New BMW X5 arrives with extra power, self-driving, lots of letters

Justin Hyde

BMW can't be faulted for going where the customers lead, and in recent years that's meant more SUVs from the brand once known exclusively for sports cars and sports-car-like sedans. The third generation of the X5, BMW's most successful SUV, was revealed today sporting the requirements of any updated luxury ride — more power, more efficiency and even tech that tiptoes into self-driving. But the decklid's starting to look like someone spilled a bowl of alphabet soup.

To start with, the 2014 X5 arrives in three configurations; the X5 sDrive35i and X5 xDrive35i, powered by BMW's twin-turbo, 300-hp inline six, and one motivated by the thumping 445-hp twin-turbo V-8. The sDrive35i offers only rear-wheel-drive, a way for BMW to extend the X5's market to sunnier climes and lighter wallets. A few months after those models arrive this fall, a diesel-powered X5 xDrive35d will follow in early 2014 — all using BMW's eight-speed automatic, all expected to be somewhat more efficient than the outgoing model.

On top of those models, the X5 can be further customized with various luxury trims or the M Sport packages, which add some of the visual aggression of a true M-variety BMW without the actual power.

While BMW touts the usual computer accoutrements and touch screens one would expect in a high-end luxury SUV, there's a new tool that raises the bar. Called the Traffic Jam Assistant, BMW says it combines the adaptive cruise control with lane departure warnings to automatically steer the X5 in its lane at speeds under 25 mph — as close as any automaker has come to a rudimentary self-driving system. Meanwhile, the dash tech allows the driver to see emails on the LED screen and enjoy a selection of Apple-integrated apps such as Pandora and Stitcher. At this rate, the X5 appears only a few generations removed from being the ultimate riding machine.

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