2012 BMW X5: High price, but a lot to offer

2012 BMW X5 2012 BMW X5 Photo Credit: Tribune Media Services

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As a gal who's always been true to crossovers, I've often endured heavy sighs and a tinge of attitude from my husband -- Mr. Driving Enthusiast -- when I ask that we take my car out and about on the weekends. It's an area in which we've always differed. He wants to drive tiny cars that can zip around town and handle like they're on a racetrack. I want to ride in comfort while I look above and beyond all the aforementioned tiny cars on the road. The 2012 BMW X5 could be the answer to our split driving personalities.

With its fantastic family utility and stylish looks, the 2012 BMW X5 offers a driving experience that can't be matched by another crossover.

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    BMW brings some stiff competition to the land of SUVs with the X5. As someone who usually glosses over the performance specs on a car's window sticker, even I couldn't deny the allure of BMW's German engineering.

    Its precision handling and acute responsiveness quickly spoiled me, and for the first time, I realized what it truly felt like to drive and be one with the road. Even sweeter was that I didn't have to sacrifice a thing for this experience while hauling my family (and tons of stuff) along with me.

    Admittedly, this fusion of function and fun doesn't come cheap. The 2012 X5 has a starting MSRP of $47,500. My test car, an X5 xDrive35i Premium trim with BMW's Convenience Package, cost $67,875.

    2012 BMW X5

    Exterior

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    It's only fitting that a crossover with such performance prowess has such a chiseled, athletic figure. Despite its considerable size, the X5 looks fit and trim. Unmistakably a BMW, the X5 has the automaker's trademark dual-kidney grille, unique-looking taillights and modern styling.

    There's no strain when loading kids in or out of the child-safety seats; the X5 sits at the perfect height to keep parents from bending down and the ceiling height keeps the kiddos from bonking their heads on the door frame during the process.

    My biggest beef was the optional running boards. They were no help at all and extremely awkward. They aren't quite wide enough to use as a step into the vehicle, but they're too wide to bypass on the way out. After almost falling on my face a few times while exiting the X5, I wished I could rip them right off!

    However, a notable exterior feature that almost made up for the running boards was that in addition to the power liftgate, there was a tailgate that folds down. So, if you've got to load something awkward/heavy/large into the back, you can drop the tailgate to assist you and slide it right into the cargo area. It's also convenient for diaper changes on the fly. It's the little things!

    Fuel economy isn't great for the X5, but this isn't a car for penny-pinchers at the pump. The turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine makes 300 horsepower and has an eight-speed automatic transmission. It gets an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg city/highway. I averaged 16 mpg during my weeklong test drive, but that probably was due to my enthusiastic driving demeanor. And thanks to that turbocharged engine, you'll also need to fill up on premium gasoline.

    SENSE AND STYLE

    Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

    Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

    Interior

    The X5's interior lives up to luxury standards; it's not flashy, but the quality materials used inside and the attention to detail tell you it's no ordinary vehicle. My test car had upgrades like a panoramic moonroof, heated leather seats, a rear entertainment system and wood trim (instead of fake wood that never fools anyone). It may be fancy, but the five-seater's interior is durable and ready for anything a family may hurl at it.

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    A family of four would be most comfortable in the X5, but just in case your brood is a bit larger, the second row can seat three. There's also an optional third row that ups seating to seven. My test car didn't have the third row, making the cargo area spacious. On a weekend jaunt to California's Central Valley, we managed to fit a portable crib, a stroller, overnight bags and all the other random baby gear schlepped around for those "just in case" moments, and there was still room to spare in the cargo area.

    There just aren't many opportunities for complaints from the family when legroom isn't skimpy, no passenger is shorted a cupholder, and all the usual storage bins appear in all of the expected places. An unexpected surprise was the sunshades built into the rear passenger windows. No glaring sun in my baby's eyes means a smoother day of errands for me.

    I found the biggest triumph to be the X5's tech features that functioned smoothly and performed without frustration. BMW's multimedia system, iDrive, is easy to use, and everything is controlled with a knob in the center stack. While some systems set up this way can be cumbersome and irritating, iDrive works like a charm.

    Clean, modern displays gave me any information I could possibly need while driving around town, and if I needed more, I could use the BMW Connected application on my smartphone to get the X5's fuel level, range or even stream my favorite radio station. What really made my jaw drop -- not in a good way -- was that the app could also stream my Facebook friends' status updates and Twitter feeds on the X5's multimedia screen. No matter how strong my social-networking addictions may be, this is not the best or safest example to be setting while the kids are riding along with you. It's not even a good idea when driving alone.

    IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

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    Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

    Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

    SAFETY

    The 2012 X5 received four out of five stars in rollover crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It hasn't undergone any of NHTSA's other crash tests, and it hasn't been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

    However, BMW has safety features that eased my mind while driving with my family in tow. Standard features include all-wheel drive, bi-xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights, all-disc antilock brakes, front and rear parking sensors, an electronic stability system with traction control, antiroll control and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows of seats.

    With a few upgrades, you can also get my new favorite feature: the head-up display, which is part of the Technology Package ($1,700). It projected my speed on the windshield so I never had to take my eyes off the road, and when I was using the navigation system, turn-by-turn directions appeared there as well. Other optional features include a rearview camera with top view, a side-view camera, which proved helpful in tight parking spots and when parallel parking, and adaptive cruise control.

    The only glaring omission was the absence of blind spot warning system. I expected the X5 to have it, especially because other SUVs, with significantly smaller price tags, are now offering the system.

    Installing child-safety seats in the X5 was hassle-free, thanks to the two sets of easy-to-access lower Latch anchors and a roomy backseat.

    © 2011, Cars.com

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