BMW X5 In Snow & Winter Driving (Solved & Explained)

When BMW first launched the X5 in 1999, it made huge waves in the SUV market by giving it car-like handling, sporty driving dynamics, and a very luxurious interior. 

Due to its success, many luxury automakers soon followed suit with their own premium SUVs – and the trend continues today.

But is the BMW X5 just a big luxury vehicle, or can it actually do well in snow? Read on to find out…

Here is the short answer to whether the BMW X5 is good for snow and winter driving:

The BMW X5 will drive through snow and ice-covered roads with ease and is a solid choice for light to moderate winter conditions. With its xDrive AWD, Stability Control and good ground clearance it can even go through deep snow and do some light off-roading on country roads and up snowy mountains. 

Is the BMW X5 Good in the Snow?

Despite its reputation as an urban 4×4 the X5 is actually very well equipped to handle driving in the snow.

The drivetrain, ground clearance, safety features and winter creature comforts available combine to make a solid winter vehicle.

Many X5s come with xDrive as standard so that automatically gives them the upper hand in the wintertime. 

The xDrive AWD system is extremely capable in the snow and quickly adapts to changing road conditions.

It’s very responsive when it comes transferring power to the right wheels to give you lots of usable traction. 

RWD X5s (sDrive) can also perform reasonably well in the snow as long as they’re fitted with proper snow tires – however they are not the optimal choice.

You’ll need to be careful with the gas pedal since the rear will have a tendency to slide out when you apply too much power.

All X5s also come with very good clearance at 8.4 to 8.7 inches, depending on the model year you’re looking at – this is plenty of height for light to moderate snowfall.

With the optional air suspension, the latest models can be bumped up even higher to 10.3 inches at the push of a button. 

With this you can easily drive through deep snow and unplowed roads even with the standard suspension.

What Features Will Improve Winter Driving?

Driving in the winter is more difficult because there’s less traction available and the roads become very slippery when it’s covered with snow and ice. 

The BMW X5 has loads of features that help it to stay planted and easy to control even in extreme weather conditions.

Let’s take a closer look at the more important features and see how they all make the BMW X5 an ideal winter vehicle. 

xDrive All-Wheel Drive

xDrive is what BMW calls its All-Wheel-Drive system.

In slippery winter conditions it can direct power to the wheels with the most grip to keep you moving.

This is especially useful for traversing unplowed roads or getting out of snowed-in parking spots.

It’s an extremely capable system that delivers a 60/40 torque split in most situations, with more power being sent to the rear. 

In modern versions of xDrive, you get selectable modes for

  • Snow
  • Gravel
  • Rocks

This automatically adjusts the ride height and power delivery to better suit the situation. 

Dynamic Stability Control

Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) is a computerized system that can detect skidding/loss of traction – it then aims to bring stability to the vehicle by automatically:

  • Sending power from the front to rear
  • Applying brakes to individual wheels
  • Adjusting engine timing
  • Limiting the flow of fuel to the engine

This helps guide the vehicle in its intended direction of travel and reduces the likelihood of the driver losing control of their vehicle.

DSC is also responsible for the X5’s brake torque vectoring.

It automatically applies the brakes to any wheel that’s spinning, so that power can be sent to the wheel on the opposite side which has more traction. 

It’s extremely helpful and effective when you hit a really slippery patch of ice or slush, or when you have one of the wheels off the ground.

Instead of slipping endlessly, power is going to be quickly transferred to the other wheels to keep you moving forward.

Related: 8 Most Common BMW X5 Problems (Explained)

Dynamic Traction Control

Dynamic Traction Control is a special mode on the X5 that allows wheelspin but still gives you some stability. 

In normal driving conditions, the Traction Control system will always try to stop the wheels from spinning too much so you don’t lose control of the vehicle. 

But in some potentially slippery situations such as:

  • Driving on slush or unplowed roads
  • Deep snow or loose ground
  • Up slippery inclines
  • When using snow chains

You’ll want some wheelspin in these situations so that the tires and wheels can dig themselves out of the snow and slippery sections and get more friction from the surface. 

Dynamic Traction Control is switched off by default.

You just push a button to enable it when you’re dealing with really slippery roads and the traction control is cutting the power too early and keeping you from moving forward. 

BMW Active Steering

Modern BMW X5s come with Integral Active Steering as an option.

It’s a really cool feature that allows the rear wheels to slightly turn along with your steering angle. 

Active steering decreases the car’s turning radius and makes the car more maneuverable both at low and high speeds.

This can be useful in the winter because you only have to turn the wheel a bit to get the car moving in the right direction. 

Anti-Lock Braking System

All BMW X5s come standard with an Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS).

It keeps the wheels from locking up when you step on the brakes too aggressively. 

During the winter, it’s easy to apply too much brake pressure at any given time because the roads are usually slippery and your tires don’t have much grip.. 

ABS keeps this in check by pulsing the brakes on and off really fast when the wheels are about to lock up and make you skid. 

ABS not only allows you to slow down quicker, it also lets you steer and control the vehicle during emergency braking situations.

The X5’s braking system also uses Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) which actively manages the amount of braking power that is sent to the front and rear wheels.

This helps you bring the car to a stop much faster.

It also comes with a Brake Assistant that automatically adds more brake pressure when you slam on the brakes.

Two-Axle Air Suspension

Some X5s are equipped with Air Suspension which lets you adjust the vehicle’s ride height at the push of a button. 

When going through really deep snow, you can lift the body up more than 1 inch higher than the standard X5’s ride height.

If you’re driving normally, you can lower the car to lower your center of gravity and enjoy more car-like handling.

Heated Seats and Remote Start

X5s come with heated front seats and side mirrors as standard.

With the cold weather package, you’ll also get heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel. 

Some X5s are also equipped with the optional Remote Engine Start. This lets you start the car and turn up the heat before getting into the vehicle. 

These creature comforts make driving the X5 in cold weather a non-issue by making the inside cozier and comfier when it’s brutally cold outside.

BMW Active Driving Assistant

The newest X5s come standard with BMW Active Driving Assistant which includes suite of modern safety features such as: 

  • Forward-collision warning 
  • Low-speed automatic emergency braking 
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Blind spot warning system
  • Rear cross-traffic system

It’s a suite of modern safety aids designed to warn you of potentially dangerous situations.

Does the BMW X5 Have a Snow Mode?

The latest BMW X5 models have a special Snow Mode in their xDrive settings.

It makes the car less prone to wheelspin by reducing throttle sensitivity, using higher gears than normal and shifting earlier.

Old X5 models do not have a dedicated Snow Mode – but this doesn’t mean they perform any less in the snow. 

All X5s come with a Dynamic Traction Control button which is extremely useful when you get stuck in the snow or on really slippery paths.

Please also read our article: where are BMW X5 made and how long do BMW X5 last?

Can You Install Additional Snow Gear on the X5?

The BMW X5 has always been a very popular model ever since it was released. So there’s a lot of available options for it when it comes to winter accessories and snow gear.

Here are just some of the things you can equip the X5 with to better prepare it for really snow conditions:

  • Snow tires
  • Tire chains
  • Snow socks
  • Studded tires
  • Tow hooks

Keep in mind, BMW advises against putting on snow chains on models with really big wheels larger than 19 inches. 

Since there’s not much space between the tire and the fender liner, tire chains can easily get caught with other parts of the vehicle.

It’s better to have your snow tires and chains fitted on a smaller set of wheels instead. 

How Much Snow Can a BMW X5 Handle?

The X5 has pretty good ground clearance at over 8 inches.

This means you can go through really deep snow if ever you get caught in a bad snowstorm however we wouldn’t advise driving through snow deeper than 7 inches under normal conditions. 

How Does the BMW X5 Handle Low Winter Temperatures?

As long as the X5’s engine is maintained properly and kept in tip-top condition, it won’t give you any problems such as hard starting or weaker engine performance even in really cold temperatures.

If you have to deal with freezing temperatures for long stretches, you may want to prepare your X5 to make it more reliable:

  • Switch to cold-weather rated engine oil
  • Install a block heater
  • Install a remote starter
  • Install a battery warmer 
  • Hook it up to a battery tender at night

Batteries don’t really like cold temperatures, and they tend to lose charge quickly in the winter. 

It’s a good idea to hook it up to a battery tender when it’s garaged, or install a battery warmer to keep it in good condition.

You might also want to keep a jump pack in the back for emergencies. 

You may also be interested in our article: Range Rover in Snow & Winter Driving

Can a BMW X5 Drive on Ice?

When fitted with the right snow tires, the X5 can easily handle really slippery roads that are covered with ice or slush.

However it should be done so with extreme caution, speeds should be lowered and corners should be taken with much greater care.

The X5 is quite a heavy vehicle and the extra weight helps all four tires get more traction. 

Although the weight will require more braking power to slow it down on very slippery surfaces.

The ABS and other braking assists should make this less of an issue though.

What About Older X5 Models And Winter Driving?

Earlier models of the X5 have always been praised for their off road and winter driving abilities.

They may not be the best vehicles for extreme off-roading and rock crawling, but even older X5s have very reliable xDrive AWD systems — except for the very first model years since xDrive was first introduced in the facelifted first generation X5. 

Older BMW X5s also came standard with advanced safety features such as Stability and Traction Control, and creature comforts like heated seats which make them really easy to drive in the winter.

Do BMW X5s Need Snow Tires?

A good set of winter tires will make the world of difference when driving in the wintertime, and it is highly recommended.

Snow tires are proven to significantly improve handling and stopping distances in winter driving conditions.

  • The compound is made to grip the road better in lower temperatures as it remains soft and flexible in cold weather.
  • The tread pattern is designed to push the snow out from underneath the tire. 

You’ll need the extra grip to be able to stop the X5 more effectively when it’s slippery since it’s a relatively heavy vehicle that carries a lot of inertia when it’s moving.

Can You Mount A Snow Plow on a BMW X5?

We don’t recommend mounting a snow plow on your X5, unless it’s absolutely necessary and you don’t have any other options available.

Snow plows are normally used with trucks and SUVs that have a body-on-frame design.

The snow plow is mounted to a vehicle’s frame because it’s extremely strong and can withstand a huge amount of force.

The X5’s unibody frame won’t be strong enough to deal with the forces that a snow plow can put on it.

It may be possible to adapt a snow plow to the X5, but you’ll need to significantly modify your bumper and/or parts of the body. 

There’s also no assurance that the chassis and the drivetrain can withstand the type of abuse a snow plow can cause if it’s used for a prolonged period of time and you will likely invalidate the vehicle’s warranty.

Related: 23 Best & Worst BMW X5 Years (With Facts & Stats)



  • Ian Sawyer

    Growing up with a father who was a mechanic I had an appreciation for cars and motorcycles from an early age. I shared my first bike with my brother that had little more than a 40cc engine but it opened up a world of excitement for me, I was hooked. As I grew older I progressed onto bigger bikes and...