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2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i first drive: The inevitable march of technology

The fourth-generation 2019 BMW X5 has 12 ultrasonic sensors, 10 PDC sensors, two parking sensors, a rearview camera, three surround-view cameras, a full-range radar, two short-range radars and an interior camera. With that array, you can basically park without looking and exit the same spot. It remembers the last 50 meters you drove and can reverse that order perfectly. It can also stitch together all those camera shots for unnatural views of the car from about 5 feet off the rear corners. That means that when you get deep off-road — I mean, for the three of you who have to go deep off-road in this car, you basically have a spotter standing behind your car. Or in front of your car, or wherever you need to see.

Also, if you have your Android BMW app hooked up, you can look at your car from anywhere in the world, including what cars, people and buildings are around it. We’re on the cusp of autonomy here, something we confirmed after seeing the company’s 2021 iNext vehicle a day before the X5 drive.

So tech is the order of the day, but so is space. The new X5 has grown 1.6 inches in wheelbase, 1.1 inches in length, 2.6 inches in width and 1 inch in height for the fourth generation. That translates to more passenger space and more cargo space, but it’s the same good-looking X5. To amp up the flash, BMW is offering 22-inch wheels for the first time. You probably don’t want to take those off-road.

The new X5 will also offer a third row, starting in December.

Continuing the bling inside, the X5 now gets glass accents on the iDrive controller, shifter, volume knob and a few other spots. The infotainment setup has a new operating system, too. The old one wasn’t bad, but the new system is just a little more crisp-looking, a little more responsive, a little more colorful. That goes for both the main central screen and the new digital gauge cluster.

Other interior highlights include heated and cooled cup holders, optional inductive charging for cellphones, four-zone climate control, a rear hatch that splits into an upper portion and a tailgate and a huge new head-up display.

Power comes from upgraded versions of the same-displacement engines as last year. The xDrive40i has a turbocharged 3.0-liter I6 making 335 hp (up from 300) and 330 lb-ft of torque (also up from 300). The xDrive50i’s 4.4-liter V8 makes a robust 456 hp and 479 lb-ft — about the same as last year. Eight-speed automatics and all-wheel drive are standard on both.

The X5 offers an Off-Road Package for the first time. It includes options that make it surprisingly formidable on two tracks out in the woods. For starters, the package comes with specific off-road modes along with an extra switch to control them, more than 3 inches of ride height change, unique xDrive, gearbox and pedal programming, air suspension, and an off-road differential lock and skid plates front and rear. It can also sense when the car is in deep water or crawling over tall rocks. In that case, it automatically rises to its tallest suspension height to protect the sensitive bits.

About halfway into an hourlong trail drive, I jump out of the X5 to take a look at the upcoming path. It doesn’t look like it will fit, and BMW execs confirm I’ll have to back up and three-point turn around a particularly tight, tree-lined bend. I do it carefully, then continue through the forest somewhere in rural Georgia.

The xDrive system is flat-out impressive in the bush. Clambering up steep muddy trails is too easy. I just hold the pedal at about 15 percent and the AWD system figures it out. You can hear it working, too. Power goes to one wheel and it spins; the next wheel, same thing. Finally, the rear left tire finds purchase. and I jump forward a foot or two. The process then repeats.

Going downhill, I click the hill-descent control button, use the cruise control stalk to control the speed and take care of the steering wheel. The camera angles are amazing. Using the central screen, it looks like someone is kneeling behind the car with a camera. You can see all of the rocks approaching, how close the trees are — and if you switch to the front bumper cam, how deep those ruts are. You three who will be doing a lot of off-roading in this thing will be impressed. The only real problem, as I see it, is the car’s size through narrower paths.

Steering effort is luxury-car easy on or off-road, and it doesn’t firm up too much at speed. No complaints here; you don’t need a ton of road feel in a midsize SUV. Bumps are soaked up surprisingly well with the double-wishbone front, multilink rear setup. And even the Pirelli P Zero run-flat tires didn’t have me wincing in sympathy with the chassis.

The 2019 BMW X5 is coming, and you’ll get a sneak peek Oct. 1 when we can talk about driving impressions. But BMW also trotted out what looked to be the next, next X5, which for now is called …

I only drove the xDrive40i with the turbocharged I6. It has plenty of get-up for normal driving and passing on the expressway. I rarely say this, but I don’t think you would have to spring for the V8. Acceleration is smooth and quiet, and shifts from the eight-speed automatic are perfect. The stop/start system is very unobtrusive with no jiggles and little noise on the restart.

Sport mode speeds everything up including the throttle response and shift points. The wheel gets a little more weight too and the suspension tightens up. I don’t see a ton of reasons for it in a car like this, but you have the option.

The brakes are firm, but virtual. The X5 has a brake-by-wire system with no mechanical connection between the pedal and the master cylinder. On the road, the feel is great, with stops coming in the first third of pedal travel. My only note here is that because of the new setup, you won’t feel any brake chatter on ABS lockup. That chatter/vibration, normally an uncomfortable feeling because you’ve already overcooked your brake zone, might be made more uncomfortable when you don’t think its working. This is one of those things I hope BMW tells its dealers about. If you’re expecting chatter in the snow and don’t get it, you might think your brakes are failing.

On the road with those million or so sensors and cameras, the X5 can pretty much drive itself. It doesn’t like to — it tells you to put your hands back on the wheel in normal circumstances — but with the standard Active Driving Assistant Package including blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, rear collision warning, frontal collision warning and pedestrian warning with city collision mitigation (which now also alerts the driver if cyclists are detected), cross-traffic alert rear and speed limit information, it could. Not enough? Add the Driving Assistant Professional Package, including traffic jam assistant with extended hands-off time, lane-keeping assistant, automatic lane change, active cruise control with stop-and-go cross-traffic alert and you’re literally one small step away from sleeping at the wheel.

 

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