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2009 BMW X5 xDrive35d (Diesel) Review

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SEE ALSO: BMW Specs, Reviews and Comparisons-BMW Buyers Guide


2009 BMW X5 xDrive35d

After a complete revision two years ago, there are, as it quite typical, a number of minor revisions have been made to the lineup of gasoline-powered inline six-cylinder X5 30i and 4.8-liter V8 48i gasoline models. These are the usual realignment of option package contents, like a power-operated tailgate added to the Premium Package, heated rear seats to the Cold Weather Package, and similar small tweaks.

Yawn... nothing really noteworthy there. But there is a new addition to the family, and it's called the 35d. "d" as in diesel.

Banish bad memories of American diesels of the 70s. This one is a completely modern powerplant, designed and built expressly as a diesel and using the latest in materials, intake, injection, and exhaust treatment technology in order to burn cleanly enough to be legal in all 50 states. Because of their higher compression and other factors, diesels are more efficient than spark-ignition (gasoline) engines, and that means much better fuel economy. The X5 35d is rated by the EPA at 19mpg city and 25 highway. I averaged 24 mpg during my recent week with a well-equipped 35d, and while much of that was on the highway, plenty was not, and it was driven like a BMW as much as possible. Which meant that plenty of poor souls in what they thought were high-performance cars were passed, especially on acceleration, by a diesel SUV, er SAV. The 35d's high-tech, twin sequential-turbo diesel gets 265 horsepower out of it's 3.0-liter displacement, just a bit more than the 260 that is made by the 30i's namesake 3.0-liter naturally-aspirated gasoline engine. But torque is what's important for acceleration, and here the diesel wins hands-down. It's 425 lb-ft eclipses the 30i's paltry 225 -- or the 350 from the 48i's 4.8-liter V8. BMW lists 0-60 acceleration as 6.9 seconds, considerably better than the 30i's 7.8 and close to the 48i's 6.4. Diesel as the performance option?

Welcome to the 21st Century! Rudolf Diesel has been vindicated.

The keys to taming Dr. Diesel's compression-ignition engine are, unsurprisingly, similar to what has been done to make the spark-ignition engine run cleaner and more efficiently in the past 40 years. On the intake side, precise fuel metering is possible because of an ultra high-pressure (26,000 psi!) common-rail electronic, not mechanical, direct-injection system with piezo-electric injectors. Aftertreatment is by an oxidation catalyst placed close to the engine, with a particulate filter to remove soot, and an SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) catalyst with urea injection in the form of a liquid called "AdBlue". While AdBlue is a consumable, in normal operation its tank should be refilled at regular scheduled service times. Finally, diesel fuel itself has been changed, with ultra-low sulfur fuel being the equivalent of unleaded gasoline, and required for operation of the aftertreatment systems.

Complex? Yes. But the results are worth it. A modern diesel vehicle produces a low enough level of exhaust emissions to be 50-state legal, and makes serious torque for towing or acceleration while sipping fuel. A 24-mpg average is commendable for a mid-sized sedan, and otherwise unheard of from a 5000-lb sport activity vehicle. Drawbacks? None, really, except for a modest increase in price. Yes, it sounds like a diesel, but that's not necessarily bad. But no soot and no smell, and fewer stops for fuel. Works for me.

APPEARANCE: There is no doubt as to the X5's maker, just look at the trademark twin-kidney grille and quad round headlights or the sculpted body panels. Although it's larger in every dimension than the original, the second-generation X5 is still very similar in style, and higher and more muscular-looking than a wagon.

COMFORT: One area where the first-generation X5 needed improvement was interior space, and the new version handles that very well. All seats are firm for optimum long-distance support and comfort, with power-adjustable buckets in front and a 60/40 split second-row bench with a nearly flat floor that makes the center position more tolerable. A two-place third row is available, although not fitted to my test car. Interior styling, appointment, and materials are similar to other mid-range BMW offerings, meaning elegantly functional design, with first-rate materials, and a high degree of standard comfort and convenience equipment with even more optionally available. The sky is pretty much the limit on those options, and my test car was so-equipped, with Cold Weather, Premium, Premium Sound, and Technology packages offering everything from retractable headlight washers through heated seats for all except the center rear, an excellent AM/FM/WB/satellite/aux/USB audio system, park distance control, backup camera, and lighted outside door handles, to a power tailgate. Yes, iDrive controls the audio, navigation, communications, and information systems, but it has been simplified considerably since its introduction and is generally logical in operation. There is no conventional shift lever -- a three-position (Drive/Park/Reverse) lever controls that. No manual shifting, but with 425 lb-ft of torque it isn't going to be necessary!

SAFETY: Besides being equipped with large, vented antilock disc brakes on all four wheels, the X5 seemingly has more stability-enhancement electronics than a modern jet fighter. Electronic integration and communication allows the xDrive full-time all-wheel drive system and Hill Descent Control and trailer stabilization systems to work with the Dynamic Stability Control System for optimum traction, while brake drying, brake standby, and brake fade compensation enhance the already considerable braking power. Adaptive headlights, which move with the steering for a better view of the road at night, are standard.

RIDE AND HANDLING: As always, the X5 is the antidote to the tippy, mushy, sloppy, slushy SUV. One of the activities in the SAV program is serious driving, and the X5 accomplishes that with all of the verve expected of any BMW. Yes, it's higher and heavier than a BMW sedan, and the height magnifies bumps and body roll, but that provides notice to an overly enthusiastic driver. And this is a vehicle that can be hustled down the road at a good clip. The rigid body structure allows precise action of the new dual-link wishbone front and revised four-link rear suspensions, for a firm and well-controlled ride like that of a BMW sedan. No surprise there. And there is no denying a 5000-plus pound curb weight, but careful chassis design and tuning makes the X5 remarkably light on its feet. The laws of physics haven't been broken, but they have been pushed a bit.

PERFORMANCE: There is an old saying that goes "horsepower is what you brag about; torque is what you feel." If you doubt the truth in that, go for drive in an X5 35d and step on the loud pedal. Low-end acceleration is stupendous, unsurprising given that the engine makes 390 lb-ft of torque at 1500 rpm, just off idle... and 425 between 1750 and 2250. Horsepower takes over after that, peaking at 265 at 4200 rpm. A six-speed automatic transmission links the engine and the xDrive full-time all-wheel drive system. Unusually for a diesel, the inline six-cylinder engine's block is made of lightweight aluminum alloy, as is its head. Dual overhead camshafts operate four valves per cylinder, and twin sequential turbochargers, a smaller one optimized for low-rpm operation and a larger one that takes over at higher revs, further help the 3.0-liter engine provide smooth, clean, quiet power.

CONCLUSIONS: Modern diesels, as shown so well by the 2009 BMW X5 35d, are clean, quiet, exceptionally fuel-efficient, and immensely powerful.

2009 BMW X5 xDrive35d

Base Price			$ 51,200
Price As Tested			$ 65,620
Engine Type			dohc 24-valve sequentially
				 twin-turbocharged aluminum alloy
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 183 cu. in.
Horsepower			265 @ 4200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			425 @ 1750-2250 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		115.5 in. / 191.1 in.
Curb Weight			5225 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.7
Fuel Capacity			22.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel
Tires				255/55R18 109H Michelin Latitude HP
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc,
				 ABS, EBD, VSA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			inline front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 26 / 24
0 to 60 mph				6.9  sec

Cold Weather Package - includes:
  heated steering wheel, ski bag, heated front and
  outside rear seats, retractable headlight washers	$ 1,250
Premium package - includes:
  automatic tailgate operation, universal garage door
  opener, digital compass mirror, auto-dimming mirrors,
  lumbar support, BMW Assist				$ 3,200
Premium Sound Package - includes:
  premium hi-fi system, 6-disc DVD changer		$ 1,850
Technology Package - includes:
  rear-view package, park distance control,
  navigation system					$ 2,600
Comfort Access System					$ 1,000
Running boards						$   300
Comfort seats with lumbar support			$ 1,200
iPod and USB adaptor					$   400
Head-up display						$ 1,200
Satellite radio w/1-year subscription			$   595
Destination Charge					$   825

SEE ALSO: BMW Specs, Reviews and Comparisons-BMW Buyers Guide