I don’t usually review cars for a living. But after I came back from the CES 2019 tech trade show last month, I figured it would make sense to start doing so because they’re packing so much technology into these vehicles, and that’s how I came to have a BMW in front of my house.
It’s not every day I get to drive a BMW. In fact, I had never driven one at all until these nice car review people dropped it off at my house last week. Sadly, they took it back six days later. But it was enough time for me to get a feel for what it was like to live the high life. On Facebook, where I at first pretended it was my new set of wheels, I was a minor celebrity.
This wasn’t just any car. It was one of BMW’s bestsellers, the X5 sport utility vehicle. The 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i has a starting price of $60,700 for the base model.
It’s all about the interior
It has what the BMW Group calls the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, an in-car artificial intelligence assistant that you can talk to by saying, “Hey BMW.” While the X5 is nearly 20 years old, the assistant is new for 2019.
You can use that to control things like vehicle settings, navigation, and entertainment systems — all via your voice. You can do that in this car because it is really quiet. I was surprised at how little engine noise the X5, has, even when you’re accelerating onto the freeway. That’s not easy to engineer in a car that weighs 4,813 pounds.
Of course, being an old guy, I was delighted to have butt warmers on both front seats. And I spent some time looking for where I was supposed to plug in my key. But there is no spot for that, so I kept my key in my pocket. I had to find the start button next to the stick, to turn the car ignition on. I asked where the CD player was, and was told, “That’s a thing of the past.”
The car has a fairly clean dashboard with the usual stuff, but the command console is in the middle, where you can find a cupholder that will either cool or heat your metal cup. If you press the “home” button, you can see basic information on the Live Cockpit Professional technology display, which is a twin-screen, high-resolution, 12.3-inch infotainment system and digital instrument display. It’s all driven by iDrive, the BMW operating system for in-car controls.
One of the coolest things was a heads-up display on the windshield. It was tiny, and only I could see it as the driver. But on every street that I drove, it flashed onto the windshield the speed limit for the road. Next to it was my actual speed. If I was speeding, the heads-up display icon turned orange, indicating I should slow down. And if I was using navigation, it also told me which way I had to turn next.
When you have the radio on, the display shows you the station and the name of the song and the artist. I learned how to control the volume of the radio using my fingers, via gesture control technology. I put my finger up and then made a turning motion. The sensors detected what I wanted to do and turned the volume up.
You can tap the “com” button to link to the Open Mobility Cloud. I found it easy to link my iPhone to the car’s Wi-Fi network. Once I did that, the Apple Car Play feature let me see what was on my iPhone on the car’s display. So when I powered up Waze on my iPhone, the directions showed up on the car display. You can touch icons on the screen to maneuver to things like maps, messages, or music. You can’t, of course, mess around with a lot of this stuff while you’re moving.
But you can use voice commands with Siri or the BMW voice assistant to do things like read your text messages if you really need to do that. You can also use the assistant to learn your preferences. I didn’t have time to do this, but it will remember your seat heating (butt warmer) preferences or frequent destinations.
It’s all about safety
You can say, “Take me home” and the navigation will know what you mean. You can even say, “Hey BMW, I feel tired,” to trigger a wake-up program that adjusts the lighting mood, music and temperature, among other things, in order to make the driver feel more awake.
For safety, the car is packed with cameras in both the front and the rear of the vehicle. Looking forward, the car can detect the lanes on the freeway, and it will notice if you start drifting into another lane. The car’s smart system will force the steering wheel to move back into the center of the lane. You can tell this is in effect when a little green light shows up on the left-hand side of the instrument dashboard. That light only showed up when I was driving on the freeway. If I properly signaled to change lanes, then the steering wheel would let me change lanes without trying to force me back into the center.
The camera system can also alert you if someone is slowing down or stopping ahead of you. A red light comes on in the instrument panel when you need to slam on your breaks. The back cameras show you the view when you are in reverse. It had a parallel parking button on the screen, but it didn’t work when I tried it out.
Cool gizmos and sensors
The rear view showed up in the display, and it beeped if I got too close to something when I was backing up. The back sensors also had another purpose. If you are carrying your keys and your groceries, you can move your foot under the bumper. If the sensors detect it, they will automatically open the trunk door for you. That was kind of magical.
The door handles and other parts of the car light up with LED lights when you use the key to lock or unlock the car. Even the door handles have LED lights. My kid figured out that you could program them, changing the color to blue or whatever you wanted.
The car had USB charging slots in the front, as well as in the backseat. You can even wirelessly charge an iPhone in the well under the radio. In the middle glove compartment, there’s even a USB-C charging slot.
As far the driving, it is really smooth. The car gets 20 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway. It has a 3.0 liter 6-cylinder engine. Yeah, it’s amazing car. These gadgets can drive the cost up to $80,000. But hey, for Silicon Valley people, that shouldn’t be a problem, right?
If I had to rate this car, I’d give it a 90 out of 100. I figure any higher and it should be a self-driving vehicle.