Review: BMW packs the X5 SUV with impressive high-tech options and signature engine

  • The BMW X5 is brimming with technology and gadgets.
  • It isn't the most practical option in the segment, but it's otherwise one of the most complete offerings in the luxury SUV space.
  • BMW makes you spend a lot on options to get what you want, though.
The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i
Mack Hogan/CNBC
The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i

BMW has long been known as a company that puts driving dynamics first. But as the market shifts away from sports sedans, the folks in Munich have had to double down on technology to best cross-country rivals Mercedes and Audi.

With the newest generation of cars and crossovers, BMW is proving they're ready for the fight. Not only do they offer cutting-edge technology, but they integrate it in a way that's intuitive and pleasant to use.

The X5 is the latest redesigned BMW to get the full suite of tech goodies, elevating the big Bimmer from a middling performer to one of the more exciting options in the class. If you can get by without a third row of seats — available in rivals like the Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and Lexus RX — the X5 is a fantastic option. If you need that practicality, you have to step up to the brand-new X7.

The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i
Mack Hogan/CNBC
The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i

The Good

We sampled a 2019 X5 xDrive40i, the basic configuration of the X5 which features a 3.0-liter inline-six engine with 335 horsepower mated to an all-wheel-drive system. Even with the base motor, our X5 had $10,835 worth of options which brought the price to $72,530.

A huge number, to be sure, but not anywhere out of line for a premium product. The BMW 530i sedan we tested in 2017 cost $2,000 more, despite having a smaller cabin, less-powerful motor and rear-wheel drive. Pretty much everything in this class can be loaded up to over $70,000, so it comes down to what you get for the price.

In the case of the X5, the list is exhaustive. It has adaptive lights with laser high beams, massively increasing your range of vision at night. A Harman Kardon surround system is on board, as is BMW's latest version of iDrive. The fantastic infotainment system not only makes short work of any navigation or multimedia function, but it also supports the gimmicky (but fun) gesture control. Rotate your finger in the air and the volume goes up, make a fist twice to go home or shoot a "v" at the center screen to mute the music.

The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i
Mack Hogan/CNBC
The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i

Saying "hey BMW" will trigger the car's virtual assistant. I was able to confidently say "hey BMW, navigate to" and read out a full address without having to pause or talk slowly to accommodate the system. When the navigation started, the car displayed prompts on BMW's best-in-the-business head-up display, depicting full top-down views of approaching intersections on the windshield.

When you arrive at your destination, you'd struggle to find something so easy to park. The BMW can parallel or perpendicular park itself without any input from the driver. Lesser systems require you to modulate the brakes or shift from reverse to drive. While it carries out its wizardry, you can watch a full 3D render of the X5 on your infotainment screen as if you were standing outside the car looking at it. It's mind-bending stuff.

The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i
Mack Hogan/CNBC
The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i

Luckily, the X5 carries on the tradition of BMW producing some of the smoothest powertrains in the business. The turbocharged six-cylinder has plenty of power, while the eight-speed transmissions swaps gears quickly and imperceptibly.

You also have a slew of driving modes from sport plus to adaptive. In adaptive mode the X5 will actually match its air suspension firmness and engine aggression to your driving style. In sport plus, it'll outhandle and outdrive similar SUVs from Volvo and Audi. Switch back to comfort, and it's a docile highway cruiser with precious little cabin noise and a competent driver-assistance suite for semi-autonomous driving.

The Bad

The surprising athleticism of the X5 comes at a cost. Despite our tester having the optional air suspension, the ride can't match the buttery bushings of a Benz or a Lexus. It's not by any means uncomfortable, but it is far from the best-riding vehicle in the class.

It also isn't very practical. Yes, it has a massive cargo area and comfortable seating for five. But in the realm of $70,000 SUVs, that doesn't strike us as enough. The Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 offer a lot of tech for similar prices, but do so with seven usable seats.

BMW originally planned to offer a third row of seats for the X5 in December, then pushed it back to February. Now, a spokesperson for the automaker says that high demand for the new X7 seven-seater SUV has pushed back the availability even further. As of March 1, the option is still not available.

The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i
Mack Hogan/CNBC
The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i

Finally, it's great that BMW offers everything that you could ever need on the X5. It's just a bit annoying how diligent and spendy you have to be to get everything. Despite having over $10,000 of options, our tester lacked things that most luxury cars offer with standard packages. There was no heated steering wheel, no cooled seats. And even though it did have the upgraded stereo, BMW offers an even more expensive and higher-tier "diamond" stereo.

That weakens the value component of the X5, as it'd be hard to option one in a way that didn't make you feel like you were missing out.

How We'd Option It

We'll try anyway. There's no need to jump to the xDrive50i as we never found the xDrive40i in need of more power. The M Sport Design package is visually appealing, but it costs nearly $6,000 so we'll stick with the xLine. We'd jump to the Executive tier, which starts at $65,250 and brings remote start, laser lighting and a bunch of other quality-of-life improvements. Colors besides a basic white and basic black cost $550, so you probably can't avoid that. Don't pay extra to upsize the wheels, as doing so will make the ride less soft.

The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i
Mack Hogan/CNBC
The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i

We'd suggest the $2,450 extended Merino leather option, as BMW's quilted-leather seats are fantastic. Active driver assistance comes bundled in a $1,700 package that's worth getting. If you want the trick 3D camera and automatic parking, grab the $700 parking assistance package.

For options, we'd add the following air suspension for $1,000, heated steering wheel and front armrests for $250 and a Harman Karon sound system for $875. With destination charges, our total comes to $72,275.

Final Thoughts

If you desperately need seven usable seats, the X5 isn't the family SUV to get. If you can get by with five, you'll be rewarded with a class-leading powertrain, astounding technology and delightful driving dynamics.

It's a lot of money, but the X5 is a lot of things to a lot of people. We highly recommend it.

Rating

Exterior: 4

Interior: 4.5

Driving Experience: 4

Value: 3

Overall: 4

Price as tested: $72,530

* Rating is out of 5.