The 2021 BMW X5 remains a strong competitor in the luxury midsize crossover segment. Two model years into its newest generation, it still feels fresh in terms of style and technology, while offering a driving experience that’s comfortable and refined. As this segment demands, it can also be had with superlative levels of German performance in the X5 M50i and X5 M. For 2021, this latest generation of X5 also gets a plug-in hybrid variant known as the xDrive45e.
The 2021 X5 continues to come jam-packed with the latest technology. Drivers can enjoy a number of advanced assistance systems, including one that allows you to take your hands off the wheel in traffic jams. BMW continues to bring the best of its infotainment, and the list of convenience features and trick tech is a long one – even if some is questionably useful (we’re looking at you, gesture control). The X5 gives the segment’s high-tech frontrunner, the Mercedes-Benz GLE, a run for its money. All in, the X5 is absolutely not to be missed if you’re shopping for a midsize luxury SUV.
What’s new for 2021?
The big news for 2021 is the addition of the xDrive45e plug-in hybrid (pictured above), which replaces the xDrive50i in the X5 lineup. The base 40i models also get a touch of electrification with a new 48-volt mild-hybrid system.
Satellite radio and wireless Android Auto now come as standard equipment in the X5, while the options list has been trimmed a bit (the rear-seat entertainment system, off-road package and full Merino leather interior are no more). There are some other options availability differences, but nothing major.
What’s the X5’s interior and in-car technology like?
The X5’s cabin is less austere than has been typical from BMW, boasting a snazzy design with ritzy materials that de-emphasize buttons in favor of large swaths of wood, the huge iDrive display and more interestingly shaped center air vents. And as is typical for this lofty segment of luxury SUVs, you can outfit the X5 in a truly opulent manner with things like a leather-wrapped dash, heated just-about everything (front and rear seats, steering wheel, armrests and cupholders), a 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system, multiple choices of wood trim, metal weaves, and glass finishings on center console controls. With the latter, you can make the electronic shifter look like a sort of crystal talisman from a fantasy novel.
As for technology, make sure to set aside lots of time during a test drive (and delivery, if you buy one) to learn about the innumerable features and customization settings controlled by the latest version of BMW’s iDrive. This isn’t a car you just hop in and drive away. Everything from the way the gauges look to your preferred combination of powertrain and chassis settings can be programmed the way you like it. Opting for an X5 M only adds to the customizability of the driving experience. Plus, this latest iDrive can be controlled through a multitude of different means: the center console knob and surrounding capacitive menu “buttons,” the touchscreen, natural voice commands akin to Amazon Alexa, or the rather useless gesture control (wave your hands about to accomplish tasks). We found we liked to accomplish different tasks using different means of interface, which speaks to the value in such control redundancy.
How big is the X5?
The X5 is a midsize SUV that seats five people in two rows. That configuration, along with its general exterior dimensions, makes it consistent with a Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class (it has the exact same length), Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q8. The Lexus RX 350 is also within spitting distance of this group, but costs much less. Inside, the specs would indicate that the X5 has less rear seat legroom than these competitors, especially the more passenger-focused Q8, and in person, we found it doesn’t exactly provide the sprawl out space you might expect from a high-dollar SUV. The seat back also doesn’t recline. Head room in the rear is abundant, however, and shoulder room is typical for the segment, meaning fitting three across shouldn’t be an issue.
Now, while rear passenger space is just OK, cargo space is among the best in the two-row segment. It grossly outpaces the Q8 and RX, which are compromised by raked rooflines, as well as BMW’s X6 “coupe” sibling. BMW also beats the Cayenne, but is pretty much equal to the Mercedes GLE. It also features a distinctive cargo opening: a power-operated liftgate and tailgate combination. This allows you to access things inside without fear of those things rolling out when you open the tailgate. It also creates a nice, clean place to sit. On the other hand, opening and closing is a two-step process.
What’s the X5’s performance and fuel economy?
For 2021, there are multiple models to choose from that correspond with different powertrains. We’ll start with the basic versions: sDrive40i and xDrive40i models.
The sDrive40i and xDrive40i both have a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six that produces 335 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque. Like nearly every X5, it has an eight-speed automatic. The sDrive40i is rear-wheel drive, while the xDrive40i is all-wheel drive. BMW estimates that both go from 0-60 mph in a quick 5.3 seconds. The new 48-volt mild hybrid system helps support the gas engine with a little extra power at the low end, provides regenerative braking that stores energy in a second battery, and improves fuel economy. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined for the sDrive40i, which is pretty good given the X5’s size and performance. The xDrive40i brings that down to 21/25/23.
Replacing the more powerful 50i is a plug-in hybrid model, called the xDrive45e. It features a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine and electric motor, putting total output at 389 hp and 411 lb-ft of torque. It does 0-60 in 5.3 seconds, and can drive on electricity alone up to 84 mph. It offers up to 30 miles of electric-only driving range, which is above average for a plug-in hybrid. The EPA rates it at 50 miles per gallon equivalent combined on electricity and gas, and 20 mpg combined once the charge is depleted.
The M50i remains, powered by a 4.4-liter twin-turbo that sends 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels. It also features M Sport brakes, adaptive M suspension, M Sport differential and 20-inch wheels. 0-60 mph comes in 4.1 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 16/22/18 mpg.
Rounding out the X5 lineup is the X5 M and X5 M Competition. The X5 M produces 600 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, while the Competition version makes 617 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. An X5 M gets to 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds, and the Competition drops that to 3.7 seconds. With the M Drivers’ Package, top speed is 177 mph. A bevy of high-performance goodies are added in addition to the extra power: an M specific exhaust system, BMW’s M xDrive all-wheel-drive system with a greater rear-drive bias, stiffer suspension, more chassis bracing along with M compound brakes and performance tires, all designed to perform on the track. Fuel economy is 13/18/15 for both, which is as terrible as you’d expect for a 617-hp SUV.
What’s the X5 like to drive?
The X5 is soft, quiet and buttery smooth around town or on the highway, feeling impeccably engineered to make you only mildly aware of your surroundings. Despite riding on 20-inch wheels and run-flat tires, our X5 test car softened the impacts from potholes with expert dampening from the available height-adjustable air suspension. We’d suspect the standard adaptive suspension would be pretty exceptional in this regard as well.
When you start to hustle the X5 along, however, there’s a poise and sophistication to the way it takes corners that you wouldn’t expect from something so comfy the rest of the time. Selecting Sport or Individual tightens the steering, suspension, transmission and throttle response accordingly. The height-adjustable suspension even lowers itself in Sport. If anything, the Sport Plus setting is almost too firm as to be unpleasant on anything but pristine pavement. Bumps can actually unsettle it a bit through corners, much like other firmly sprung cars are wont to be. This breadth of driving feel is actually quite extraordinary.
Unfortunately, the steering is not, and it’s our main dynamic complaint with the X5. Like in other BMWs, there just isn’t enough feedback regardless of the drive setting you’re in. While the chassis tells you how athletic it is through the seat of your pants, the steering can’t break free from that foam layer. The Integral Active Steering, which adds rear wheel articulation, doesn’t really help in this regard, but does make for a tighter turning circle.
The X5 M is a much racier experience. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires send a dull roar through the cabin. There’s some ride crustiness, even in the Comfort setting. A familiar array of adjustments tailor the engine response, adaptive suspension, steering, and an M-specific AWD system that largely sidelines the front wheels until their contributions are required. The complex, spectacularly effective Active M Differential apportions torque between rear wheels, and of course there’s active roll stabilization. They all do their David-Copperfield-best to make this 5,425-pound SUV drive like a smaller sport sedan. The engine, meanwhile, is as remarkable in power and noise as you’d expect for the price.
We haven’t yet had the chance to test the plug-in hybrid powertrain of the xDrive45e, but we’ll be sure to update this buying guide once we have.
What more can I read about the X5?
A deep dive into the interior of this sporty version of the X5.
Our first driving impressions of this generation of the X5, including more details about what was new and different about this completely redesigned, fourth-generation version.
There are an overwhelming number of ways to customize the X5 M experience through its various drive modes. Here we break down what they actually do.
Just listen to it!
What features are available and what’s the price?
The base, rear-wheel-drive X5 sDrive40i starts at $60,395 with the $995 destination fee factored in, while that all-wheel drive xDrive40i begins at $62,695. Standard and optional features are so abundant, we could be here all day listing them. As such, you can dig a little deeper with this breakdown of features, pricing and specs of each model here on Autoblog.
- X5 sDrive40i: $60,395
- X5 xDrive40i: $62,695
- X5 xDrive45e: $66,395 (also eligible for $7,500 federal tax credit)
- X5 M50i: $82,145
- X5 M: $106,095
What’s the X5’s safety equipment and crash ratings?
Besides the usual allotment of airbags and stability aids, every X5 comes standard with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and emergency automatic braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems, and BMW Assist eCall emergency communications. The Driving Assistance Professional package provides steering assistance for lane-keeping and evading obstacles, as well as Extended Traffic Jam Assistant for hands-free driving in stop-and-go highway traffic below 40 miles per hour. The optional Parking Assistance Package includes a number of features, additional camera views and a drive recorder.
The 2020 X5 received a Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and we don’t expect that to change for 2021. It earned the rating for its best-possible performance in all tests but one: its base headlights got a “Poor” rating, which is typical. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the 2020 BMW X5 four out of five stars for overall crashworthiness, a rating we expect to carry over into 2021. Getting more granular, it earned four stars for front and rollover crashes, and five stars for side impact.