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DRIVEN: X5 shows future of the BMW luxury utility vehicle with next-level technology


The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive AWD is powered by a 335-horsepower, three-litre, straight-six, turbochrged engine worked by an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive AWD is powered by a 335-horsepower, three-litre, straight-six, turbochrged engine worked by an eight-speed automatic transmission. - Justin Pritchard

Today’s luxury utility shopper wants everything and they have many great options to get it.

In big-dollar territory, it’s less about impressing the shopper nowadays and automakers need to blow their socks off a little.

Intrigue and fascinate them. And maybe give them a little taste of the future.

And that’s why the new-for-2019 BMW X5 is positively sopping with next-level technology.

And before reading further, remember this: while this isn’t a machine for everyone’s budget, the technology contained within will inevitably go into a sort of technological gene pool from which future (and more affordable vehicles) will draw.

Drivers can control numerous vehicle functions with hand gestures — just twirl your finger in the air to turn up the stereo, or point your thumb to the right to change radio stations.

There’s also a new voice-command system which is so smart you’ll actually use it. Forget memorizing a specific sentence structure that the vehicle wants to hear: just talk, and hit a few key words, and the X5 figures out what you’re after, and delivers it.

These are just two ways you can control the X5 with less distraction, and less need to remove your eyes from the road. Moreover, it nods to a future where we might control our vehicles entirely with hand gestures, and our voices.

A hint of the future of autonomous driving is built in, too. By way of numerous sensors and cameras, the X5 is aware of its surroundings, and able to alert drivers of possible hazards.

It can keep you in your lane, keep you from side-swiping another vehicle during a lane change, maintain a safe following distance in traffic, and even automatically brake to avoid certain types of accidents, including collisions with pedestrians and cyclists. This stuff freaks some readers out, but it’s coming in a big way. And it’s here in the X5 now, and it could save a life.

But with a button tap or two, you can call up which systems you’d like, and whether you’d like warnings, or warnings followed by autonomous intervention, if available. It’s easy-peasy to dial things in just how you like. You’re the boss of the X5’s safety systems.

When working, the systems are predictable, consistent and easily trusted. Just note that the cameras and radar can’t see through much snow and ice, and driving in anything more than moderate snow causes the systems to sign off. You could pull over to the roadside and clear the sensors and cameras every few minutes, though I feel safer staying in the vehicle.

Like these systems or not, they’re remarkable in action, and signal a future where we may be able to select manual driving, self-driving, or anything in between.

Another futuristic touch? The lighting system includes high-beams that are laser-fired. As in, the brights on this machine are, literally, laser beams.

They’re blasted through a sequence of lenses and prisms and then up the road ahead. This roughly doubles their reach, compared to any other high-performing lighting system I’ve ever used.

The visibility is astonishing: there’s plenty of useful, wide-spread light, even at a distance up the road where there’s usually none. In perfect conditions, you’d have an extra three or four seconds to react to a hazard up a dark road.

Over-the-top luxury features abound, too. These include things like a crystal gear shift lever that looks like a glitzy scotch decanter, massage seats, and even a system that (literally) lets you select one of several smells that can be wafted through the climate control system.

My tester also got heated door panels and centre arm rests for extra comfort in the cold. This radiant panel heating may, one day, play a role in heating the cabins of vehicles that don’t have engines to do the job.

The X5 fires up at 35 below like a champ, and that’s without plugging in. In deep snow, the AWD system is seamless and invisible at most times, quickly sorting out any situation and finding as much traction as is available.

The braking feel isn’t the ultra-precise setup I typically expect in a BMW, though stops come quickly in the snow, and with minimal drama or squirming.

Add in the tall driving position, and the (magnificent) adaptive suspension that avidly smooths out even rougher roads, and you can expect to be nothing less than comfortable, and very well backed-up, in nasty winter weather.

My tester ran one of BMW’s finest under the hood: a 3-litre straight six turbo, good for 335 horsepower. It’s more than powerful enough without getting silly, and a turbo V8 is available if you disagree. The straight six has remarkable low-RPM pulling power, and is a smooth, class-act of a performer at any RPM. Great noise at higher revs, too.

In sport mode, traction control is knocked back a notch for those friskier backroads drives, and more power goes to the rear wheels. Here, X5 is predictably responsive, easily steered with the throttle, and encourages you to explore its athletic side.

In comfort mode, all systems are dialed in to encourage the sort of smoothness and calmness and steadiness at the controls that’s vital to safe driving in very bad weather. As sporty or confident a winter drive as you’d like is yours for the taking.

My gripes are mainly gadget-related.

Various safety systems communicate changes to their current state (active, or not) to the driver via a beeps and flashing lights. This occurs every time the system changes state. In situations where the road markings are hard for the camera to see (partially snow-covered or heavily salted and white), said alerts can come every few seconds. This can distract from a relaxing drive until you switch the offending system off.

Also, some of the interfaces may feel too complicated. Case in point? You need to access an on-screen sub-menu to change the temperature of your seat from hot to cold.

It’s a little over the top at times, but many an X5 shopper wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ultimately, X5’s signature driving character is now buried a little deeper beneath a layer of gadgets and sensors and laser beams, but it’ll still appeal widely to the driving enthusiast who happens to be a bit of a tech fiend with a penchant for over-the-top luxury.

 The 2019 BMW X5 is excellent in the snow.
The 2019 BMW X5 is excellent in the snow.

The specs

  • Model: 2019 BMW X5
  • Engine: 3-litre, straight-six turbo, 335 horsepower
  • Drivetrain: xDrive AWD
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Features: climate controlled seats, laser high-beams, around-view parking camera system, radar cruise, collision warning and intervention system, heated steering wheel, massage seats, rear window sunshades, panoramic sunroof
  • What’s hot: excellent in the snow, killer driveline, great driving position, mostly comfortable, even on rough roads, loaded with next-level tech
  • What’s not: sometimes- intrusive safety system warnings, learning curve to various features and controls
  • Starting price (X5 xDrive40i): $71,000 (approx.)

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