It might not seem like BMW has been selling its X5 for 14 years, but it has--the original debuted in 1999. Over the generations, the X5 has grown larger and higher-tech, but offered few "firsts" along the way. For the third-generation X5, that changes: this is the first BMW "sport activity vehicle" with available rear-wheel drive.

That's right--the 2014 BMW X5 will be available in sDrive35i trim, driving the rear wheels only. All previous BMW X-Series vehicles have come with standard all-wheel drive. The rest of the 2014 X5 range continues with all-wheel drive, of course.

The familiar--and not so familiar--powertrains

Gasoline engines are unchanged from the current X5's offerings: the N55 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder still rates 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque in sDrive35i and xDrive35i models; the xDrive50i still gets a twin-turbo 4.4-liter N63 V-8, but updates increase output to 445 horsepower (up 45 hp) and 480 pound-feet (up 30 lb-ft).

The extra power allows the 2014 X5 xDrive50i to reach 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, a 0.4-second decrease. The six-cylinder xDrive35i hits 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. No time has yet been released for the rear-drive sDrive35i, but we expect it to be very close to the all-wheel-drive model's time.

A diesel engine will also be available in the X5 xDrive35d. The 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder diesel generates 255 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, pushing the X5 to 62 mph in 6.9 seconds.

The diesel, like the rest of the X5 range, also gets an eight-speed automatic transmission for 2014, to improve gas mileage. An ECO PRO mode helps maximize the eight-speed's efficiency improvements, but BMW has not yet released estimated fuel economy ratings. The eight-speed transmission also offers a new launch control function to maximize acceleration from a stop.

The new look

On the styling front, the 2014 BMW X5 retains familiar proportions, with short overhangs, upright roof supports, and an aggressively modern take on the BMW kidney grille and front-end styling. Oddly--or perhaps not--BMW's new styling theme seems to suit the X5 better than other recently refreshed models.

Specifically, the kidney grille is wide, stretching from headlight to headlight. The headlights retain the four-round-light look within their aerodynamically sculpted enclosures; all models come standard with Adaptive Xenon lights. Below the grille, the front of the X5 has low, wide side air intakes; underbody protection panels; and, new to the X-Series, drag-reducing "air curtain" apertures placed vertically to guide air around the wheels.

2014 BMW X5

2014 BMW X5

Along the sides, character lines give a wedge-like impression, while the relatively upright nose, windshield, and rear hatch angles give a sense of size. At the rear end, three-dimensional LED light strips inset in the two-piece L-shaped lights give some visual flair, while "aero blades" help channel air through the roof spoiler to further optimize aerodynamics.

These core characteristics can be customized through the choice of a range of exterior appearance packages, including M Sport, xLine, and Luxury Line styles.

The cabin

Inside the 2014 X5, BMW seeks to emphasize the available space of an SUV. Horizontal lines and layered surfaces give a sense of width and depth.

Materials are familiar BMW stuff, with wood, gloss black, and metallic elements available. Two interior design packages are available to add further customization: the Ivory White package includes Ivory White Nappa leather upholstery, an Atlas Grey leather-wrapped dash, contrast stitching, and Fineline Oak wood trim; the Mocha package brings Mocha Brown Nappa leather upholstery, a black Nappa leather dash, contrast stitching, and Fineline Pure wood trim. Either interior design package can also be ordered with other trims.

The seats in the 2014 X5 have been redesigned, with greater adjustability and features for rear-seat passengers. A 40:20:40 split-folding second-row back rest is also available, and cargo area is up 7 percent to 66 cubic feet (by EU measurements).

The tech

Technology spans an ever wider realm in cars these days, moving from the dashboard to the instrument panel, the windshield, and even to the mechanical aspects of the vehicle.

For example, the X5 includes Driving Dynamics Control, which interfaces with the transmission, engine, and, on equipped vehicles, the Dynamic Damper Control to adjust engine responsiveness, shift points, and handling characteristics. The electric power steering feel is also tweaked for each of the comfort, sport, sport+, and ECO PRO modes.

An optional Dynamic Handling Package takes the integration a step further, altering the behavior of the active roll stabilization system and allowing the driver to tweak the settings for Dynamic Performance Control settings. The Dynamic Handling Package includes the Dynamic Damper Control, automatic rear self-leveling suspension, Dynamic Performance Control, and active roll stabilization systems.

The xDrive all-wheel-drive system also benefits from some new technology, losing three pounds and gaining a finer-grained power-split ability when paired with Dynamic Performance Control. Using an electronically controlled rear differential, the DPC system helps split power side-to-side between the rear wheels, in addition to the standard front to rear distribution.

Tying the driveline into the dashboard, all xDrive 2014 X5s come with a standard status display with 3D graphics that shows real-time body roll, pitch, and other details.

2014 BMW X5

2014 BMW X5

For the U.S., a 10.2-inch display screen is standard, and is the home for the ConnectedDrive connectivity/telematics system, BMW's Apps, and more.

On the safety front, BMW's high-tech approach includes the Active Driving Assistant package and Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go. The Active Driving Assistant package includes lane departure warning and a pedestrian collision warning with braking function that operates at speeds up to 37 mph, detecting pedestrians or vehicles in the X5's path and applying "moderate 'hazard' braking" to avoid or minimize collisions.

The Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go system is a taste of the semi-autonomous driving we've begun to see at other carmakers and in other models. With the ability to cruise at speeds up to 130 mph, using its radar sensors to follow at a safe distance, or to brake automatically in stop-and-go traffic, the system lacks only steering control to match some other high-tech systems.

That deficit will be handled from December 2013 onward, however, by the Traffic Jam Assistant, which adds steering control to keep the vehicle centered in the lane in addition to following stop-and-go traffic--but only at speeds up to 25 mph.

Of course, you'll also find more familiar BMW technology in the X5, with standard or optional iDrive, navigation, heads-up display, rear-view camera, surround view camera, active blind spot detection, real-time traffic information, and more.

The 2014 BMW X5 reaches U.S. dealers in the fourth quarter of 2013, with X5 sDrive35i, X5 xDrive35i, and X5 xDrive50i models at launch. The diesel X5 xDrive35d will trail sometime in early 2014.



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