Review: 2009 BMW X5 Diesel (xDrive 35d)



The automaker perhaps best known for the handling abilities of their cars has their recognizable blue and white roundel on an SUV.

And it sits there, admittedly fitting in quite well with the rest of the neighbourhood, taking up a good half of my driveway. I don’t like that.

I never understood SUV’s. They do have a purpose, but I don’t get why so many people like them. They are huge and difficult to manoeuvre in tight streets and parking lots. They demand that you constantly keep your wallet open to feed them our ever depleting gas resources, and they all look the same.

But the real tragedy? About 95% of SUV’s talents are wasted. They’re primarily being used to shuffle people to soccer games and the latest Jennifer Aniston disaster movie. Instead, they should be used to take people through tree-rooted roads to go fishing, climb a mountain, or do whatever it is that outdoorsy people do.

I know, I know, the argument is, you might need its capabilities some day, say, for the one time a year it could actually snow 60 centimetres in two hours.

But that’s like keeping your Christmas tree up year round on the off chance they’ll change the date of Christmas on you.

And a lot of them have ridiculous names too like Touareg, Endeavour, and Edge.

This one is no exception: X5 xDrive 35d.


What I don’t understand is why BMW felt the need to give this diesel SUV such a heinous name, any more than I understand why this SUV exists in the first place.

Since practically no X5 ever goes off road, a 535xi wagon could do anything the X5 could do, and do it better. As long as you’re on the road, that is.

So, why is it that the X5 sodomizes the 535xi wagon in sales?

My tester has a diesel engine under the hood, a first time option for the X5 in Canada. It’s not just any diesel though, but I’ll get into what makes this particular unit so special in a moment. For now, the important part of the diesel is that it can easily trump the 535xi wagon in the fuel efficiency category.

So maybe the existence of an X5 diesel actually makes sense?

Diesel engines are great, and they are especially well-suited to trucks. The higher torque make way for excellent towing ability, all while keeping fuel consumption low(er).

Speaking of fuel consumption, the X5d (this is what it should’ve been called, and what I will now call it for the rest of the review) gets 9.3L per 100 kms combined. That’s pretty much on par with most mid-sized sedans and it even comes close to some compacts. Given its size and weight, that number is seriously impressive.

And what do we have to thank for this phenomenal fuel economy? A twin-turbo 3.0 litre DIESEL inline-six making 265 horsepower and 425 pounds feet of torque. This helps the 5111 pound porker sprint from zero to 100 kph in 7.4 seconds, which is only 0.5 seconds slower than the top of the line 350 horsepower V8 model, which is also nine grand more. It’s fairly quiet from the outside, you don’t immediately recognize the loud clatter that most diesels are famous for. Inside, engine noise is almost non-existent, even with the music turned off. It’s not until the X5d is really pushed where you hear the loud growl of the diesel. Still, it’s not a harsh enough growl.

It’s not all gravy though. More than once, the turbo lag almost gave me a heart attack when making left hand turns into oncoming traffic. Once power does kick in though, the X5d scoots out of the way in a hurry with power readily available all the way to the 5,000 rpm redline.

Being an SUV, I did not expect much, if anything, from its handling capabilities. In hindsight, I should have expected more. Turns out, the X5d isn’t a complete oil tanker at taking corners – it felt fairly stabilized and the DSTC is always happy to interfere help out if you push it too hard. It does kick in more than it did on the 335d I tested earlier this year, but that’s to be expected given its height. For an SUV though, handling is decent. But that’s saying about as much as Marcel Marceau.

After exploring the on-road handling, I took the X5d to a fairly smooth gravel road, admittedly with a few potholes. This is where the X5d should shine, right? While the all-wheel drive system helped keep traction on slopes and corners and good ground clearance helped it tackle large puddles and massive rocks, the ride was harsher than a scolding mother. It felt like I was driving a Corvette on a dirt road.

But the good news was, during the harsh ride, my rear end was nice and comfy. The X5d has superb leather seats. In fact, the interior is quite nicely laid out. My tester came with BMW’s famous (for the wrong reasons) iDrive system and, well, let’s just say everything you’ve heard about it is fairly accurate.

Overall space inside the vehicle is disappointing. Rear seat room could be better, despite being able to adjust the rear seats. My tester had the optional 3 row seats, which are only suitable for small children who don’t have legs. I don’t know why BMW even bothered. With all the seats folded flat however, cargo space improves. The power tail split tailgate offers a massive opening that allows large objects to be carried easily.

Outside, the X5d doesn’t shy too far away from the first generation X5, it still keeps its overall recognizable shape. The front end is a lot smoother and it’s probably the X5d’s best angle. Its side profile actually makes it seem smaller than it is, and the rear is fairly nice with typical BMW-style taillights. The wheels on my tester were fairly boring though, and took away from the overall look. I would have rather had the wheels from the X5 4.8i, which do a much better job of completing the desired look.

Overall, I liked the diesel soft-roader. Still, I strongly believe that people need to re-evaluate their need for SUV’s. If it turns out you absolutely need one, the X5d is definitely worth a look. Whether or not it’s worth the $73,495 as tested price, is another story.

Base price: $62,200

Summary: The engine would have made Rudolf Diesel proud. The rest, not so much.

Exterior design: 7/10. Overall shape is nice, but softened a bit too much.

Interior design: 8/10. iDrive and lack of overall space prevented a perfect 10 rating.

Engine: 9/10. One of the best diesel engines around, but watch the turbo lag.

Transmission: 8/10. Shifts were a bit touchy in manual mode.

Audio/video: 6/10. iDrive will either make you crash or make you lose your shit trying to figure it out. Once it works, audio sound is delightful.

Value: 5/10. You’re paying 10 grand more to save more gas.

Overall: 7/10.