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More than skin deep: the X5 gets a Facelift

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Story by Cary Lau

Always on the cutting edge of design and engineering innovation, BMW knows that it is never enough to rest on your laurels. This is surely one of the motivations for taking on a major makeover of one of the auto industry’s leading sport utility vehicles. Since 1999, the BMW X5 has been dominating the SAV/SUV market—conquering the majority share of this segment.

The SAV/SUV market has had such a positive impact on the auto industry for the past ten years that it is a top priority for competing manufacturers to come up with the best SAV/SUVs in order to capture and keep consumer attention. This segment has accounted for a major portion of our overall sales for the first 7 years after it came out.

Personally, I remember when BMW announced a second generation X5 and customers were questioning how BMW would be able to make this a better vehicle than the original X5. It has to be a little larger in size, capable of carrying up to 7 passengers, a little more powerful

with better performance, a little sportier to drive and have better handling. It needs more features that are up to date with today’s technological advancements, and the design must also appeal to a wide audience. It was not an easy job but in 2007 BMW proved that it could deliver all of these features in one awesome package

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Back to School

I was lucky enough to go to Phoenix, Arizona for a 3-day intensive training session. The BMW Group brought us to a wonderful resort in the desert for this course in which we learned all about the new X5. Our time was divided into a classroom session and a driving session. I’ll spare you the nuts and bolts of the classroom and share with you a few of the highlights from behind the wheel.

I was excited to find that BMW had different manufacturers’ products there for us to compare to the new X5. The Acura MDX, Lexus RX 330, Mercedes Benz ML 350, Volvo XC Series were all there. We had the “Race” course and the “Off-Road” course plus the general public at our disposal for this comparison. It was truly a great pleasure to try outthe new 2011 X5 on the roads of Arizona—driving on these long wide, long stretches the new X5 felt very comfortable and safe.

However, when it came to the “Off Road” course, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the incredible way it handles on rugged terrain, especially using the “HDC” (Hill Descent Control) button to go down steep slopes. I didn’t need to apply the brakes at all: I just had to steer. The ground clearance is deceiving and I would have never thought I could tackle this kind of terrain with an X5 if the instructor hadn’t ask me to head down some crazy slopes.

While we were on top of the hill, there was an area where only two wheels (yes, that was no typo, two wheels!!!) were on the ground and the other two were in the air. The chassis did notflex at all and we even stopped for a moment. I cannot believe the new X5 can do that despite not being rated as a heavy duty off-road utility. We continued on for a few rounds and it was just amazing to tackle difficultterrain in a way most people don’t do everyday.

This X5 is really capable and I was truly amazed by its performance. Another highlight of my test drive experience was the ramp that was built intentionally to test out the all wheel drive capability. Most drivers do not understand that “All Wheel Drive” is a very generic term and every system is different. With BMW’s xDrive, there are four sensors that monitor each wheel independently and, depending on a variety offactors, torque is distributed to the wheels with traction. Compared to competitors models, the X5 was certainly one ofthe best when it came to accelerating slowly up the slippery ramp.

One competing model could not even make it up the ramp at all! I don’t understand why someone would call that an All Wheel Drive vehicle at all! I’m glad that’s not a brand I represent. We also had a chance to drive on a closed circuit race track. The instructor had three people in one X5 and asked us to drive the car as fast as we could. Before I knew it, I was actually pushing the X5 5.0i to its limit…or at least I thought I was. That was until the instructor did a “Hot Lap” with the 3 of us as passengers and the “DSC” button was off, I would have never imagined an X5 could be driven like that. If sliding from side to side in the seat is your idea of fun, then you would have enjoyed the “Hot Lap” tremendously. There was complete silence otherthan a few “Ooohhhs” and “Wooowws” from the passengers—we were all having the time of our lives. I was left doubting ifthis was really an X5. It seemed more like an M5. No, it is an X5 indeed, performing like an M5! With the 2011 X5s, I can’t waitto see once again how the new gasoline engines and design will impact this market segment. It is such a tough job to improve on something that is so close to perfection.

The new X5 gasoline engines are both Turbo boosted for extra horsepower with the same or less capacities. They also bring in better fuel consumption; partiallythanks to the new 8 Speed Steptronic transmission. The 3.0 Litre in-line 6 cylinder is more than 15% more powerful, has 33% more torque and the combined fuel efficiency is only 10.1 Litres/100KM versus the current in-line 6 cylinder’s 11.45 Litres/100KM. That’s more than 10% savings on average for fuel economy. With the more powerful V8 Twin Turbo X5 50i, the average fuel consumption is 12.5 Litres/100KM compared to the currentX5 48i’s 12.9 Litre/100KM, a decrease of 3% on fuel consumption but more powerful with quicker acceleration. Performance will always be a priority and BMW is always striving to engineer better performance and safer vehicles on the road. The real achievement here is that the X5s are no different from a sport sedan or a coupe when it comes to performance.

The 2011 X5 35i accelerates from 0 – 100 Km/hr in a mere 6.8 seconds—0.1 seconds quicker than the current X5 48i. I simply cannot believe how BMW can do this with a 6- cylinder engine. That said, this engine won the International “Engine of the Year” Award for 2007 & 2008 respectively. The X5 35d does 0 -100 Km/hr in a similar fashion, a stunning 7.4 seconds at low rpm. The new X5 50i with the Twin Turbo V8 with 400HP does 0 – 100 Km/hr in an incredible 5.6 second, which is 1.3 seconds quickerthan its predecessor, the X5 48i. There is no doubt a high performance Sports Activity Vehicle and will be sure to bring a lot of joy to many drivers.

Apart from the performance figures, the new X5 is nevertheless one of the safest vehicles on the road as well. There are all the usual safety features such as Dynamic Stability Control (DSC-X) with extended functionality, Advanced Head Protection System (AHPS) front & rear and Fully Integrated Road Safety Technology (FIRST). For the first time in the X5, BMW is also offering Lane Departure Warning and Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function on the X5 50i. There is also an Active Seat for the driver and ventilated front seats.

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The Facelift: Looking Better than Ever

BMWX5s have been around for more than ten years since its introduction in 1999. As always, BMW changes its model line up with a 7 year cycle. This provides design longevity and gives our models a long lasting classic look with added resale value. The current X5 models started as a 2007 and it is due for a minor cosmetic “facelift.” Instead of changing the model completely, BMW likes to revise each model atthe “mid-life” pointto give it a fresher look.

I suppose that’s one reason cosmetic surgeons keep busy. I can understand that most of us like to freshen up our look once in a while and BMW is certainly no different. The major external changes include the front and rear bumpers with their revised styling. The headlights have also been changed and there is additional body accents with relocated fog lights and redesigned rear tail lights. There are a couple of additional wheels available on the X5 35d as options, including 20-inch Y- Spokes for a more sportyvehicle.

The X5 50i also has new 20-inch Sport wheels from the new M Sports package. The rear apron has been slightly changed for a more aggressive look. The overall dimension ofthe 2011 X5 remains the same since it is already such a great design and it is just the right size for its looks and practical for storage. There is a list of standard features which are optional for a lot of competitors including Heated Steering Wheel, Bluetooth functionality along with BMW Assist, Bi-Xenon Headlights, Alarm System with keyless entry, iDrive system with 6.5” colour screen, USB Audio integration with iPod YCable included, 10-way power adjustable front seats, multi-function leather wrapped steering wheel with voice activation button.

The long awaited Technology package is once again available on the X5 35i & 35d with the Back Up Camera with Top View function. This is one of the best technologies invented for parallel and in-slot parking. I am lucky to be driving a 2010 X5 48i with this function; it makes me feel like I have improved my parking skills tremendously. For those customers who want a little more character added to the X5’s look, I would recommend the M Sports package. With the M Sports package you get a revised aerodynamic kit with upgraded M Steering wheel, Sports seats, suspension, new silverline shadow trim and door sills that give yourvehicle an even sportier look. Last but not least this little nip and tuck would not be complete without the addition of new colours—making it even easierto distinguish the new look from the previous model.

BMW is introducing Platinum Grey, Deep Sea Blue and Sparkling Bronze forthe firsttime on the 2011 X5. For interior colour choices, apart from the regular Black, Beige orTobacco, there is a new Oyster and Cinnamon Brown for more of an European flavour. Interior trimmings are also very important so the new standard interior trim has become the Satin Silver Matte finish, with Brushed Aluminum as an option on the M Sports package for the X5 35i & 50i. The regular Burl Walnut high gloss & Dark Bamboo high gloss remain a no-charge option.

The last word

“What is the perfect vehicle?” I have asked myself numerous times and I am sure most readers would also like to know the answer to this one. After driving hundreds of different vehicles in my lifetime, I started to have a slight idea that there is nothing perfect in this world. We always want something better, fancier, more luxurious or sportier all the time. A perfect vehicle for me at the moment would be a sports car, a cabriolet, high performance, all wheel drive, roomy enough for myfamily with trunk space yet with the handling of a sports car.

It must also have lots of new technological upgrades and be good on fuel consumption while very safe and comfortable for my passengers. I believe I have found the solution – the 2011 X5.

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