Whether dodging expensive and erratically driven traffic in the more enviable of Miami's environs or gently washing alligators aside with your bow wave as you idle through an everglades water splash, BMW's 2011 X5 xDrive35i is in its element.
And if either turned nasty on you, this luxurious-but-tough mid-size Sport Activity Vehicle - as BMW likes to bill it - has the ability to rapidly, unflappably and with a high degree of civility, drive you out of harm's way and motor you serenely to the nearest Starbucks for a calming cappuccino.
The juxtaposition of wealthy seaside neighbourhoods and back-country swampland may have been why BMW chose Miami for the press launch of the latest version of its X5, which goes on sale in May. It's certainly a vehicle you'd want to be seen in while cruising the former but can also acquit itself well when you're up to your rocker panels in alligators in the latter.
The second-generation X5s arrived for 2007, which means the 2011s aren't exactly "new," but with more than 4,000 new or updated parts under their paintwork, terming this a mid-cycle refresh or makeover doesn't sound entirely adequate. Although that's what it is - albeit on the mechanical side a comprehensive one, bringing two new power units plus an eight-speed automatic transmission. There have also been minor tweaks to the exterior styling and revisions to the electronics package.
The $74,300 2011 X5 xDrive50i flagship wasn't available at the press intro due to a scheduling issue with the factory in Spartanburg. S.C. Which was too bad as it now offers the 4.4-litre, twin-turbo V-8 that was introduced with the over-the-top X6 in early 2008. In the X5, the engine puts out 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque (all of it available at just 1,700 rpm); its role is apparently to assert the "activity" in SAV as it can be provoked into getting to 100km/h in just 5.6 seconds.
The $59,900 X5 xDrive35i is fitted with a new inline-six that still displaces 3.0 litres but with power pumped up by a twin-scroll turbocharger. Both models now come equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The twin-turbo diesel-engined, $62,900, X5 xDrive35d's powertrain remains unchanged, but benefits from all the other updates.
The xDrive35i was the only one of the trio available to drive on a big loop that toured through Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale before heading inland to the fringes of the everglades. But this is likely the X5 of choice for most buyers.
Nobody needs the V-8's power, or fuel consumption (15.3 L/100 km city/9.9 highway), and not everybody's a fan of diesel engines, although anybody buying this vehicle should consider the oil-burner because of its fuel use ratings (10.9 city/7.6 highway).
Styling changes for 2011 are minimal and up front include new headlights and a redesigned front valance, with larger air intake openings and relocated fog lamps. There are new paints too, and more surfaces painted in the body colour.
Viewed from the rear, the X5 exhibits reshaped taillights with, and I'm not sure quite what this means in BMW PR-speak, "homogeneously illuminated LED light banks, that reflect the brand-typical nighttime design of the rear end." They look quite nice, though. The rear bumper cover has a new form and more bits get body colour paint back there too.
Very little has changed in the well-equipped and nicely styled interior, which features the latest iDrive controller, well-shaped front seats, a roomy-enough rear seat and an optional third row that bumps seating to seven. Cargo space is unchanged at 620 litres with the seats up and a not-so-generous 1,750 litres with them folded.
Active Cruise Control (with stop-and-go function in traffic), Lane Departure Warning and an exterior view camera that shows views to either side at the front as well as a top view reversing camera are now available. As are Technology, Premier, Executive, M Sport and Premium Sound packages, plus many standalone options if you feel the need to spend more money.
The key new bits of kit in the 2011 X5 xDrive35i are its turbo-charged inline-six cylinder engine and eight speed transmission.
The previous 3.0 litre unit produced 260 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque, but this new one, thanks to direct fuel injection, Valvetronic variable valve control and a turbocharger puts out 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque.
Unlike BMW's twin-turbo gasoline-fuelled six, this one uses a single twin-scroll turbocharger sourced from Michigan-based forced induction specialists BorgWarner. With this design, exhaust gas is drawn separately from banks of three cylinders to drive the turbocharger's twin turbines, which produces basically the same results as the twin-turbo setup in a smaller, lighter, lower cost unit.
The new automatic transmission's eight speeds allow better spacing of ratios for more acceleration in the lower gears and more relaxed and fuel-efficient cruising in the high ones. Around-town drivability is improved, with livelier step-off and you'll only really notice the additional shifts if you're paying close attention. Acceleration time from 0-97 km/h (0-60mph) is reduced from 7.4 seconds to 6.4 seconds and fuel economy estimates of 12.1 L/100km city and 8.0 highway are improved over the previous model's 13.6 city/9.3 highway.
Handling has always been part of the X5's charm and continues to be so. It's nimble enough around town, stable on the highway, steers accurately on a back road's bends and can even get its feet dirty if required.
The styling changes, while minimal, will make those in the know aware you're driving the latest 2011 X5 and the changes under the hood - resulting in more performance and better economy - should more than please buyers of the new versions.
2011 BMW X5 xDrive35i
Type: Luxury Sport Activity Vehicle
Base Price: $59,900
Engine: 3.0-litre, DOHC, inline-six
Horsepower/Torque: 300 hp/300 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): (estimated) 12.1 city/ 8.0 highway; premium gas.
Alternatives: Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Porsche Cayenne, Land Rover LR4, Lexus RX 350/GX 460, Lincoln MKT, Cadillac SRX, Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90
- The new turbo-motor and eight-speed transmission improve drivability, performance and economy
- Styling changes add a little high-tech sparkle
- Ride is a little on the hard side on some surfaces
- And the iDrive system still isn't easy to like
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