I’ve test-driven other upscale diesel SUVs like the 2011 Audi Q7 TDI and the 2011 Mercedes-Benz BlueTEC R350, so I expected another family-hauling luxury crossover with great fuel economy but mediocre acceleration. But I should have known better. From the minute I slid into the driver’s seat, I forgot I was driving a diesel. Though the BMW X5 xDrive35d only makes 265 horsepower, when I put the hammer down on the highway, its 425 pound-feet of torque threw me back in my seat. That’s not what I was expecting from a diesel engine. Most SUVs have enough body lean to induce seasickness, but the X5’s tight, composed handling and Sport mode that came as part of the Sport Activity Package made it fun to fling down twisty backwoods roads in northeastern Maryland.
But even after all that fun, I still wouldn’t buy one. The X5’s electronic shifter bothered me every time I used it to toggle the SUV between gears, since I couldn’t get used to putting a car in park by pushing a button rather than using a gated shifter. Not only is the base X5 35i’s $47,500 MSRP more than most other luxury midsize SUVs’, but it comes with fewer standard features. It doesn’t even come standard with leather seats. Plus, the diesel model’s extra cost would take more than 26 years to make up for in fuel savings over the base model, according to the EPA.
If I was in the market for a sporty luxury crossover, my first choice would be the Acura MDX. It has plenty of power, nimble handling, a well-equipped interior and seating for seven. Taking all that into account, it’s hard for me to imagine paying an extra $13,800 just to get a BMW badge and a diesel engine.