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2014 BMW X5 Brings Big Improvements, Though You Might Not Notice At First. 
The X5 is getting a full revamp for 2014 in typical BMW fashion, which means that most car buyers might have to look closely to see the changes, even though some are significant.

The German automaker generally takes a conservative approach to updating its vehicles, and in the case of the X5, that is probably a good thing, considering that the current version, which debuted as a 2007 model, is one of BMW's best sellers. The new X5 has a more squarish front end and more upright rear, making it look more blocky and truck-like than its predecessor. The front grille is also wider and more prominent, following a trend seen throughout the industry. Still, on the whole, the 2014 model looks remarkably similar to its old self. Other than styling, perhaps the biggest difference is that rear-wheel drive will be available on the X5 for the first time. Previously, it came with only all-wheel drive. BMW has long touted the performance and handling prowess of its midsize crossover, and this new rear-drive version plays further into that strategy (rear-wheel drive is generally preferred by automotive enthusiasts for its superior balance and neutral handling).

But this feature will only be offered with one of three engine choices on the 2014 X5: the base twin-turbocharged six-cylinder. It produces 300 horsepower and carries over unchanged from 2013. This model will be called the BMW X5 sDrive35i. The all-wheel drive model with this same engine will be called the X5 xDrive35i. The diesel X5 xDrive35d, which returns for 2014 with a new turbocharged six-cylinder. It's not as powerful as the diesel engine it replaces, losing 10 horsepower and 12 foot-pounds of torque, but BMW promises that it will be as quick or quicker, with a preliminary 0-to-62-mph time of 6.9 seconds. The big benefit of this new diesel engine is that it will produce fewer emissions and, together with some additional fuel-saving technology, like an eight-speed automatic transmission, should drastically reduce fuel consumption. Official fuel-economy figures aren't out yet.

The new eight-speed will be the only transmission available across the entire X5 lineup. It borrows some clever technology from BMW's hybrid vehicles, namely a function that decouples the transmission from the rest of the powertrain so the vehicle can coast without engine braking to save fuel. This works between 30 and 100 miles per hour when the driver eases off the accelerator and doesn't hit the brakes.

Other fuel-saving features borrowed from BMW's hybrid parts bin include stop-start technology, which shuts the engine down during temporary stops, and brake energy regeneration, which captures kinetic energy normally lost as heat during braking and converts it to electricity stored in the battery.

But wait, there's more. 

The 2014 BMW X5 uses lighter materials in its construction to save between 170 and 230 pounds, depending on the model. It also employs aerodynamic trickery (fancifully named Air Curtains and Aero Blades) to help this two-ton-plus crossover cut through the air more efficiently. The Air Curtains are formed from vertical inlets in the outer edges of the front bumper and vertical outlets in the rear of the front fenders. Together they route air around the wheel wells, creating what BMW calls "a curtain of air" over the front wheels. The Aero Blades are small vertical slats on either side of the rear window that smooth airflow over the back of the vehicle. Both features make their debut on the X5.

But BMWs are supposed to be ultimate driving machines, so why all this focus on saving fuel? 

Well, without these measures to improve overall efficiency, BMW would not be able to offer stupidly fast models like the V8-powered X5 xDrive50i for much longer. This unlikely hot rod gets a new twin-turbocharged V8 for 2014 - the same one found in the 2013 BMW 6 Series. It cranks out a heady 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque (that's 45 hp and 30 lb-ft more than the previous V8 could muster) and enables a sports-car-like sprint from 0 to 62 mph in 4.9 seconds, nearly half a second quicker than the outgoing V8-powered X5. There are plenty of options to keep the speed up and vehicle stable in the twisties, too. An optional Dynamic Damper Control has different suspension settings from soft to firm. Then there is an Adaptive M suspension with even firmer settings. If that's not enough, then the Dynamic Handling Package is a must. It combines the adjustable suspension with several other fancy features, including Active Roll Stabilization, which keeps the vehicle uncannily level when turning quickly.

Those concerned with practicality more than speed will appreciate improvements made to the second- and third-row seats. The second row is now split into three sections for more cargo-carrying configurations, and the optional third row, which brings seating capacity up to seven, is easier to access than before.

The 2014 BMW X5 with the six-cylinder and eight-cylinder gasoline engines goes on sale in the fourth quarter. The diesel version follows a few months later.

Pricing is yet to be announced, but is likely to remain pretty close to that of the 2013 model, which starts at $47,500.

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