Vancouver – Stopping for a light in the redesigned 2014 BMW X5, I watched a young man crossing the street in front of me. He was staring so intently at my vehicle that he stumbled over the curb. This third-generation makeover is more evolution than revolution, but there’s no mistaking it for the model it replaces.

(Disclaimer: Travel, accommodation, meals, and a predetermined route were provided to the writer by the automaker.)

The grille is larger and more upright, and the headlights now swing right across the front to meet it. That blocky nose now means it has a longer hood, while the upright liftgate lengthens the roofline. At the back, the angled taillights and new fascia visually reduce the big butt it used to have. Overall, it’s handsome.

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As in 2013, the new X5 will come in three variants, starting with the 35i, which wasn’t available to drive on the event. It continues with its turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder, still churning out 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. Its base price is bumped up by $1,100 to $62,900.

Like the 2013 model, the 2014 50i uses a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8, but its horsepower increases from 400 to 445, and its torque rises from 450 lb-ft to 479 lb-ft. It will go on sale later this year alongside the 35i, starting at $76,500.

The 35d diesel doesn’t come out until early next year, but it’ll be worth the wait. Its new 3.0-litre six-cylinder makes 255 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque. That’s actually a little less than the current one, which spins up 265 horses and 425 lb-ft, but the autobox now has eight cogs, compared to the previous six-speed automatic. Pricing has yet to be announced, but expect it to start around $65,000 or so.

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The diesel impresses with its smoothness and quiet operation, but both it and the V8 benefit from an improved driving performance. Thanks to numerous factors, including the more powerful gasoline engine, the diesel’s eight-speed, a slightly lower curb weight, available adaptive suspension, and a cabin that feels roomier, the overall impression is that the X5 seems slimmer and more tossable, even though it’s marginally larger than before.

That adaptive suspension and torque-vectoring rear differential gave my diesel tester a tight, confident stance on the snaky Sea-to-Sky Highway, at least when set into Sport mode (it’s softer and rolls like any other top-heavy SUV in its Comfort or Eco-Pro modes). The default suspension on the X5 will be conventional dampers and springs, while the dynamic adaptive suspension will be a stand-alone option for $3,500. It will also be part of two other option packages that will also include a self-levelling rear air suspension.

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The xDrive part of the name indicates the X5’s standard all-wheel system, and for that, BMW set up an off-road course equivalent to a rough, unmaintained cottage road, meaning it was far more than the vast majority of urban-core X5s will ever see in their lifetimes. Rain (in Vancouver! Imagine!) had turned much of it to mud, but the xDrive system didn’t falter. The hill descent control is pretty impressive, too: it defaults to 8 km/h, but by tapping the cruise control speed button, you can drop it down to as low as 5 km/h, or as high as 25 km/h.

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The roomier feel to the cabin is mostly due to its dash. By relocating the in-dash centre information screen to the top, the designers were able to slim down the bulky dash and visually open up the area. The down side is that the screen now looks like you dropped your iPad into it. I suppose tablet fans will rejoice, but I think it looks awkward. And while it looks like it should slip into a hidden compartment when not in use, it’s fixed there and doesn’t move.

the screen now looks like you dropped your iPad into it. I suppose tablet fans will rejoice, but I think it looks awkward.

The rest of the cabin is BMW’s signature design, with lots of horizontal lines and rows of buttons, and ridiculously comfortable seats. As before, a third row of chairs for seven-passenger seating is available, although none of the vehicles on the event were so optioned. New for 2014, the previous 60/40 folding rear seat is now split into 40/20/40 sections for more options when prioritizing passengers or cargo. Without the third row, there’s a large storage compartment hidden under the rear floor. A nice touch is a tiny hydraulic ram that holds the lid up when lifted, leaving both hands free to put your stuff in there.

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The carryover “clamshell” liftgate doesn’t really make as much sense to me. The top of the two-piece gate opens electrically, and then you manually open the bottom portion. But if you’re tossing items through the open top hatch, you have to lift them that much higher, and if you’re pulling stuff out across the open bottom portion, then you have to reach in that much farther. And if your hands are full, and you need it open all the way, you have to put down your items to open the bottom portion, since hitting the fob only handles the top half.

Overall, the makeover’s a good one, building on this popular model’s existing strengths while adding some new ones. It’s still big, but it doesn’t feel as huge behind the wheel anymore. It’s comfortable, and if you really need to move a full house, you can get three rows of seats. You can go for the big V8, but really, consider trying the diesel first. Smooth and silky, it makes this vehicle everything it should be.