Ready for activity, not off-roading

With its 19-inch wheels, 8.2 inches of ground clearance, sturdy construction and an eager, powerful diesel engine, one might almost be tempted to take the BMW X5 35d into the forest. In reality, the X5 is not really designed for off-road use, though with a little retrofitting here and undercarriage protection there, you might have something that could handle a woodland trail. But as it comes off the showroom floor, it’s not a truck or even a sport-utility vehicle. That’s why BMW calls this midsize wagon a “sports activity vehicle.”

BMW’s SAV, if you will, distinguishes itself with crisp handling, refinement and technology. Equipped with the 255-horsepower diesel engine, it also puts up some pretty impressive fuel-economy numbers. The diesel-powered X5 is rated at 31 mpg on the highway, and our 2015 test car hinted at even better numbers – with the right kind of driver in the right conditions, of course.

The X5 is one of a growing lineup of BMW sports activity vehicles, from the compact X1 to the stylish X6 coupe. In price, these BMWs – eminently suitable for the rough winters New Englanders have endured in recent years – range from $33,000 for the X1 with all-wheel drive to $72,900 for the V-8-powered X6.

Our test car had a base price of $56,600 but carried a sticker price of $72,500. Options that bumped up the bottom line included several packages adding cold-weather equipment, desirable safety features such as rear-view camera and head-up display, satellite radio, third-row seat suitable for small children, and NightVision with pedestrian detection. (Some of these options, especially satellite radio and rear-view camera, are now standard in many cars, including a number of cheaper and lower-quality models.)

The standard-features list includes heated front seats, parking distance control, automatic climate control, navigation system, panoramic moonroof, 10.2-inch screen, and power tailgate with a clamshell design.

Not unexpectedly, the BMW was enjoyable to drive in all conditions, including heavy snow. There’s nothing truck-like about its road manners, and interior accommodations are of the highest quality. BMW’s iDrive system, which controls audio, climate and other interior components, has grown on us over the years, and we’re now quite comfortable with it.

But the standout performer in this X5 is the diesel engine. Powerful yet nearly silent, it constantly reminds drivers more familiar with good old gasoline engines that the diesel is here to stay. Unlike diesels of old, it started easily, and without drama or noxious odors, even in very cold weather.

The X5 competes mainly with the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Acura MDX, Infiniti QX60 and Lexus RX. The Land Rover Discovery Sport, a new model, may be more desirable to drivers who want to go off-road.

The X5 has received five-star ratings in government crash tests in every category except rollover resistance (four stars). Consumer Reports magazine reader surveys suggest the X5 has average reliability.

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $72,500

Engine: 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline Six, 255 horsepower, 413 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 4,930 lb.

Ground clearance: 8.2 in.

Suspension: 4-wheel independent

Wheels: 19-in. double-spoke light alloy

Tires: 255/50R19 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 26.6 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 66 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 5,952 lb.

Fuel capacity: 22.4 gallons

Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway

Fuel type: diesel

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