Is this the best all-round SUV money can buy? Jonathan Crouch reckons the X5 xDrive30d is in with a shout.
Ten Second Review
Holster those prejudices against big SUVs for a moment and consider this. The BMW X5 xDrive30d is big, safe, rapid and decidedly efficient. It'll get 45.6mpg and emit 162g/km of carbon dioxide. Given that less than a decade ago we were sold a Ford Ka that managed 37.2mpg and 182g/km, it's a remarkable achievement on BMW's part.
The BMW X5 is an easy car to underestimate. Rival manufacturers have made this mistake time and again with the result that when their copycat vehicle arrives on the market, BMW has moved on and they're left trying to convince buyers that what they actually want is slower, thirstier and more cumbersome. It's hard to hit a target that moves as quickly as the X5 and in this, its third generation, BMW has raised the bar again.
So let's home in on what I think is the definitive X5. Forget the overblown M-badged footballer chariots, the best car in the range is a humbler diesel, the Xdrive30d. This is the sort of car that makes sense to many families with a bit of disposable income to spend on something that feels like a reward. If you still equate SUVs with big and wasteful, read on. It'll be educational.
The X5 made its name as the first 'sports activity vehicle', BMW-speak for a 4x4 that handled like a decent estate. I remember driving the first generation car on its launch at Road Atlanta and seeing the utterly bemused faces on journalists who climbed out. It was a game changer the like of which I don't think I've seen since. The second generation was bigger and slicker and now this third generation model really gets all its ducks in a row. The xDrive30d isn't the entry-level diesel any more. That honour goes to the 218PS sDrive25d, a front-wheel drive car, that's also available with all-wheel drive in xDrive guise. You step up to a more agreeable 258PS with the xDrive30d, which gets it from rest to 62mph in just 6.9 seconds, topping out at a respectable 142mph.
The engine is a gem. The straight-six turbodiesel is a lot more refined than the four-pot 25d unit and the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission is just as good. Peak torque of 560Nm chimes in at a subsonic 1,500rpm and extends all the way through to 3,000rpm, significantly easing the transmission's workload. You'll need to swot up when specifying the car though. There's a traditional steel coil suspension setup as standard, but if you want something extra you can choose from one of four adaptive systems - Comfort, Dynamic, Professional and M-Sport - which feature active dampers, a self-levelling air-sprung rear end, more resistant springs, a clever differential and active anti-roll bars. There are also options for active variable-ratio power steering and a sport automatic 'box. Opting for bigger alloy wheels also has an effect on ride quality. One day we may get to grips with the definitive specification for an xDrive30d but that day isn't today.
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. The third-row seats 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
Should you settle on the xDrive30d, you then have to decide whether you want the SE trim or M Sport. The SE is priced at around £48,000 while the M Sport tacks around £4,500 to that asking price. The SE is strongly equipped, with 18-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tyres, Bluetooth, a 20Gb hard disk, a DAB tuner, metallic paint, LED fog lights, voice control, xenon headlights, satellite navigation, a multi-function steering wheel, leather upholstery and Oxide Silver interior trim. Upgrade to the M Sport version and you'll find 19-inch alloys, adaptive M suspension, Shadowline exterior trim, aluminium hexagon interior cappings, an M aero bodykit, electric front seat adjustment with memory function for the driver's seat, sports eats and a sport transmission. There are also a number of cosmetic upgrades such as exhaust finishers, an anthracite headlining, high-gloss roof rails, and M door sills as well as the usual M-badges on the steering wheel, front side panels and key.
Optional 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. The 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 per cent 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.
What does this mean? It poses a real problem for rival manufacturers. Take the Porsche Cayenne diesel as an example. Much the same price as an Xdrive30d SE, but down on power, over half a second slower to 62mph and gets 39.2mpg compared to the BMW's 45.6mpg. The BMW's about 16 per cent more efficient despite being quicker and more spacious. It's a similar story on emissions. Where the Porsche chugs out a respectable 189g/km, the BMW manages 162g/km - again around 16 per cent better. With strong residuals and a manageable group 42 insurance rating, this BMW makes a lot of sense on the balance sheet.
If you ever needed reminding quite how good the BMW X5 xDrive30d is, consider this. It's more economical than the Range Rover Sport SDV8. Perhaps you guessed that already; after all the BMW packs 258PS and the Range Rover 339PS. What you may not have realised is that as well as being more economical, it's more spacious, and it's even faster than the Range Rover too. Diesel against diesel, one costing £48,000, the other £82,000 and it's pretty much a slam dunk for the cheaper car, just so long as you don't plan on serious off-roading.
It's not perfect though. Despite the engineering excellence, there's a hint of under-confidence about the X5. Where it was once the car that dictated the rules the rest had to follow, now you sense BMW playing catch-up in some departments, trying to match Audi's interior finish and Mercedes' clever safety systems. That's a minor issue though. If you want the best all-round SUV on the market, I challenge you to come up with concrete reasons as to why the BMW X5 xDrive30d is not that vehicle.