Originally launched for the 2000 model year in late 1999, the BMW X5 helped change the SUV segment by showing that the driving dynamics, responsiveness, and handling of a car could be compatible with the utility, versatility, and off-road capability of an SUV.

BMW has now taken the covers off its facelifted X5 SUV, which comes into the latest model year with new powertrains and only subtle changes to its style. Set to debut this April at the 2010 New York Auto Show, the 2011 BMW X5 comes onto the U.S. market in two new flavors--the X5 xDrive50i and X5 xDrive35i--in addition to the familiar X5 xDrive35d turbodiesel.

Changes to the X5’s styling are subtle, with new bumpers added front and rear, a distinctively contoured hood and new tail lamps with LED detailing. There's an increase in the number of elements painted to match the body color, giving the front end the impression of being lower. At the same time, the increased size of both the central and outer air intakes hint at the boosted power of the new engines. The black trim at the bottom edge of the body is now considerably narrower and a matte-finished silver protection plate extends across the entire width of the central air intake, emphasizing the muscular features of the SUV. The dual round xenon adaptive headlights and fog lamps are also situated higher and closer to the kidney grille.

There's also a choice of three new colors: Deep Sea Blue, Platinum Grey and Sparkling Bronze. Inside, buyers can select Oyster or Cinnamon Brown for the leather trim in addition to the familiar Sand Beige, and Black.

Under the hood is where most of the significant changes on the 2011 BMW X5 take place. All engines now come turbocharged, including the flagship xDrive50i, which packs a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8, the xDrive35i powered by the new N55 single-turbo 3.0-liter straight six engine, and the xDrive35d with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel six.

The X5 xDrive50i develops 400 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 450 pound-feet of torque at 1,750-4,500 rpm and is capable of a 0-60 mph sprint time of just 5.3 seconds. Pricing will start at $59,275 including destination and handling fees.

The X5 xDrive35i makes do with ‘just’ 300 horsepower and is capable of reaching 60 mph from rest in a reasonable 6.4 seconds--the same pace as the outgoing V-8 powered X5 xDrive48i.

For the 2011 model year, BMW has made the X5 xDrive35i available in two additional trim levels: Premium and Sports Activity.

The base X5 xDrive35i starts at $46,675 including destination and handling, and includes xenon adaptive headlights, HD Radio, automatic climate control, fog lamps, 18 inch light alloy wheels, cruise control, and an anti-theft alarm system. A Convenience Package is optional and adds a large panoramic moonroof, auto-dimming mirrors, Dark Burl Walnut, Bamboo, or Light Poplar wood interior trim, ambient lighting, and BMW Assist with Bluetooth connectivity. Stand alone options include rear side window shades, a navigation system with Real Time Traffic Information and Voice Command, satellite radio with 1-year subscription, and an iPod/USB adapter.

The X5 xDrive35i Premium has a starting price of 52,475 including destination and handling and comes with 19 inch alloy wheels, roof rails and panoramic moonroof, power adjustable steering column, iPod/USB adapter, and privacy glass. Third Row seating, which enables the X5 to accommodate up to seven passengers, also becomes available on this model.

Finally, the X5 xDrive35i Sport Activity comes in at $54,975 including destination and handling and includes even more standard equipment than the Premium model, such as 20 inch light alloy wheels, sport seats, Shadowline exterior trim, and Anthracite headliner. In addition to the packages available on the Premium model, customers may add the latest M Sport Package, which gets 20 inch wheels, an Adaptive Drive system, aluminum roof rails, M door sill plates, M driver footrest, M steering wheel and M aerodynamic enhancements.

2011 BMW X5

2011 BMW X5

On both new gasoline models of the X5, sending power to the standard xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive system is BMW’s new 8-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic pseudo manual control. The 8-speed transmission is standard in the X5 xDrive50i and X5 xDrive35i, and weighs no more than its 6-speed predecessor yet offers closer ratios in the lower gears for improved acceleration and two additional ‘tall’ gears for cruising.

BMW’s Brake Energy Regeneration system is also fitted to the gasoline X5 models and works by charging the vehicle’s battery only while coasting or braking. In this way BMW engineers have managed to reduce fuel consumption by between 1 and 2 percent. Fuel economy figures for the 2011 BMW X5 xDrive50i and xDrive35i models, however, will be revealed at a later date.

The X5 xDrive35d turbodiesel is still offered for the 2011 model year, and despite increased competition remains the fastest and most fuel efficient diesel-powered vehicle in its class. The vehicle’s 265 horsepower and 425 pound-feet of torque see it reach 60 mph from rest in 6.9 seconds while returning an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. Pricing for this model remains at $52,175 including destination and handling.