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2012 BMW X5 xDrive35i review:

2012 BMW X5 xDrive35i

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The full-featured navigation system stores its maps on a hard drive in the car, and so can offer rich detail. These refined-looking maps include topographic imagery and 3D-rendered buildings in certain U.S. cities. With zoom at maximum, these buildings overwhelm the map when driving through a downtown area, but it is a neat detail. The maps also show traffic incidents, something the navigation system ingests through an FM radio channel for which the owner of the car pays no subscription fee.

This system's route guidance works well, with descriptive graphics for each maneuver and good voice prompts. Its dynamic routing is particularly good. When it sees a traffic jam ahead, it changes the route without bothering the driver. In my experiences using the X5's route guidance, it always picked convenient alternate routes.

The navigation system does an excellent job of finding routes around bad traffic. Josh Miller/CNET

BMW does not skimp on the audio sources, including everything except for an SD card slot, and only a few companies offer that. The hard drive includes space for an onboard music library and there is a USB port for iPod integration or a thumbdrive. Radio includes satellite and HD, and the car also does Bluetooth streaming audio.

It uses the same music library interface for iPods, thumbdrives, and the onboard hard drive, a consistency I appreciate. But what I have never liked about BMWs is the browsing interface, which effectively sets up filters for artist, album, genre, and tracks. It is not a very elegant way to select music, especially when driving.

The base audio system in the X5 produces solid, well-balanced sound, but is not particularly rich in tone. BMW offers a premium sound package with more speakers and a more powerful amp, which will be the choice for audiophiles.

BMW also makes its new Apps feature available on the 2012 X5, which works with iPhones. This system includes Facebook and Twitter integration, along with online search integrated with navigation. Alongside the Apps feature, BMW also offers a telematics service that includes Google local search through the iDrive interface. This search works exceptionally well and integrates with navigation, making it very easy to locate a local business and set it as the destination.

The split-view front camera is extremely useful when nosing out from a blind intersection. Josh Miller/CNET

CNET's car lacked the available adaptive cruise control, but came with a versatile rearview camera and a split-view front camera, both very handy when maneuvering the big X5 around tight spaces. The front camera is particularly useful when nosing out into a blind intersection, as it shows views to either side of the front of the car. Oddly, driver assistance features such as blind-spot detection and lane departure warning are not among the available options.

In sum
Although the 2012 BMW X5 xDrive35i certainly qualifies as a luxury SUV, especially considering its price, it is unlike most of its competitors in that it emphasizes driving feel and handling. BMW brings an extraordinary amount of tech to bear in its engine, transmission, suspension, and all-wheel-drive system. Despite all of the tech, fuel economy remains mediocre.

Benefiting the new X5 is the latest round of BMW cabin tech, including very useful connected features allowing online search integrated with the navigation system. BMW does an excellent job of integrating phone, navigation, and stereo into a single interface. However, some aspects of the interface could use improvement.

Tech specs
Model 2012 BMW X5
Trim xDrive35i Sport Activity
Power train Turbocharged direct-injection 3-liter straight 6-cylinder engine, 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 19.2 mpg
Navigation Optional hard-drive-based system with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Optional, with contact list integration
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system 205-watt 10-speaker system
Driver aids Head-up display, front split-view camera, rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams
Base price $47,500
Price as tested $68,325

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