Whether you believe BMW's claim of creating a new category of "sports activity vehicles" or not (we choose not), the BMW X5 has been quite a success story since launching in 1999. After selling some 1.3 million X5 models, BMW is ready to cut ribbon on the third generation of the SUV. The new X5 is only marginally removed from its predecessor in terms of looks and design, but it does boast some clear advantages, including the latest technological accoutrements.

The new X5 is the very essence of the term "evolutionary." It keeps the same basic structure defined by a long wheelbase, a short front overhang and upright A pillars. You'll have to look closely to distinguish it from the current X5 and should start at the newly prone front end. The headlights get a little sharper and extend nearly into BMW's signature kidney grille. Two G-shaped intakes on the flanks of the front apron push the eyes outward to the X5's wide track.

Out back, the rear is defined by tauter surfaces and lines, and the L-shaped tail lamps blend a little more seamlessly into the body. The X5 is the first BMW model to feature vertical aero blades, which complement the aerodynamic intentions of the rear spoiler.

In between the subtly redesigned front and rear, BMW replaces the straight character line with an up-slashing line along the side designed to "build a wedge shape exuding dynamic intent and break up the taut surfaces around the front side panels, doors and rear wheel arches." The sides are also home to new "air breathers" just behind the front wheel arches. The set of breathers serve as an exit for the air pulled in through the new "air curtains" and directed around the arches.

The new US-market X5 draws its power from a trio of engine options. The base gasoline engine for the X5 xDrive35i is a 300-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged inline 6-cylinder. The X5 xDrive50i is powered by a 445-hp 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8, which is 10 percent more powerful than its predecessor, motivating a 4.9-second 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) time. A 255-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six serves as the diesel core of the BMW X5 xDrive35d. All engines are paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. BMW says that buyers can expect increased efficiency thanks to the suite of EfficientDynamics technologies, such as the ECO PRO driving mode, brake energy regeneration and auto start/stop.

European X5 models offer several other engine options, including a 381-hp tri-turbo diesel on the performance-honed X5 M50d.

In addition to the standard all-wheel drive available on the X5 "xDrive" models, BMW offers a rear-wheel-drive configuration for the first time in the form of the X5 sDrive35i. The standard Driving Dynamics Control system lets drivers adjust settings, such as power steering and accelerator response, at the push of a button. It includes COMFORT, SPORT, SPORT+ and ECO PRO modes.

Advanced technological options can smooth out the drive and increase driver safety. The Active Driving Assistant package helps drivers stay alert with such technologies as lane departure warning, and pedestrian and collision warning system with braking. The available BMW Night Vision system detects both pedestrians and animals at night, helping drivers to avoid catastrophic collisions. The new Traffic Jam Assistant helps drivers stay centered in their lanes and at the proper following distance in slow-moving traffic.

Developed in cooperation with the William Lehman Injury Research Center in Miami, the "urgency algorithm" aspect of the standard BMW Assist eCall analyzes the severity of the crash to give responders the fullest picture possible. Information like number of passengers, deployed airbags and impact intensity is automatically forwarded to the BMW call center, along with basics about location and vehicle identification.

The technology continues inside, where an updated version of BMW's Head-Up Display shows more information than ever, allowing drivers to project telephone contact lists and entertainment programs onto the windshield when desired. The iPhone-powered BMW Apps is standard on the X5, offering drivers such features as Twitter and Facebook updates and Web Radio. Apps like Audible, Glympse, Rhapsody and TuneIn will soon be added to available options like Pandora and MOG.

Drivers can access and control apps, navigation and other information on the standard freestanding 10.2-inch display and touch pad. Audio comes by way of the standard audio system or available Harman Kardon Surround and 1,200-watt Bang & Olufsen options.

Production of the 2014 X5 will begin later this year in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The gas variants will roll into dealerships during the fourth quarter of this year and the xDrive35d diesel model will follow early next year.

Source: BMW USA