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First Drive: 2011 BMW X5 xDrive35i

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South Florida is one of BMW’s biggest markets in the U.S. and X5’s strongest , therefore not surprisingly, Munich-based automaker decided to launch their facelifted …

South Florida is one of BMW’s biggest markets in the U.S. and X5’s strongest , therefore not surprisingly, Munich-based automaker decided to launch their facelifted 2011 BMW X5 in this beautiful setting. Already in its second generation, the highly successful BMW X5 goes through some important changes as it enters the model year 2011, and oddly enough, BMW decided to offer the entry-level X5, xDrive35i, as an evaluation vehicle, a more affordable model and a bigger seller in the U.S. when compared to the powerful, high-end xDrive50i. BMW claims that the 2011 X5 line-up includes over 4000 new parts.

The exterior changes are subtle to the “regular eye”, but those of us that live and breathe BMW, can easily spot the changes as part of this Life Cycle Impulse. The most important changes though can be found under the hood where the engines from the X6 SAC make a lateral move onto the X5 family. The times of naturally aspirated gasoline engines are long gone and turbocharged powerplants are back in business. The X5 comes to the North American market with two offerings, a choice between the 300 horsepower twin-scroll turbocharged model or a 400 horsepower twin-turbo V8.

But first things first, so let’s start with the exterior changes and what is new in 2011.

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Understated Subtlety.

To go along with what BMW has been doing lately for the 3 Series LCI and new 5er, the 2011 X5 features full LED corona rings that serves as daylight runners as well. Subtle, but still noticeable is the new position of the fog lamps that have now been placed higher on the bumper to allow better light emitting when off-roading, or in darker conditions. And to continue following the lead of all new BMWs, the rear taillights are now available with two banks of LEDs, L-Shaped as seen in the other models.

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The unpainted plastics around the exterior are now finally matching the body by being painted in the same color as the exterior. The lower front bumper has been lifted and it strongly resembles its brother, the X6, giving it an appearance that makes the front end look lower and more aggressive. It also allows for wider air openings to feed air to the larger and more powerful engines.

At the rear-end, we have a new reshaped bumper with tailpipe surrounds, again, a subtle change.

Inside…all the same, but with new technology.

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Inside, there are no styling updates and the changes revolve around exiting BMW technology which are being added to the X5: Active Cruise Control, Head-Up Display, Lane Departure Warning and side-view camera system. The overall simplistic, but chic look, is still present and the X5’s interior reminds us again that this car is built for the driver and driving experience, rather than the ultimate interior comfort. Two new trim packages are available on the X5 xDrive35i, which is actually $1800 cheaper than 2010 model year.

New exterior paint colors complete the upgrades, Deep Sea Blue, Platinum Grey and Sparkling Bronze, which can be paired with new leather color choices, including Oyster and Cinnamon Brown.

Power and…..more power!

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The major parts-total tally comes from changes found under the hood where the turborcharged engines shine once again. The 2011 BMW X5 xDrive35i is powered by the new N55 engine, 3.0 liter single turbo twin-scroll that made its debut in the 535i GT and the facelifted 3 Series Coupe and Convertible. This engine replaces the 260 horsepower six naturally aspirated available since the second-generation X5. The N55 produces 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, but it stretches the peak torque band 200 rpm lower, to 1200 rpm. BMW engineers claim that the N55 matches the 0-60 mph performance of those X5 with the old 4.8 liter V-8 engine.

Even though we have yet to test the top model xDrive50i, it is worth to mention the new figure: 4.4 liter V8 twin-turbo engine that outputs 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft. of torque between 1,750 and 4,500 rpm for a relatively stable and flat power band.

Lots of gears with better fuel economy.

Both engines in the 2011 X5s are matted to the new, more efficient ZF eight-speed transmission currently used by the 7 Series and 5 GT. The only North American diesel, xDrive35d, continues to be paired to a six-speed automatic. As tested before by us, the new ZF transmission is smooth, shifts quicker and the eighth-speed gives better fuel economy numbers than any X5 before.

According to official numbers and confirmed by our test drive, the 2011 BMW X5 xDrive35i gets 10-11 percent better mileage, both cycles combined. The combined 20-21 MPG comes from 25 MPG highway driving and 17-18 MPG in urban condition. The numbers were calculated based on “regular” driving since pushing the envelope can certainly decrease the overall MPG.

A balanced, but more fun vehicle.

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Florida is great, Miami….even better, but truth is that the X5 would fit perfectly on some curvy roads with lots of corners and high elevations. But to make it up, BMW has given us a route through Everglades and chance to visit some alligators during our off-road session.

Again, first things first.

City driving is more balanced than ever, the premium SAV feels solid, imposing and with a lot of road presence that while doesn’t attract all the looks we have been craving for, it makes us feel secure and at the top of the game. The X5’s chassis utilizes a double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, but the ride could be claimed as being more sporty rather than comfy.

Cruising down South Beach and the other Miami tourists areas was comfortable and we just wish the test car would have come with a sunroof, so we can fully enjoy the ocean breeze. But that is just another tantrum of ours….

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Upshifting and downshifting was smooth and always ready to deliver the power needed.

The interior cabin isolates quite well the engine noise, so to get a feel of what runs underneath the hood, we turned off the AC system and rolled down the windows. Here is when we started to get excited, that turbo growl at low RPMS was still there and everyone that drives a BMW knows that it is a positive characteristic and much expected. Yes, we are still very much so in love with the naturally aspirated engines, but we are willing to accept the turbos also, as long as fun driving remains.

Time to jump on the highways and push the X5 a bit. Without a doubt, we expected the N55 to perform well and give that power boost the X6 35i has been enjoying for a while, but what we did not expect was the feel of lightness that it gives the car. Sure, it’s all relative since the X5 xDrive35i still weighs 4960 lbs, but the car feels more agile, dynamic and ready to be pushed to its limits. Not much cornering action going on for us, but we used some of those exit ramps to “feel” the xDrive system. Our next test drive will entirely focus on cornering, curvy roads and lots of uphill action, so we will be able to give you that angle as well.

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On our Everglades conquest, we often slightly broke the laws and took the car a bit higher than the state advertised speed, but safety remained priority. This is when the N55 twin-scroll really shined. The requested power comes immediately due to the turbo power at low RPM and the impressive ZF transmission. The 300 lb-ft of torque runs from 1,200 to 5,000 RPMs, and even at higher speeds, the RPM number stays fairly low giving better fuel economy, but it remains ready to respond to a more power request. At 75 mph, the transmission’s eighth gear has the inline-six turning at about 1800 rpm.

During some lane changes maneuvers, the electrically boosted power steering responded quickly to our commands, keeping that balance driving trajectory and dynamic line.

Turbo lag? Consider it nonexistent, despite our efforts to try to feel it, the N55 seems to have corrected even the minimal lag found in the N54 twin-turbo engine still found in some models, including or own 335i.

Sure, if you are a professional race driver, you might get to experience it, but that’s already asking too much. According to engineer Norbert Klauer, the new engine’s electronics allow the throttle valve to be fully open, precharging in the air supply to the engine.

BMW claims 0-60 mph of 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph, but unfortunately, that was not the time and place to test their statement.

Off-road vehicle at its core? Nope, but the X5 can handle it if needed…..

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Here is when our trip really became exciting. Alligator Alley was our next stop, preceded by a few miles of driving in an off-road situation where we kinda of felt bad about our car. But the feeling went away quickly and soon realize that, while not a Range Rover, the X5 SAV can and will do well in more extreme road conditions.

After a few miles of mild off-roading, we came to our first challenge of the day, an unusual one, but pleasantly surprising: crossing through a series of waters that reached about two-thirds up the fenders.

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The main challenge here? Driving at constant speed and up to 5 mph. Mission accomplished and we and the car, made it safe out of the water, home of some “friendly” alligators.

This exercise only opened our appetite for more, so we are hoping to go even more extreme in future drives.

More than just a family car.

Make no mistake, the BMW X5 was never meant to be a family car, sure, it can successfully fill that role, but Sports Activity Vehicle still has the Ultimate Driving Machine DNA in it and it shows that 11 years ago, BMW made the right choice to break the stereotype and enter a new market.

With the new N55 engine, the 2011 BMW X5 has become even more exciting, and this somewhat controversial move towards turbocharged engines, seems to pay off based on the driving experience we have encountered in our short Florida trip.

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Disclaimer: BMW flew BMWBLOG out to Miami for the international launch of the 2011 X5, dined us and put us up in the beautiful Mandarin Oriental hotel, and even offered us a pet alligator. ( Sorry PETA, this was simply a joke! )


  • Bryce

    I love the LCI X5 but it contains one of my vehicle pet-peeves. I can’t stand the black plastic material surrounding the wheel wells and along the side. I would only buy an X5 in black so that it doesn’t stand out, but I’m not sure why such an elite automobile would cheapen itself by using this design feature.

    • jon

      you can get the plastic material surrounding the wheel wells and along the side color keyed with the M sport package. Personally I like the back plastic as it lends the vehicle a bit of ruggedness visually, which is one reason why I didn’t order the M sport option when I ordered my new 2011 X5 Premium.

      • Bryce

        Yeah, I saw that the M-Sport package has painted plastics, but the article made it seem like all of the new LCI X5s would have it. It says “the unpainted plastics around the exterior are now finally matching the body by being painted in the same color as the exterior.” I guess I’m just not sure what “plastics’ the article is referring to.

        • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

          I think I was trying to focus mostly on the front-end…maybe I need to rephrase it.

  • Shawn

    Great review Horatiu! Excellent photos, an entertaining read.

    • Doug

      Indeed!

  • Arthuro

    I think that now the E70 became, finally, a good refined SUV, which could be a good choice for a bmw fan.

  • Dan S

    Great review guys!! Loev the photo combination and also the detailed write up. You’re absolute right, the X5 is now a more refined vehicle and it will be hard even for BMW to top this one in the future.

    I’m glad you focused on the driving experience since that’s what reallly separates this one from the bunch.

    How was the “swamps” experience?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000404206443 Misha Nikolich

    Great read, H. Thanks for the review!

    • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

      Thanks Misha! Miami is a great place to take a BMW for a spin…..I wish we had more time.

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