---- — There was a time when construction alone distinguished luxury cars from ordinary cars. Luxury cars were big, sturdy tanks that felt like a substantial presence surrounding you. Ordinary cars just didn’t get as much attention during their engineering. They didn’t get the same care in manufacturing. They weren’t built with materials of the same quality as luxury-car materials. Therefore mass-consumer cars felt more flimsy, much less substantial.
That’s not as true anymore. Manufacturing processes and the engineering arts have advanced so far, and competition for consumer dollars has grown so intense, that today’s car companies make many consumer-class cars that rival the construction of upper-crust autos. You can almost feel sorry for luxury-car makers today, because it’s become much harder for them to distinguish their chariots from the carts that transport common people.
One of the primary ways they do it is by slathering so many spiffy gizmos and high-tech gadgets into contemporary luxury cars that you wonder if computer scientists contributed more to the vehicle than mechanical engineers.
The BMW X5 wagon offers a good example of that. Make no mistake, the contribution of mechanical engineers still stands out, because the X5 is clearly a sturdy and substantial vehicle. Like luxury cars of old, it has the poise, presence and road command to make you feel cossetted and secure. But at the same time, boy, is this model ever filled with modern features.
In fact, the X5 acquired a load of additional high-technology and convenience features when BMW brought out the 2014 model late last year. The 2014 X5 is all new, a re-conceived, third-generation version of the sporty, fleet-footed wagon that appeared in its first-generation form in 1999. This year’s model has a new body, a new interior, improvements in its power systems and driving mechanisms, and more equipment for aiding and assisting drivers, and for making motoring more comfortable, convenient and productive.
The 2014 X5 carries a starting list price of $53,725 for a rear-wheel-drive version, which is a new addition in 2014 (before now, the X5 came only with all-wheel drive). More popular by far in our region are all-wheel-drive variations, which start at $56,025. The X5 is the largest four-door passenger wagon sold by BMW, with a longer, wider footprint and more spacious cabin than the BMW X3, the company’s other offering in the class. The X5 is normally configured for five passengers, but an optional third-row seat sets up X5 to carry seven people.
The model’s starting price include more advanced features and alluring conveniences in the 2014 version, reports Val Goldenberg, general sales manager at Tulley BMW in Nashua, N.H. Last year, you would have paid extra for a moonroof, heated seats and a navigation system that incorporates touch-screen control, he said. This year “you get more features without paying more money,” Goldenberg said.
Other new standard features include BMW’s auto start-stop system that saves gas by shutting down the engine when stopped at intersections. They also include a three-piece 40-20-40 fold-down, rear seat-back, speed-sensitive power steering and 10-year enrollment in the BMW phone-in assistance and accident reporting program.
After that, when you start adding extra-cost options, the advanced abilities of the X5 get dizzying. A warning system detects both vehicles and pedestrians and begins applying brakes to prevent collisions. Adaptive cruise control automatically brakes the car all the way to a standstill in stop-and-go traffic. A traffic-jam assistant automatically steers the X5 to keep it centered in its lane during sluggish crawls. A night-vision system detects and displays images of people and animals when they’re out of headlight range. A self-parking feature identifies suitable parallel-parking spots and then steers and brakes the car into the space for you.
Encouraged by the longer list of standard and optional features, inspired by the new exterior design, approving of the slightly larger cabin and drawn by upgrades in comfort from such changes as new seats, drivers of luxury cars have been seeking the third-generation X5 at a heavy rate, according to Goldenberg.
But even though BMW, a German company, manufactures the X5 in South Carolina, the 2014 model has been in short supply since its introduction. That’s because demand has been so high, said Goldenberg. What’s more, the U.S. plant ships some of its output to China and India, where the X5 is also a hot seller, he noted.
Until now, new X5s shipped to Tulley BMW have been pre-sold before they arrive.
“This is the first month in which we’ve even been able to order cars from the factory” for customers, said Goldenberg.
“I have a shipment coming in and 14 are already sold,” he noted. A few from that batch will make it to Tulley’s lot for walk-in customers.
Along with inline six-cylinder and V8 gasoline engines available in the X5, BMW also offers a diesel-fueled engine that is popular at the Nashua dealership, the sales manager said. It helps that BMW does not charge a high, marked-up price for the diesel version, as some manufacturers do, said Goldenberg. At a comparable purchase-price to gasoline engines, the diesel has more pulling power than the other versions. Available only with all-wheel-drive, it provides a combined, city-highway fuel economy rating of 22 miles per gallon. That’s one better than the combined rating of the six-cylinder gasoline X5 with all-wheel drive, and it easily tops the 17-mpg fuel-economy rating of the V8-equipped X5.
“The diesel gets better gas mileage, and you have much more torque, which means you feel much more power in the car,” Goldenberg explained.
At Tulley, about 40 percent of the X5’s sold have diesel engines, he estimated. As diesels go, that’s an impressive share.
Goldenberg points out that beyond the vehicle itself, drivers find other advantages in owning a luxury auto. For example, BMW provides free maintenance for four years or 50,000 miles. That includes all maintenance, not just oil changes, he said. Tulley BMW also gives customers back-up transportation when they bring in their autos for service.
“You get a free loaner car every time you bring your car to us, even if it’s not on warranty,” said Goldenberg.
Maybe there’s no reason to feel sorry for makers of luxury cars. They still find plenty of compelling ways to elevate their models above ordinary Chevys and Fords.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2014 BMW X5
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5- and 7-passenger, rear- and all-wheel-drive full-size SUV
Price range: $53,725 to $69,125 (plus options)
Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles basic warranty; 12 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 4 years/unlimited miles roadside assistance; 5 years/50,000 miles free maintenance
Base engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged I6
Power: 300 horsepower at 5,800 rpm; 300 lb.-ft. torque at 1,300 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city; 27 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 115 inches
Length: 193 inches
Width: 76 inches
Height: 69 inches
Weight: 4,680 pounds
Fuel capacity: 22.4 gallons
Turning circle: 41.7 feet