Pricey 2013 BMW X5 drives well but carries little

With its puckered-up grille and classic circular headlights, With its puckered-up grille and classic circular headlights, the 2013 X5 showcases all the sophisticated good looks that one expects from BMW. Photo Credit: Cars.com / BMW

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The 2013 BMW X5, a two- or three-row crossover, is not perfect. Passenger space is a bit cramped; cargo space isn't great, and it can get pricey rather quickly.

Despite these imperfections, I give the 2013 BMW X5 two thumbs up because it handles beautifully and offers an enjoyable driving experience -- two things that many family-oriented cars don't even try to do.

My three-row test car took curves without much body roll. Thanks to its turbocharged six-cylinder engine, it smoothly powered up mountains or along highways at top speeds, and it even added some pizazz to short grocery-store jaunts. Its luxuriously appointed interior and classic BMW good looks didn't hurt, either.

A newly available M Sport Package gives the xDrive35i model I tested an additional 15 horsepower, and the top-of-the-line xDrive50i model gets 40 hp more, thanks to the package. The M Sport Package also includes a few aesthetic additions like blackened-chrome exhaust tips and racecar-like stainless-steel pedals.

The 2013 X5 xDrive35i starts at $48,395, including an $895 destination charge. My test car, an X5 xDrive35i Sport Activity trim, jumps to $58,595, but with the addition of the M Sport Package, Technology Package, Convenience Package and a few others, the total price came to hefty $74,595.

EXTERIOR

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With its puckered-up grille and classic circular headlights, the 2013 X5 showcases all the sophisticated good looks that one expects from BMW. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are standard and 19-inchers are available, but since my test car featured the M Sport Package, it came with swanky 20-inch double-spoke alloy wheels. This package also adds aluminum roof rails and shadow-line exterior trim, which means the trim has been blacked out to give the car an edgier, sportier look.

The doors are on the heavy side and more easily opened by bigger kids than smaller, but they are equipped with the brilliant soft-close feature. This means that when you or your kids don't quite close the doors, they automatically close themselves fully. Call me a lover of the little things in life, but since partially closed doors are a constant fixture in my filled-with-little-people existence, the soft-close feature's ability to solve that one tiny problem filled me with joy.

The step-in height isn't too high and allows for easy lifting of kids in and out of the crossover, which you'll have to do with smaller ones since only my 6-year-old could climb in unassisted. There are automatic headlights, heated and power-folding side mirrors, and a useful power tailgate that is split in just the right way. The lower tailgate allows just enough room when down to easily load luggage into the rear while the upper part is larger, with a high enough berth that even the tallest of people can stand beneath it.

With the third row in use, cargo space becomes almost nonexistent at just over 7 cubic feet. In real-world terms, this is enough for about four grocery bags. Thankfully, the 50/50-split third row can open things up a bit if needed, and with the third row down, there is a respectable 21.9 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the second row.

A standard dual-panel panoramic moonroof runs almost the whole length of the roof and includes a power sunshade. I used the sunshade as little as possible because the large glass panels gives a feeling of driving around in your own private atrium.

A turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine powered my test car. Because my test car had the M Sport Package, the engine produced 315 horsepower, up from 300 hp. It's matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission and has standard all-wheel drive. Also available are the upper-level xDrive50i that comes with a 400-hp, twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 and a diesel version, the xDrive35d, with a twin-turbo 3.0-liter diesel inline-six-cylinder engine that produces 265 hp and 425 pounds-feet of torque.

The xDrive35i gets an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg city/highway and uses premium gas. The 50i gets 14/20 mpg, and the diesel version returns 16/26 mpg.

SENSE AND STYLE

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

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

INTERIOR

Lovely and comfortable, the X5's interior offers plenty of luxurious touches, especially the glossy wood trim. The driver and front passenger seats are comfortable with good support for when you want to kick your driving experience into a sportier realm, and technology is higher end but usable.

There have been some complaints about BMW's iDrive multimedia system, but I found it intuitive to use with its control knob, surrounding shortcut keys and wider but narrower screen. I was able to adjust the climate, find a radio station or access my iPod without trouble and without having to pull over. It also provided me with longitude and latitude data, which helped me discover that I travel along the 40th parallel each and every day. Who knew? My test car came with the optional navigation and voice-command systems -- as part of the Convenience Package ($3,500) -- both of which were easily employed and augmented the usefulness of the iDrive system. There are also built-in manual sunshades on the rear passenger windows, which help soothe the beasts on sunny days.

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The quarters are tight in this seven-seater, and the seating gets less comfortable the further back you go in the crossover. The second row offers adequate comfort; the seats can be heated and can fit two child-safety seats, though you'd be hard pressed to fit another person between them. My daughter's stuffed Grover fit well between the two convertible seats. Of course, with Grover there, we couldn't use the fold-down armrest, pass-through and cupholders, so he opted to stay home most days since those are must-haves.

The second-row seats flip forward for decent access to a tight third row, which costs an additional $1,700. The two-seat third row provides little legroom or comfort, and for a family of five like mine, it got frustrating to use on a daily basis. With car seats installed in the second row, my son was forced to hop over the second row to get to his seat, and even for his agile 6-year old body, it was challenging.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

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

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

SAFETY

The 2013 BMW X5 received the top score of Good from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in rear, side-impact and moderate overlap front crash tests. There are no available ratings for the small overlap front or roof-strength crash tests. It also received an overall safety score of four out of five stars from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

The X5 xDrive35i Sport Activity trim has standard all-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with traction control and anti-roll control, adaptive xenon headlights, front and rear parking sensors, and six airbags, including side curtains but only for the first and second rows. Another interesting standard feature is the adaptive brakelights. These increase in brightness the harder you step on the brake pedal, letting those behind you know how quickly you may or may not be stopping.

My test car came equipped with several optional safety features, thanks to the addition of the Convenience Package that adds a surround-view camera system among other things. The Technology Package ($1,700) adds automatic high-beam headlights, a side-view camera and head-up display, which projects your speed and more in front of you so you never have to look down. Active steering ($1,550) was also included on my test car; it ensures that the steering angle of the front tires adjusts in proportion to the speed of the vehicle, making steering more efficient and effective in a variety of situations.

The two sets of lower Latch anchors sit in the second row's outboard seats. They are relatively easy to get to and use, and there are three top tether anchors located at the middle of the second-row seatbacks.

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