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Preview: Next-gen BMW X5 should be faster and lighter, with an exclusive new feature

The 2019 BMW X5’s unequaled new feature is its power retractable cargo cover.

Tom Kirkpatrick/Handout

Even when your starting point is a successful and respected vehicle like the BMW X5, it’s pretty much a given that when a new one comes along, it will be even better. You know the deal: faster yet more frugal; lighter yet roomier; sharper-handling yet smoother riding.

And hopefully, in the process, it will also leave the competition in its dust.

The 2019 X5 promises to be all that, although we won’t know for sure until we get some wheel time. But we have already witnessed with our own eyes an X5 party trick that has no equal among the competition: a power retractable cargo cover.

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This would be a clever trick even if it only involved power deployment and retraction of the flexible cover itself. But in this case the entire assembly – you know, that pesky crossbar that always seems to be in the way when you’re not using it – can be powered down and out of sight into a housing in the floor.

Dubbed E-Roller, it’s a neat feature on a fourth-generation X5 that is arriving earlier than BMW’s usual seven-year model cycle says it should have arrived, the current model having first appeared as a 2014. And the 2019 is a lot newer than its “haven’t I seen that before?” appearance suggests. It’s the latest BMW to migrate to the CLAR rear-drive-based architecture, first seen on the 2016 7 Series and now also supporting the 5 Series and the X3.

Unless you’re a highly detail-oriented car spotter, your best way to identify the new X5 is by its much deeper grille. Plus, maybe the wheels, available in rim diameters that range up to a staggering 22 inches.

The best way to identify the new X5 is by its much deeper grille.

Tom Kirkpatrick/Handout

Otherwise, the 2019 makeover retains the signature X5 look that hasn’t changed much since the nameplate’s inception in 1999. Width and height are about the same as before and length stretches a modest 30 millimetres.

For head of project Johann Kistler, the X5 is his last assignment before he retires. He says the early redo is because the new architecture, “brings new components that they want to get into production as soon as possible. A common architecture is also critical for the rollout of driver-assistance systems.”

But while the auto maker will add new driver-assistance technologies with each new model, “BMW drivers still like to drive,” he assures us. “At the end, a BMW is a driven car.”

Powertrains for the X5 are carryover – turbocharged gasoline 3.0-litre inline six and 4.4-litre V-8 at launch, and later a 3.0-litre diesel six, all partnered with an eight-speed automatic transmission – but finessed for more power and efficiency.

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The 2019 makeover retains the signature X5 look that hasn’t changed much since its inception.

Tom Kirkpatrick/Handout

As with any BMW, the X5 will offer a host of safety, convenience, connectivity and performance options, though one or two items you might expect to see on the options list will actually be standard: twin 12-inch screens (one of which will be the gauge cluster); and adjustable dampers.

Driving-oriented options include a sport chassis or an off-road package, height-adjustable four-wheel air suspension (the current X5 offers it only on the rear), active anti-roll bars and four-wheel steering.

Our first encounter with the X5 was a static poke-and-prod opportunity in a hangar at the Greenville plant where it will be built. While a demonstration of the E-Roller was impressive, we also noted the sensible box-like shape of the cargo hold with its anti-slip pads on the deck; cargo volume is unchanged, but there’s also a surprisingly large hidden cavity below the deck.

Moving forward, the rear seat is not especially roomy for a midsize SUV and promotes a somewhat knees-up posture for adults. But no complaints at all about at-the-wheel comfort and visibility.

Cargo volume is unchanged, but there’s also a surprisingly large hidden cavity below the deck.

Tom Kirkpatrick/Handout

Notwithstanding the vast acreage of screens (with gesture control an option), there are still user-friendly buttons for important, often-used functions including HVAC and radio. Kistler says that’s a matter of principle for BMW – although, interestingly, he muses that since most cars now have automatic headlights, the traditional light switch might in future be replaced by an icon on a screen.

But that will be then and this is now. When Kistler is asked to specify the single greatest advance on the new X5, his answer is music to our gearhead ears: “Driving dynamics. It had to be a BMW.”

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The 2019 X5 goes on sale this fall.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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