The original Sports Activity Vehicle is stronger than ever in third generation guise. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The BMW X5 is the 4x4 that never put a foot wrong. Think about it. There's never been a weak model, much less a bad generation. This third iteration on the theme improves efficiency, practicality and responsiveness and you wouldn't expect anything less really. It's all change but business as usual.
The BMW X5 was always something of a reluctant revolutionary. Before the X5 was launched in 1999, 4x4s were generally big, slow and agricultural. Other manufacturers were just beginning to see that it was possible to build in a little refinement and elegance but when the X5 first appeared in 1999, it changed everybody's perception. Here was a 4x4 that could drive like a sports saloon yet still had that elevated driving position and all-weather utility. Small wonder it was such a runaway success. Cars like the Mercedes M-Class, Volkswagen Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport, Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7 all wanted a bit of what BMW had.
The second generation car got bigger and better equipped, and was better in almost every regard, but by the time of its launch in 2007, the market had closed in on it. It was still there or thereabouts at the top of the class but was no longer the clear pick of the bunch. Fast forward another six years and we're now presented with the third generation X5. BMW needs to call upon every weapon in its considerable arsenal if this one is to draw clear of a very talented bunch of rivals.
There's some new nomenclature to get to grips with here. The big thing that you'll need to come to terms with is the concept of a front-wheel drive BMW X5. That's right, the range opens with the 231bhp BMW X5 sDrive25d, powered by a four-cylinder diesel. You can also buy this engine in a 'proper' four-wheel drive form, although I expect the front-wheel drive model's set to chalk up quite a few sales. Those looking for more in the way of grunt will want the 258bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder xDrive30d. More power and a drop in weight means this model now accelerates from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds - seven-tenths quicker than before. The 313bhp X5 xDrive40d is where things start getting really serious and then there's the M-badged M50d with 381bhp and 740Nm, resulting in a sprint to 62mph of 5.3 seconds. Your petrol-powered options are slim but strong. The xDrive50i variant offers 449bhp, with 650Nm of torque and the ability to crack five seconds to 62mph with a favourable wind. Then there's the manic X5 M offering 575bhp from a 4.4-litre V8 and 0-62mph in just 4.2s. These are minority interest models, but we're certainly glad they're along for the ride. Perhaps most interestingly, BMW also offers the xDrive40e, a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid with 245bhp.
All versions come with an eight-speed automatic transmission which not only adds to driving enjoyment but also makes its own contribution to fuel-saving. The X5 also comes as standard with a Drive Dynamic Control switch, allowing the driver to fine-tune the balance between comfort and sportiness on and off-road. The Driving Experience Control switch adjusts accelerator response, the characteristics of the power-assisted steering, automatic transmission shifting and - depending on the choice of suspension - damping qualities and roll stabilisation. There's also a choice of four suspension packages: Adaptive Comfort suspension, Adaptive M suspension, Adaptive Dynamic suspension and Adaptive Professional suspension. The four-wheel drive system is claimed to be lighter than before and now features torque vectoring to help reduce unwanted understeer and oversteer.
Design and Build
You might feel a little disappointed that the styling looks so similar to the outgoing model but BMW has styled the car in a deliberately evolutionary manner, as it is fully entitled to given that the X5 is a well-recognised and loved shape. Signature exterior features are short overhangs, a long wheelbase and a short distance between the front axle and the instrument panel. The front apron has air intakes at its outer edges which emphasise the X5's wide track and broad stance, while striking underbody protection elements are a nod to its off-road chops. BMW has rather slyly morphed the X5 into more of a scaled up X3 in silhouette, gently teasing the shape of the glasshouse into one that's a little more accommodating
The interior features a layered front panel with a horizontal structure and 3D surfacing. The high-quality materials include accent strips on the front and rear door panels and Oxide Silver dark matt, Poplar Grain fine wood or Aluminium Hexagon elements on top of a high-gloss black surface with a Pearl Grey Chrome underline. There's a 10.2 inch free-standing Control Display screen linked to the revised iDrive Touch Controller operating system. The climate control and ventilation displays feature black-panel technology.
In all models, there's the option of comfort or sport front seats. Heated comfort seats are also available for the second row. An Easy Entry function and a grip on the C-pillar make access to the rear simpler. There are optional third-row seats that can be lowered into the floor individually. The folding backrest in the middle row is now split 40:20:40 as standard for greater versatility. The BMW X5 offers a minimum of 650 litres of luggage space, and 1,870 litres - an increase of 30-litres with the seats up and 120-litres with them folded - in two-seat formation.
Market and Model
The addition at the base of the range of the X5 sDrive 25d means that this X5 actually opens at a more accessible price than its predecessor. You'll now need around £44,000 to put one in your garage. Most though will want 4WD with this car and will primarily be starting their X5 search with the xDrive30d SE variant, a car requiring a budget of close to £50,000. Is that good value? Well, you are getting a car with better economy, emissions and residual values which should soothe that initial sting - and equipment levels are a bit more generous too. Further up the range, there's the more powerful xDrive40d diesel, plus an even pokier 381PS M50d twin turbo version. Otherwise, buyers choose between three rare petrol options. There's the xDrive 50i with 450PS, the 575PS X5M or, perhaps most interestingly, the xDrive40e, a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid with 245PS.
Mainstream X5 models offer a choice between two design packages as alternatives to the familiar SE and M Sport trims. 'Design Pure Experience' emphasises the X5's robustness, while 'Design Pure Excellence' goes for a more elegant effect. Other features available include a Driving Assistant with Lane Departure Warning and a pedestrian and collision warning system with braking function. Dynamic Safety adjusts the seat belts, front passenger seat, windows and sunroof (if fitted) to the optimum position to survive an accident, while Attention Assistant can sense possible driver fatigue and issue audible and visual alerts. The Glare-free High-beam Assistant allows full beam to be maintained even when there are other vehicles approaching or immediately ahead by masking the portion of the light pattern which could blind other drivers.
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. A Harman Kardon Surround Sound system and a Bang & Olufsen Advanced audio system are available.
Cost of Ownership
BMW claims to have improved efficiency by an average of 20% across the board, not only through engine advances but also via extensive weight and drag-reduction measures, making the new X5 the lightest and most aerodynamic car in its class. The X5 is fitted as standard with ECO PRO, Auto Start-Stop, Brake Energy Regeneration, on-demand use of auxiliary units, electric power steering and low rolling resistance tyres. Extensive use of ultra-high-tensile steels in the body structure, an aluminium bonnet and magnesium instrument panel support and thermoplastic side panels have reduced the weight of the X5 compared with the previous model, with the xDrive30d weighing just 2,145kg. The car's drag co-efficient (Cd) has meanwhile been reduced to as low as 0.31.
This translates into excellent fuel economy and emissions. The entry-level X5 sDrive25d returns 53.3mpg on the combined cycle with carbon dioxide emissions of just 139g/km. Want something with four-wheel drive and some real power? Try the X5 xDrive40d which sends its 313bhp to all four corners and yet still returns 44.1mpg and emits just 169g/km. When you pause to consider that not so very long ago you'd have got 38.2mpg and 179g/km from a 148bhp Ford Fiesta ST, it's a mark of BMW's engineering prowess.
The headliner of the range in efficiency terms though is the xDrive40e petrol/electric plug-in hybrid. This can travel up to 13 miles on all-electric power and its battery can be replenshed in only two hours and 45minutes if you get yourself he optional 'BMW I Wallbox Pure' home charging set-up. The quoted combined cycle economy figure for this variant is 85.6mpg, with a CO2 reading of 77g/km, figures which will certainly catch the eye of business users.
The X5 once again demonstrates BMW's thorough understanding of this market sector. Now that buyers take good looks and sporty handling as a given across the board, the Germans have pushed the envelope a little further in other areas. It's not always wholly original, as the quest for Mercedes-style safety provision and Audi-style interior finishes proves, but it's hard to escape the notion that this is by some margin the most well-rounded car in its class.
Nothing gets close to matching the X5's combination of performance and economy in a car of this type. You only have to look at the X5 xDrive30d's economy of 45.6mpg and 162g/km for evidence of this. Key rivals? An equivalent Audi Q7 manages 38.7mpg and 195g/km while the Mercedes M-Class manages 39.2mpg and 189g/km. Both are slower and neither offers the driver appeal of the BMW. So despite all the changes, it looks as if the status quo will continue. Expect the X5 to be the target all the rest are tilting at.