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Cato: BMW's big beast is bold and buttery smooth

Overall Rating
The X5 is the best of a surprisingly crowded class.
Looks Rating
This design here is a perfectly nice update of the 2013, but more creativity is called for.
Interior Rating
The spacious cabin is quiet and pleasant, but not overly luxurious or eye-grabbing. That TV set mounted on the dashboard looks utterly out of place. Lots of room here, though.
Ride Rating
The X5 probably is a tall rig that handles almost as well as a 5-Series BMW sedan.
Safety Rating
Top Safety pick.
Green Rating
Thirsty and it uses premium fuel.

Before I looked it up, I expected to find that BMW Canada might sell 50 or 60 X5 sport-utility vehicles a month. Wrong.

In a slow October, Canadians might buy 500 or so X5s. A good month, 700-plus. Month to month, BMW sells more X5s than X1s, X3s and X6s combined. I was and remain gob smacked.

The X5 is a huge pillar in BMW's lineup. It's a revenue-spinner and that's a big deal. But the X5 is also physically imposing. It weighs 2,236 kilograms and can tow a 2,700-kilogram trailer.

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It's also a beast: the X5 5.0i is muscular enough to be called a truck, yet the engine is buttery smooth and quiet.

Yet I remain floored by the small-car handling of a modern, luxurious truck with three rows of seats and the technology of a spaceship. The X5 is shockingly entertaining to drive and it's comfortable, too. This is not how things should be with SUVs capable of towing a bungalow.

How BMW's engineers managed to make a truck behave like a car is a mystery. Whenever I ask them to explain themselves, they mumble and talk about the "process," and hint at some sort of mixture of alchemy and art, point to decades of engineering expertise and… it really is tiresome.

So my bet is you'll like driving this rig. No, I'm sure of it. This all-wheel-drive truck is sure-footed on paved and unpaved roads, yet entertaining in the corners and comfortable on long, straight stretches of tarmac.

Alas, that's not good enough in the 21st century, when technology must also be "customizable." Yes, you can dial up the X5's chassis settings based on taste and driving conditions. A Driving Dynamics Control switch on the centre console allows you to choose Comfort, Sport, Sport+ or Eco Pro at the press of a button. That tailors responses for the throttle, power steering, shift quality and more.

And then you can go further, adding the $3,500 Dynamic Adaptive Suspension, a $4,000 M Sport Line package with Adaptive M suspension and a $6,300 group of options bundling Active Roll Stabilization, Dynamic Performance Control, Self-leveling rear (air) suspension and Dynamic Damper Control. Decisions, decisions. The paradox of choice, as Barry Schwartz has written, is that too much of it either paralyzes you or depresses you.

Why BMW chose to wrap this engineering masterpiece in a design that is evolutionary, not revolutionary, is a mystery. If you liked the 2013 X5, you'll see it in the third-generation 2014 X5. Radical change at BMW's design house left years ago with former design boss Chris Bangle.

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This new X5 certainly has the right stance and proportions. The short front overhand is right, the long wheelbase makes for a powerful look and decent cabin room, there is a nice new take on BMW's twin kidney grilles out front – they're set between the dual round headlights – and rising character lines in the sheet metal draw out to the flanks where they define the classic wedge shape. Nothing wrong and nothing overly imaginative, either.

The cabin, meanwhile, is spacious and the pieces fit together perfectly. They are nice but not overly rich. What stands out is the TV-style display screen atop the dashboard. It's called the Control Display Monitor and should be integrated into the dashboard, not stapled to the top of it. The standard navigation system comes with a touchpad. Hurrah. And there's the latest version of iDrive, though BMW has also been kind enough to include knobs and buttons for everyday things like volume control.

The X5 sells for two reasons: first, it does all these mundane things with skill and ease; more importantly, while nearly as large as the retired Space Shuttle, the X5 tackles the road like a tall 5-Series sedan. It is the best of its kind.

Tech Specs

2014 BMW X5 5.0i

Type: large, luxury SUV

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Base price: $76,590

Engine: 4.4-litre V-8, turbocharged

Horsepower/torque: 445/480 lb-ft

Transmissions: eight-speed automatic

Drive: all-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.3 city/9.9 highway

Alternatives: Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX80, Land Rover Range Rover, Lexus LX570, Lincoln Navigator

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More


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