2014 BMW X5

VANCOUVER, B.C. — We’re on winding roads leading up into the mountains north of Whistler and the car we’re driving handles just about as well as any BWW. Yet it’s not a car it’s the all-new, third generation 2014 X5 SAV. BMW insists on calling its SUVs Sports Activity Vehicles, which, we guess, is really a more appropriate designation than Sport Utility Vehicle.

Aside from the iconic Range Rover, which was designed from the start in 1970 as a sporty vehicle with on- and off-road capabilities, most SUVs have been derived from pickup trucks until the more recent advent of crossover vehicles. The labels have become confusing, as most owners don’t consider their luxury SUVs as trucks. Yet the EPA still insists on calling them trucks.

Back to the “truck” we’re driving — it’s powered by a 4.4-liter TwinPower Turbo V-8 engine producing 445 horsepower, which is more than enough to propel the car, sorry SAV, as fast as any decent sports sedan. It’ll reach 60 mph from a standing start in 4.9 seconds, according to BMW and EPA figures show fuel economy of 14 mpg, the same as for the 2013 model, in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, a 2-mpg improvement.

From the outside you’d be hard pressed to notice much difference in styling from the previous model. In all honesty it’s not going to win many awards for its looks but it does command a superior presence thanks to more stylish lines and a lower, wider stance. BMW has spent more time changing the interior with improved materials and gains in storage space as well as more flexibility with a 40-20-40 split-folding second row seat.

When the US-made 2014 BMW X5 goes on sale there will be a choice of two engines, the aforementioned V-8 in the X5 xDrive50i and a 3.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cylinder engine powering the X5 xDrive35i and, for the first time ever, a rear drive X5 sDrive35i, all hooked up to a new 8-speed automatic transmission. A few months later a new 3.0-liter 255 hp TwinPower Turbo inline six-cylinder diesel engine will be available in the X5 xDrive35d. Fuel economy figures have not yet been released but BMW says they will be significantly better.

After we’d driven on the highway in the V-8 we switched to the 255 hp 3.0-liter X5 xDrive35d and took it off-road. Cynics would describe the X5 as a soft-roader and we suspect most owners rarely do more than traverse the occasional gravel road. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the X5 was able to tackle some tough(ish) off-road chores that were flung at. Yes there was some spinning of wheels as our car tried to gain grip through a heavily rutted and very muddy section of sticky dirt. Hill-descent control is offered for the first time and it worked well with an effective digital display showing a compass and the vehicle’s roll and pitch.

The diesel’s performance on the highway didn’t feel much less sprightly than that of the V-8. It was not surprising as the diesel’ engine’s torque rating of 413 lb-ft. is not much less than the 480 lb-ft. delivered by the V-8. The diesel model is also about 220 lbs lighter.

All told we liked the new 2014 X5 as it certainly comes close to providing the best of both worlds with improved highway and off-road performance. However it does come at an unusual, lofty jump in price.

The 2014 X5 range starts at $53,725 for the newly available rear-wheel drive 2014 X5 sDrive35i while the 2014 BMW X5 xDrive35i is priced at $56,025. The 2014 BMW X5 xDrive35d price is $57,525, only $1,500 more than the gasoline-fueled version. The 2014 BMW X5 xDrive50i will start at $69,125. All prices include $925 destination and handling.

— John Rettie