BMW building long-wheelbase versions of some of the brand’s most popular series specifically for the Chinese market isn’t news by any means, but the latest addition to the lineup is a bit more interesting than the stretched out 3 Series and 5 Series we’ve become at least passively familiar with. As we reported on last year, BMW is expanding X5 production from occurring almost exclusively in the U.S. at BMW Group Plant Spartanburg in South Carolina, to China by way of its joint venture partner BMW Brilliance Automotive. The X5 models that will be built in China specifically for the Chinese market starting in April include the X5 xDrive30Li and X5 xDrive40Li, and both boast they same advantage over a conventional American-made X5: They’re longer, with increased space for second-row occupants.
In addition to riding on a wheelbase that’s 130mm or 5.1 inches longer than the standard 2,975mm (117.1-inch) G05 X5, the X5 xDrive30Li and X5 xDrive40Li are also specially outfitted with a definite tilt toward luxury for their target markets. Equipment includes comfort seats and second row back rests that feature an additional four degrees of tilt movement, a panoramic glass sunroof, ambient lighting, and a model-specific M aerodynamics package. Additional touches include perforated metal speaker covers, a smartphone tray with wireless charging, and an electroplated finish for some of the control surfaces. The suspension makes use of electronically controlled dampers as standard, while the X5 xDrive40Li can be optioned with a two-axle air suspension with self-leveling.
The model designations mean the same thing they do elsewhere, in that the X5 xDrive30Li is powered by a B48 turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and the X5 xDrive40Li by a B58 turbocharged six-cylinder. The L signifies the long wheelbase, while the remainder of the drivetrain remains unchanged including standard xDrive all-wheel-drive and the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed automatic transmission.
The long-wheelbase X5 was developed as a joint effort between engineers based in Munich, Germany, Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Shenyang, China. Both variants will be produced by BMW’s majority-owned Chinese joint venture partner BMW Brilliance Automotive at the group’s plant in Dadong, Shenyang. Beyond simply producing a model variant specifically for the Chinese market locally, thus eliminating the tax on vehicles imported from the U.S., the addition of X5 production in China is said to free up additional capacity at BMW Group Plant Spartanburg, which will be used to meet exceedingly high demand for the X3 and X5 in the U.S. and other global markets.
The array of BMW models produced specifically for the Chinese market continues to grow. It started with the E60 5 Series, with a version that was 5.5 inches longer than standard, and in the years since, the offerings have included long-wheelbase versions of the F30 and G20 3 Series, and the F10 and G30 5 Series. Although the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé is the smallest four-door sedan the automaker currently offers in much of the world, in China and Mexico, there’s also the F52 1 Series sedan which rides on the same front-wheel-drive UKL platform, with assembly handled by BMW Brilliance in China.
The question is, why aren’t these models sold anywhere else? After all, 70% of the fifth-generation BMW 7 Series vehicles sold in the U.S. were long-wheelbase cars, and when the sixth generation arrived, BMW made the decision to sell the long-wheelbase models here exclusively, but without the L in the model designation. In the case of other BMW vehicles, however, like the 3 Series, 5 Series, or X5, it just doesn’t make much sense. Instead of more room for individual interior occupants, market demand indicates we’re actually looking to have the capability to carry more people, perhaps in something resembling an X7, for example. It’s a similar story for wagons; they may sound great on paper, and enthusiasts will always rave about them, but in the end, they just don’t sell in large enough volume. Some consider it a self-fulfilling prophecy because of the consistently limited BMW wagon options we were presented with here in the U.S., but the numbers dispel any misconceptions.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]