of it—is off in the distance, churning out thousands of SUVs a day. This is where the X3, X4, X5 and X6 are built. Spartanburg boasts the largest production volume out of any BMW plant worldwide. Soon it will add the full-size X7 to its roster.
Coming before the X7, however, is the next generation BMW X5, or the “Boss” as it is known internally. It was a long time ago when just three cars defined the brand: 3, 5 and 7. Sporting, luxurious, focused, available in small, medium, and large. Simple.
In 1999 the X5 changed everything. Some cried blasphemy, but the public ate up this new SUV that drove like a tall 5 series with extra luggage space and AWD for light off-road duty—it was nice looking too and earned the driver a bit of status.
This new 4th generation model has some big shoes to fill, as in many ways it defines the long line of X vehicles that were spawned from it. The boss moniker is fitting.
Back in that secret garage, head of project X5, Johan Kistler, was there to greet us as he stood by his latest creation. The man behind the new 5 series, Johan emphasized that the BMW driving experience was fundamental to him and this new X5. We were not allowed to drive the car, but the 5 series is astonishingly good so I’m inclined to believe him.
The wheelbase and overall length grow by about 3 centimetres, while the height is virtually the same. Weight doesn’t increase, even though it is crammed with more tech than ever before.
Elegant headlight housings are more refined and slimmer than before. They no longer intersect with the kidney grilles, a good design choice, and they sport optional laser lighting available from the get go. (As of this writing Laser headlights have not been confirmed for North American market)
Those grilles though…they are BIG. Growing in both width and height, these have to be the largest grilles ever affixed to the front of a bimmer; at least until the X7 is unwrapped.
Appearing in some form or another on every BMW since before WWII, the kidney grilles have defined the look of the brand. And these grilles define the new X5.
The side profile is traditional X5 but the overall look is more athletic with taut curves in all the right places. A defined character line runs the length of the body and sweeps upwards over the rear fender accentuating its sporting attitude.
Tail lamps have been completely redesigned and have a textured, three-dimensional appearance but have lost that traditional “backwards L” shape so common on modern BMWs. The look is sleek and bears resemblance to the newly introduced X2, but loyal fans don’t appreciate big changes and might take a while to warm up to the new design. Overall we are big fans, this is a good looking redesign.
Just like the X7 we drove earlier, the new X5 can be optioned with an off-road package that comes with a 4-corner air suspension system capable of raising or lowering the ride height by 40 mm in either direction. Coupled with skid plates and a rear locker, there’s potential here for a good off-roader. No, it’s probably not going to keep up with a G-wagen or a Raptor, but it will leave the previous generation at the bottom of the hill.
If you don’t care to ever go off-road, you can outfit the M Sport package that fits steel springs and adjustable dampers for more cornering fun. Wheel choices will now top out at 22 inches but you wouldn’t be able to tell they’re that big, unless you check the sidewall like I did.
The luggage area hasn’t grown, but now features anti-slip rails and a trick electric cargo cover that retracts at the touch of a button and can store itself under a small flap in the floor, until needed again. Completely unnecessary, it is nevertheless a very cool party trick that is sure to score points with friends. Showing-off will have to wait though, as these options will not be available right away.
Third row seating will be available again, but think of these as emergency jump seats, not really fit for humans.
Like the X3, a factory installed hitch can be ordered, but towing capacity was not made clear at the time.
There are a lot of changes on the inside as well. New design elements introduced on the Concept X7 have made its way here. Two semi-integrated 12-inch screens, are loaded with the brand new iDrive 7 that boasts pin sharp, modern graphics and animations and a new interface that works on similar principals to the old one but is different enough that it will take some familiarization. (I didn’t actually see the graphics on the X5, but it’s safe to assume they will bear a similarity to the X7, which I did see.)
There are now far less buttons on the centre console; thankfully a volume knob remains and the climate control and audio buttons left over are enough to cover the basics.
Luxurious details include a crystal-like gear selector, a glass rotary controller, fine wood trims available in open pore, leather covering almost every surface, a multi-coloured ambient lighting system that has been rethought, a “sky lounge” illuminated panoramic sunroof and a Bower and Wilkins sound system. The relocated engine start button now resides beside the bejeweled gear selector.
Later in the year a rear entertainment package will become available. Until then give the kids a couple of iPads and call it a day.
For the first time you can drive your X5 hands-free. A new generation of driver assistance systems will now let you cruise at up to 210 km/h with no hands. And, no, you cannot check your insta’ feed as you commute to work; a pair of tiny cameras mounted above the virtual gauge cluster watches your eyeballs, and if they deviate off the road for too long, the system will relinquish control.
Codenamed G05, the new chassis will be remarkably stiff and will help the X5 maintain cornering prowess, while standard adjustable dampers ensure a comfortable ride. Integral Active Steering can steer the rear wheels for increased stability and maneuverability while Active Anti-roll helps mitigate body lean in tight corners. Working together these optional systems performed wonders on the X7 and will be worth the investment on the X5.
Powertrain choices will start with the familiar 3-litre turbo straight 6, and 4.4L turbo V8 mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic. The 6 should put out about 340 hp and the 8 will generate a stout 462 hp. Expect a diesel and hybrid to follow.
This is a thorough redesign. Johan tells us that “maybe a few screws” were carried over and the X5, like Johan, embraces the core values of the company, which have always focused on the ultimate driving experience.
Spartanburg has likely started to crank out new X5s already, but driving impressions will have to wait until later this year. Expect the first models to arrive at dealers in the late fall.
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