Lingering Issues

The X5 hasn't aged well. The styling Ч unchanged since the second generation hit dealerships in late 2006 Ч looks expressive up front but ham-handed in back. From the glove compartment to the center controls, the dashboard has a number of unsightly panel gaps, something editor Mike Hanley noted in his review of the 2007 model that BMW has yet to address. The same goes for the iDrive system, the knob-based interface that controls the navigation system, stereo and more. It's as vexing as ever. BMW has installed a vastly improved fourth-generation iDrive across most of its lineup, but the X5 reportedly won't get it until 2010. That alone could make waiting to buy this SUV worth it.

Reliability, too, could stand to improve. Though the xDrive35d technically represents a new Ч and unproven Ч drivetrain, its gas siblings have unimpressive track records. According to Consumer Reports' owner surveys, the X5 has worse than average reliability for the six-cylinder and much worse than average reliability for the V-8. That's generally better than the Q7 but worse than the M-Class. Japanese competitors like the GX 470 and Acura MDX beat all three.

It isn't all bad. The X5's cabin has characteristic BMW materials, with real wood and metal trim and soft-touch materials in places many luxury models stash harder, cheaper plastics. The front seats Ч 20-way power chairs in my test car Ч offer equal parts comfort and support. The second row has enough headroom and legroom for adults; my test car lacked the optional third row, but in the three-row X5 we tested two years ago, the back row was clearly best suited for kids.

With top marks in front, side and rear-impact tests, the X5 earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Click here to see the full list of safety features. Note: If you get the optional third row, the side curtain airbags don't extend to cover it.

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