Diesel is a dirty word in the U.S., and in the past, this was probably deserved. Who hasn't sat behind a stinky city bus in traffic, or seen an aged Mercedes sedan spewing black smoke as it lumbers down the road? Well, BMW wants you to know that things have changed.
In Europe, where auto fuel is much more expensive than in the U.S., more than 70 percent of the vehicles BMW sells are Diesel-equipped. But for Americans, BMW is just breaking into the Diesel market after a more than 20-year hiatus.
BMW now offers its 3.5-liter Diesel engine in multiple vehicles. I recently sampled it in the 3 Series-the 335d-and found the same enjoyable, pain-free motoring as I did with the X5 midsize SAV (sports activity vehicle). BMW Advanced Diesel engines are clean, quiet, and, thanks to new low-sulfur fuel, practically smell-free. And, Diesel fuel at my local Chevron was selling for 11 cents less a gallon than regular gas.
Originally introduced in 2000, the X5 gave BMW entry into the then hugely popular SUV market. The X5's all-wheel-drive xDrive system helps it handle weather-related conditions more safely.
In typical BMW fashion, xDrive not only optimizes traction, but it also enhances both agility and stability on a variety of road surfaces. If the system senses undesirable oversteer, it sends the maximum possible torque to the front wheels. In the case of excess understeer, sends no driving torque to the front wheels.
After being joined by the smaller X3, the X5 was revamped for 2007. My Monaco Blue Metallic 2009 tester was little changed from the '07 model, except for some mild feature upgrades, particularly in the option packages, to keep it competitive in the booming crossover field.
The X5 weighs a hefty 5,225 pounds, but its Diesel engine pulls strongly. That's because Diesels, with pressure rather than spark ignition and a higher compression ratio, deliver greater torque, at a significantly lower rpm. It's a surprising sensation when a car pulls you forward with only a subtle murmur from the engine.
The X5 Diesel EPA numbers are 19 City, 26 Highway (I averaged 21.1 mpg overall). Compare that to the other X5 models. With a 3.0-liter V6 it earns 15 City, 21 Highway; when you drop in the big 4.8-liter V8, that drops to 14/19. EPA Green Vehicle scores for the Diesel are 6 for Air Pollution and 5 for Greenhouse Gas.
In the spacious and superbly styled cabin, you'll find a relaxing sand beige/black/dark burl walnut design scheme with silvery metal accents, carved in BMW's current look. Long, deep door pockets accommodate your travel stuff. It's one reason why folks buy BMWs-they are great traveling companions.
The ceiling of my car, along with the window pillars, was covered in "Anthracite" (the fancy designer term for coal black). In a car with less headroom, this could induce some claustrophobia. The standard panoramic moonroof could help relieve those symptoms.
The X5, as a sport/luxury vehicle, comes very well equipped, but you can add numerous packages to upgrade it. My tester featured four:
* Cold Weather Package: Heated steering wheel, seats, and more
* Premium Package: Electronic servants, including a power tailgate and auto-dimming mirrors
* Technology Package: Navigation system with rear-view camera, park distance control
* Sport Package: Nineteen-inch alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, sports seats, electronic damping control and the Anthracite ceiling.
Other individual selections included a set of running boards with rubber non-slip dots ($300), an iPod/USB adapter ($400), and a handy, but surprisingly expensive, third-row seat ($1,700). The car's head-up display ($1,200) gave the speed in orange numerals on the windshield, and also the driving directions when I used the navigation system.
The X5 bristles with electronic safety features. These include Dynamic Stability Control, a multi-feature program that improves traction and braking performance. The similarly named Automatic Stability Control reduces engine power to counter wheelspin. Hill Descent control helps the driver maintain speed on steep downhill runs while Start-off Assistant keeps the vehicle from rolling backward for approximately 1.5 seconds after the driver releases the brakes when stopped facing uphill. And that's only part of the menu.
My tester started at $52,025, including destination charges. It's positioned right between the V6 model at $48,325 and the V8 at $57,025. But with its plethora of options and goodies, the bottom line came to $68,320. You could buy a new Honda Civic for the price of this car's options alone!
The X5 has proven that BMW understands the American market and can deliver a sporty and luxurious interpretation of the popular crossover. It's now serving as one of its Diesel ambassadors as well.