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2021 BMW X5 vs. 2021 Lincoln Aviator: Which Is Better?

The 2021 BMW X5 and the 2021 Lincoln Aviator are two upscale mid-size SUVs that offer three rows of seats but somewhat different takes on luxury. Which is better?

Quick Facts

  • The X5 was BMW’s first SUV and has been in production for more than 20 years.
  • The Lincoln Aviator’s Black Label trim includes 4-years/50,000 miles free scheduled maintenance and vehicle pick-up and delivery.

2021 BMW X5

2021 BMW X5 PHEV

Base Price: $60,395 / Read our 2021 BMW X5 Review

What we like: Excellent driving manners, handsome interior design, potent available turbo V8s, pavement-scorching high-performance X5 M variant

What we would change: Third-row seat strictly for kids, flinty ride with sport suspension and large wheels, nonlinear Integral Active Steering

Overview: The BMW X5 puts some genuine sport into the sport-utility vehicle, but even those not inclined to explore that potential will be impressed with its polished driving demeanor, luxurious interior, and overall competence. The base 40i is powered by a smooth 330-hp turbocharged straight-six and an eight-speed automatic with rear- or all-wheel drive. A new PHEV 45e layers on an electric motor for 389 total horsepower and provides a useful 30 miles of EV motoring. It’s a big jump up to the M50i with a 523-hp 4.4-liter turbo V8 and a host of M performance upgrades. The racy X5 M bristles with 600 horsepower, at which point one may as well go for the M Performance version to get another 17 horses. Fuel economy starts off well with the 40i models at 23 mpg combined; the PHEV, disappointingly, does less well, with an estimated 20 mpg. The powerful V8s are powerfully thirsty: 18 mpg for the M50i and 15 mpg for the M versions.

Seating for five is standard with a two-passenger third row available, but accommodations back there are tight and don’t expect to bring much luggage with the third seat in use. Power-fold the rear seats and space expands to a max of 72.3 cubic feet. The X5’s split tailgate features a drop-down lower section that makes a useful perch for tailgating; both the upper and lower sections are powered.

What’s new for 2021: There’s a new plug-in hybrid, the X5 45e, which comes standard with AWD and offers 30 miles of EV range. BMW finally adds Android Auto (wireless Apple CarPlay was already standard). The optional Off-Road Package has been dropped.

Features and technology: Besides the aforementioned engine offerings, X5 buyers wade through a thicket of equipment choices in the chassis alone. One is Integral Active Steering that varies the ratio resulting in nonlinear response — we prefer the standard setup. A sport suspension and adaptive dampers are standard on the M50i and optional on the six-cylinder trims; additionally, there’s a Dynamic Handling Package with active anti-roll bars. The ultra-hardcore M versions include just about everything, making them ideal for a few relaxing laps on track day after you drop the kids at soccer. Know that even the base X5 is athletic for an SUV, and that the sportier setups do degrade ride quality particularly in combination with the larger wheel options.

The expected driver assists are included and can be supplemented by a highly accomplished semi-autonomous steering feature that can execute a signaled lane change, part of the Driving Assistance Professional package. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is standard though its customization is limited. The infotainment screen is also 12.3 inches and can be operated via the touchscreen, the rotary controller, voice control, or (optionally) via gesture. The latter is gimmicky but the system is otherwise easy to use and sharply rendered. Available automated parking includes the ability to back-track out of a space retracing the vehicle’s path up to 50 yards. A standard phone-as-key feature works with iPhones.

What does the future hold: BMW appears to have filled out the X5 lineup for now, so we don’t expect any major changes. See 2021 BMW X5 models for sale near you.

2021 Lincoln Aviator

2021 Lincoln Aviator

Base Price: $52,195 / Read our 2021 Lincoln Aviator Review

What we like: Powerful standard twin-turbo V6, rich and interesting-looking interior, standard Co-Pilot360 driver aids

What we would change: Nosebleed-inducing pricing on the top trims, no available sport version

Overview: The Lincoln Aviator is more than a gussied-up Ford Explorer, and makes a convincingly upscale offering, one that could stand in for the Navigator for buyers who don’t need the very biggest SUV. The Aviator is based on the RWD platform that also underpins the Ford Explorer, but Lincoln gets its own suspension, its own optional powertrain, as well as unique design inside and out. Lincoln’s base engine offering is a 3.0-liter turbo V6, a retuned version of the unit in the high-performance Explorer ST, paired with a 10-speed automatic. Its 400 horsepower tops the boosted sixes in most other luxury SUVs and it tows 6,700 pounds. For even more performance, a plug-in-hybrid Grand Touring variant brings 494 horsepower to bear, it also allows 21 miles of pure EV driving on a fully charged battery. Fuel economy for the PHEV is not much better than the standard version, though. Despite the muscular powertrains, the emphasis here is purely on luxury, not sportiness. Rather than a sport suspension, Lincoln offers a camera that scans the road ahead and adjusts the adaptive dampers to smooth the ride. Six- or seven-passenger configurations can be had, and the third row is acceptable, with a useful 18 cubic feet of luggage space behind it. Available Perfect Position front seats boast 30-way adjustability but their padding is firm.

What’s new for 2021: Equipment changes see the Black Label trim add soft-closing doors to its standard-features list, and the Reserve adds a panoramic sunroof. The Elements package now includes heated/ventilated front seats, and a new Monochromatic Reserve package brings unique design elements including black-finished 22-inch wheels and body-colored trim.

Features and technology: The Aviator comes in Standard, Reserve, and Black Label trims, while the PHEV version is offered as the Grand Touring or Black Label Grand Touring. All models boast a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.3-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The touchscreen’s graphics are unspectacular but the Sync-based software is easy to use. Lincoln’s pushbutton gear selection is unusual, though. Upper trims offer the ability to use your smartphone as the vehicle’s key. A comprehensive list of standard driver aids includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist, but no lane-centering. Adaptive cruise control and automated parking are optional. The Black Label trims are pricey but come with additional customer-service features.

What does the future hold: The Aviator is only in its second model year, so we don’t anticipate big changes in the near term. See 2021 Lincoln Aviator models for sale near you

X5 vs. Aviator: Strengths comparison

BMW X5 Benefits: Available sporty and high-performance variants, loads of high-tech features, sumptuous interior

Lincoln Aviator Benefits: Lower starting price, powerful base engine, adult-habitable third-row seat, smooth ride, rich-looking interior, concierge features with Black Label trims

X5 vs. Aviator: Which is better?

The Lincoln Aviator provides a more traditionally American luxury experience with its two potent engine offerings, smooth ride, and quiet cabin. It also has a roomier third row and more cargo space. The BMW X5 hews to a more European ideal, with superb driving dynamics and performance at the upper end that’s track-worthy. Add in a high-quality interior, loads of tech, and 7,200 pounds towing capacity, and you have all-around competence that’s hard to beat.

The X5’s excellence comes at a cost, however, with a base price about $8,000 higher than the Lincoln’s, and cresting $100,000 for the M versions. Find 2021 BMW X5 models for sale near you or Find 2021 Lincoln Aviator models for sale near you

2021 BMW X5 2021 Lincoln Aviator
Popular Powertrains
Engine 3.0-liter turbo I-6 3.0-liter turbo V6
Horsepower 335 hp  at 5,500 rpm 400 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque 330 lb-ft at 1,500 rpm 415 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm
Transmission 8-spd automatic 10-spd automatic
Fuel Economy 23 mpg (21 city/26 hwy) 21 mpg (18 city/26 hwy)
Also Available AWD; PHEV; V8 turbo AWD; PHEV
Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles 4years/50,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety 4 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 7 7
Wheelbase 117.1 inches 119.1 inches
Overall Length 194.3 inches 199.3 inches
Width 78.9 inches 79.6inches
Height 68.7 inches 69.6 inches
Turning Diameter 41.3 feet n/a
Headroom, Front 40.8 inches 41.5 inches
Headroom, 2nd row 38.7 inches 39.7 inches
Headroom, 3rd row 34.9 inches 36.9 inches
Legroom, Front 39.8 inches 43.0 inches
Legroom, 2nd row 37.4 inches 40.1 inches
Legroom, 3rd row 31.2 inches 29.2 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 60.0 inches 61.5 inches
Shoulder Room, 2nd row 58.1 inches 61.3 inches
Shoulder Room, 3rd row 45.2 inches 54.0 inches
EPA Passenger Volume n/a 144.7 cu. ft.
EPA Cargo Volume 72.3 cu. ft. 77.7cu. ft.

Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio
Joe Lorio is an author specializing in automobiles. He says, “I have been into cars ever since I started with Matchboxes, and have been sharing my opinions about them for almost as long. Granted, I was pretty young at the time, but my parents really should have listened to me when I told them not to buy an Austin Marina.”

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