ONE FOR THE ROAD: There is plenty of power in BMW’s 2014 X5 xDrive50 M Sport, which offers a V-8 engine and spaceship-quality seats. It’s a joy to drive.
ONE FOR THE ROAD: There is plenty of power in BMW’s 2014 X5 xDrive50 M Sport, which offers a V-8 engine and spaceship-quality seats. It’s a joy to drive.
BMW

Let’s say this right from the top: The BMW X5 xDrive50 is brutally fast. Better still, all that speed is built into a comfortable, useful, capable vehicle you could drive from here to the Arctic Circle without even thinking twice. It’s not perfect, mind you, but it’s pretty close.

All that power comes from a twin-turbocharged, 445-horsepower V-8, an engine capable of sending this 5,150-pound beast from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. To put that into context: When the Ferrari 355 F1 arrived in 1998, it hit 60 miles per hour in exactly the same time, and it weighed 2,174 pounds less. This car is less of an SUV than it is a time machine.

The X5 xDrive50 puts that power to all four wheels, as indicated by the xDrive in its name. This type of all-wheel-drive includes an arsenal of electronic features that will keep you from flinging that two-and-a-half-ton beast off the road should you use all that power. Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control, and Dynamic Brake Control all work to reel an errant X5 xDrive50 back into line.

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BMW vehicles have always been known for their sharp handling and brick-wall braking capabilities. You might think that something this tall and heavy would be a wallowing land yacht, but it’s not. Handling is precise and direct, almost to a fault. Think about turning the steering wheel, and those gigantic 315/35-20 tires bite into the asphalt with alarming capabilities the first time you experience it. Note that our tested X5 featured the $3,600 M Sport package that included 20-inch wheels and tires, along with sport seats, a sport automatic transmission with paddle shifters, and an aerodynamic kit.

This is a luxury vehicle, for sure, but the interior isn’t the kind of fussy luxury you’ll find in some competitive models. It’s all business. The M Sport seats are fantastic. They have a solid range of adjustment, and all the side bolstering you want in a vehicle that handles like this one. They’re heated and cooled, of course, and they also have my favorite feature: the seat bottom adjusts to offer support under your thighs.

When BMW’s first generation “CCC” iDrive debuted in 2001 on the 7 Series, it was universally loathed. A lot of work went into developing the newer iDrive system that’s been in use in BMWs since 2009, and it’s evident in the X5 xDrive50. It’s much more intuitive to use, and thankfully, a lot of controls that used to be buried under confusing menus have moved back into separate knobs, where they always should have been. Nobody needs to relearn how to turn down the radio volume.

The central control knob manages an iPad-sized 10-inch screen on top of the dash. You use it to switch among major functions, with the help of a couple of buttons mounted just in front of the central controller. It works pretty well, though there were a lot of sub-functions on the satellite radio screen that I never figured out how to use. The navigation system was easy enough to input directions into manually, and there’s Voice Command, voice-activated control, as well, though I’m not a big fan of talking to cars.

I mentioned at the top that the BMW X5 xDrive50 isn’t perfect, so let’s run through a few of the things that consistently frustrate me with modern BMWs. First, the tailgate: It’s an automatic tailgate that rises slowly when you either push a button on the key fob or push the soft-touch button under the tailgate lip. Sometimes you just want to grab the button and open the hatch manually, but the motor fights you to the point that it won’t open at all.

Secondly, for some inexplicable reason, when you stop a BMW and push the “START/STOP” button on the dash, the car doesn’t shut off, only the engine does. You can walk away from the car, and the radio and many of the interior lights will stay on. The only thing that completely shuts everything off appears to be pushing the STOP button twice. No other car I know of does this, and it’s annoying.

Finally, the gearshift pattern is silly. We’ve been driving cars for over 100 years now. For at least the last 50, the sequence for an automatic has been P-R-N-D, and you shift through those positions one after the other. On a BMW with an automatic transmission, you press a button and move the shift lever forward for reverse, and backward for drive, and press the P button for park.

I rode a BMW motorcycle from the early 1990s for years. They saw fit to reinvent how to signal turns on that bike, too. Every time I went to turn, I reached for the turn signal that every other motorcycle known to man has utilized since the invention of the turn signal. It was never there, and I had to think about how to do it. That seems like the very definition of “counter-intuitive.” Let’s just make that gearshift work like everyone else’s, shall we?

These are minor annoyances, though. The big thing you’ll note is the lack of fuel economy; it is nearly impossible to break into the 20-mile-per-gallon range. That’s the price you pay for all that power.

Actually, the price you pay is $68,200, plus another $3,600 for the M Sport goodies. It’s an expensive ride when you factor in the fuel economy. But if you’re well-heeled with a lot of miles to cover in lousy weather, you’d have a nearly impossible job finding anything better.