BMW's third generation X5 in its fastest diesel guise is quite a car. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The third generation BMW X5 has grown up and become a better car in the process. Especially in 381PS M50d diesel form. Here's a car that will seat up to seven, keep pace with a Lamborghini and scale the lower slopes of Ben Nevis. All in one day.
We're only just coming to realise how much the X5 changed the market for big 4x4s. It sparked a sales boom that saw hordes of manufacturers falling over themselves to capitalise on. Without this X5, we probably wouldn't have Porsche Cayennes, Range Rover Sports, Volkswagen Touaregs, Audi Q7s or any of the many me-too offerings in the premium SUV sector. Prior to the X5, the 4x4 class was populated by big, ladder-frame chassis vehicles that looked more at home on a farm; you know, Range Rovers, Landcruisers and such like but the X5 can't claim sole credit for changing the way we thought about such cars. The Mercedes M-Class and the Lexus RX300 preceded it and paved the way for its success, but the X5 drove in a way that no 4x4 had before it. It truly did put the sport into sports utility vehicle.
It still does. If you want proof, just look at the model on test here, the 381PS triple-turbo M50d diesel, a machine with supercar performance and family practicality. In theory, like its stablemates, this variant offers what looks to be the best combination of performance and efficiency in its class. But what's it like to drive?
This particular X5 can deliver some industrial-strength fireworks when you prod it into life. Three turbos and 740Nm of torque will see to that. I'm still trying to process that last figure. A Lamborghini Aventador can only rustle up 690Nm of torque. When you combine that torque figure with an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, which might just be the finest transmission in the world at the moment, you have a vehicle that delivers massive amounts of performance on demand. Instantly. The spec sheet tells me that this car will accelerate to 62mph in 5.3 seconds and that BMW's software boffins will call time on its acceleration when it's registering 155mph. But that doesn't even come close to telling you how rapid this car feels in the real world. You need to be careful when overtaking not that you have enough time to conduct your move safely, but so as not to rear-end the car in front when all three turbochargers get busy. Here's something to consider. This car gets from a standing start to the kilometre post in 23.9 seconds. It takes a Lamborghini Murcielago 23.2 seconds and an original Porsche 911 GT3 covers the distance in 23.7 seconds. That's the sort of company this car can keep in a straight line. For a diesel it also makes a pretty good noise.
You get adaptive damping and rear air suspension as standard and you can pay extra to build on that with an active body control system and a set-up that'll transfer torque between the rear wheels through the corners as required.
Design and Build
The M50d will look suitably potent in your driveway. You're certainly not going to mistake this BMW for a Mercedes or an Audi when it appears in your rear view mirror. The front grille will see to that, with this huge chromed double-kidney grille using up every inch of real estate between piercing adaptive xenon headlights. I have to say that the titanium vertical slats in the grille are a really slick touch. Below the grille it's all about air management with scoops slots and spoilers punctuated by these beady LED fog lights.
I think the interior is actually a good deal more impressive than the exterior design. The centrepiece of the dash is this vast 10.2-inch display, which is marshalled by the much-improved iDrive control system. One upside to the vast upright glazed area is that the X5 now feels much more spacious and airier inside. Plus there are optional third-row seats that can be lowered into the floor individually which really helps if you need to carry six and a bit of luggage. The folding backrest in the middle row is split 40:20:40 as standard and that'll give you more options too. The X5 offers a minimum of 650 litres of luggage space in five-seat guise, and 1,870 litres in two-seat formation. The tailgate is a split item with an automatic remote opening upper section and a manual fold-down lower part.
Market and Model
The only really direct rival to X5 motoring in its fastest M50d diesel form is Porsche's Cayenne Diesel S. The Porsche's around £4,000 cheaper but less well-equipped and pricier to run: your call.
As you'd expect for the best part of £65,000, there's plenty of standard kit. As well as the 'M Sport'-specific trim items inside and out, plus the 8-speed auto gearbox and Drive performance Control system that all X5s have, all the executive niceties are present and correct. So there are 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic xenon lights and rain-sensing wipers, roof rails, a power-lifting tailgate which can be controlled from your key, chromed exhaust pipes, park distance control front and rear, metallic paint, a Dakota leather interior, dual zone air conditioning, cruise control with a braking function and a multifunction leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Plus, as you'd expect, there's BMW's now much simpler to use iDrive infotainment system with its 10.2-inch colour screen, 20GB hard disc, DAB tuner, USB-in point and voice control. From here, you can control the high quality 6-speaker stereo, Bluetooth your 'phone and operate satellite navigation. BMW Parking Assistant identifies suitable parking spaces and not only steers the X5 into them but also operates the accelerator and brake, while Surround-view gives the driver a 360-degree view of the outside of the car. Internet access and Online Entertainment, giving access to 12 million music tracks, are available, while BMW Apps includes web radio, customised music programming and access to Facebook and Twitter.
Cost of Ownership
Big SUVs used to mean big running costs. That's far from the case now and to prove the point, let me run a few numbers past you concerning the car we're looking at here, the X5 M50d. We've already covered the fact that it'll be within a sniff of a Porsche 911 GT3 over a standing kilometre, yet can seat up to seven. That in and of itself speaks of some sort of automotive genius. When you then take those two facts and combine then with a combined fuel economy figure of 42.2mpg, genius transforms into some sort of alchemy. The more you try to square those apparently contradictory pieces of information, the more your admiration for this car grows. Emissions? This one gets 177g/km; or less than a 2.0-litre petrol Ford Mondeo.
All of these figures assume that you've engaged the ECO PRO driving mode that adapts the engine management, accelerator response and gearshift change points to support a fuel-efficient driving style and even programmes the climate control and heated seats and mirrors for the most efficient use of energy. In conjunction with the sat nav system, the ECO PRO setting can, through a Proactive Driving Assistant function, even advise the driver to ease off the accelerator when approaching corners or lower speed limit areas.
Don't think for one minute that this third generation X5 has gone soft in its old age. This M50d version has an engine that makes Thor's hammer look a bit ineffectual but nevertheless gets better than 42 miles to the gallon. It is, by any measure, an absolutely incredible vehicle.
True, the X5 isn't as pretty as it used to be but it's evolved into a better vehicle. Safer, classier, and, most importantly, more relevant. It's moved with the times and although its rivals have closed what used to be a very large gap, they've found it difficult to draw a bead on such a fast-moving target. The X5 is a car that now rewards a more subtle read on things, but yes, it's still the one the rest have to beat. Especially with an M50d badge on the back.