BMW's X5 was the original 'Sports Activity Vehicle'. And this improved version of the fourth generation model is more sophisticated than ever before. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
This updated version of BMW's fourth generation X5 demonstrates the brand's latest advances in technology, design and safety, with sharper looks, a completely upgraded cabin and extra equipment. The key changes though, lie beneath the bonnet, with big advances in electrification, particularly for the now larger-battery xDrive50e Plug-in Hybrid model. So it's all change - but very much business as usual. You wouldn't expect anything less really.
The BMW X5. It was the car that, back at the turn of the century, completely changed the way we thought about large, plush 4x4s, the car that, more than any other, defined the modern luxury SUV and the one that since the turn of the century, almost every other prestige brand has sought to copy. Nevertheless, 2.2 million X5s have been sold since this model line first appeared back in 1999. BMW doesn't actually like the term 'SUV' with its clunky connotations and has always marketed this car as an 'SAV' or 'Sports Activity Vehicle', though the tag has never really caught on.
As you'd expect, this fourth generation version moves the game on a little further again, offering what, on paper at least, BMW claims to be the best combination of performance and efficiency in its class. But the competition's tougher than ever before, with rivals claiming better driving dynamics, extra practicality and greater luxury. With all that in mind, is this still the most complete car in its segment? Let's find out.
As before, xDrive 4WD comes fitted across the range, but otherwise quite a lot's gone on under the bonnet as part of this facelift. The 3.0-litre six cylinder diesel variant most will choose (still badged xDrive30d) gains a revised 48V mild hybrid system, adding 12bhp and 200Nm of torque via a gearbox-mounted electric motor. That xDrive30d diesel puts out 298hp and makes 62mph in 6.1s. The other conventionally-powered model is petrol V8 M variant, now badged 'M60i' (which also gets the 48V mild hybrid system); that M60i offers 530hp and makes 62mph in just 4.3s, courtesy of a prodigious 750Nm of torque. At the very top of the range is the X5 M Competition, which has 625hp and makes 62mph in just 3.9s.
The biggest mechanical changes though, are reserved for the Plug-in Hybrid version, now badged 'xDrive50e'. This gets a newer generation turbocharged 3.0-litre six cylinder petrol engine putting out an extra 26hp. There's also a more powerful 84hp gearbox-mounted electric motor, creating a powertrain total output of 490hp and a 0-62mph capability of 4.8s. Yet because battery capacity has also risen (by 3.4kWh to 25.7kWh), if you drive more conservatively, an official WLTP-rated EV driving range between 58 and 68 miles is apparently possible.
All X5s get an updated eight-speed Steptronic Sport auto transmission with a host of innovations over and above the electric motor integrated into its housing. The unit's internal efficiency, vibration damping and shift timing have all been optimised, while shift characteristics are now adapted to the Driving Experience Control switch setting. The gearbox also includes a Launch Control function, plus using the gearshift paddles, drivers can activate a Sprint function for a quick burst of speed.
Otherwise, things are much as before. A two-axle air suspension system is standard, as is a 'Dynamic Damper Control' set-up to tailor ride quality, this accessible through the usual Driving Experience Control driving modes system. If you want to go further, the 'Adaptive M suspension Professional' package delivers two key enhancements. First, there's 'Active roll stabilisation - which compensates for cornering roll. And second there's 'Integral Active Steering' - which turns the rear wheels in either the same direction as the front wheels or the opposite direction, depending on the vehicle speed. This optimises cornering agility, ensures effortless lane changes and helps the vehicle to dart through city traffic. The few customers likely to venture 'off piste' can also specify an Off-Road package.
Design and Build
This updated version of the fourth generation X5 may appear fairly similar to the earlier version but if you take a second look, much is different. There's a new-look front kidney grille which can now be ordered with 'Iconic Glow' illumination. And there are narrower signature BMW headlights, with arrow-shaped daytime driving lamps that serve as turn signal indicators. The front bumper's reprofiled too and the lower front air intake has a horizontal trim detail in Pearl-effect Chrome and triangular apertures in its outer areas. At the back, there's new geometry for the rear apron, while redesigned rear lights feature striking sculptural fibre-optic light guide elements.
The updates are even more obvious inside, the dash de-cluttered of buttons courtesy of the installation of the BMW Curved Display we've been seeing in all the brand's most recent models. Here, it's made up of a 12.3-inch information display behind the steering wheel and a 14.9-inch centre infotainment control screen, both located behind a single glass surface. The automatic climate system is now operated via permanently displayed control graphics on the BMW Curved Display, which you may or may not think to be a good thing. The same applies to the greater number of touch-sensitive buttons scattered around the dash. The fascia's also been redesigned, with surfacing in leather-like 'Sensafin'. Plus there's a re-styled gearstick and a freshly added X5-branded ambient light bar with a crystalline surface structure and LED backlighting integrated below the trim element in the front passenger area. Connectivity's improved as well; front passengers can watch video-on-demand services on the central screen; and the 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring is wireless. And the now-standard 'Digital Key' features allows you to unlock the car with your 'phone.
Otherwise, things are much as before. You can just about fit three adults across the rear bench. And buyers can specify a panoramic glass roof that's 30% larger than and can be embellished with a 'Panorama glass roof Sky Lounge' option which provides LED light spread evenly across the glass surface to illuminate more than 15,000 graphic patterns and generate a display reminiscent of a starlit sky.
There's a two-section tailgate that can be power-operated and as before, there's a large boot - with 650-litres of space if you choose a conventional engine, extendable to 1,870-litres if you fold down the 40:20:40 split rear bench. It's 500-litres and 1,720-litres for the xDrive50e Plug-in variant. The xDrive30d can be specified with a third row of seats as an option
Market and Model
Prices have risen quite a bit, now starting at around £68,000 for the base diesel xDrive30d, rising to around £79,000 for the petrol xDrive50e Plug-in Hybrid and around £90,500 for the 530hp M60i. The X5 M Competition flagship variant cost from around £123,000 from launch.
Inside, across the range you get standard 'Vernasca' leather upholstery, available in four colours and electrically adjustable and heated sports seats. Options include an 'Ambient Air' package which provides air ionisation and infuses the interior with eight individually selectable scents. The Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System with 20 speakers and a 1,500-watt output will be tempting too, as will the optional Rear-seat entertainment Professional system which comprises a pair of 10.2-inch full-HD touchscreen displays, a Blu-ray-compatible DVD player and two headphone jacks. The new Comfort Pack includes seat heating for the outer rear seats and a Heat Comfort package, which brings heating for the steering wheel, driver/front passenger door armrests and centre console. The 'thermo' function for the cup holders keeps drinks cool or warm as required. The optional Sky Lounge panoramic glass sunroof generates an exclusive aura when darkness falls, with LED light spreading evenly across the glass surfaces to illuminate more than 15,000 graphic patterns and generate a display reminiscent of a starlit sky.
As you'd expect, there's all the latest camera-driven safety kit. And, to suit the mood of the moment, BMW has included its latest automated driving tech too - though to get it, you'll have to specify the optional 'Driving Assistant Professional package'. This gives you 'Active Cruise Control', a 'Steering and lane control assistant' and 'Traffic jam assist'.
Cost of Ownership
Thanks to BMW BluePerformance technology comprising a particulate filter, an oxidation catalyst, a NOx absorption catalyst and an SCR catalyst with AdBlue injection, the volume xDrive30d diesel variant continues to offer an efficient package. It returns a combined fuel consumption of up to 39.8mpg, equating to CO2 emissions of up to 186g/km. The V8 petrol M60i meanwhile is a very different proposition, posting a combined fuel consumption of up to 24.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 261g/km. The xDrive30e petrol Plug-in Hybrid is of course in another league here. as we told you in our 'Driving' section, its new 25.7kWh battery allows the car to go up to 68 miles without troubling its engine. And there's the usual fantasy-land three-figure combined cycle fuel reading, in this case between 256.8 and 353.1mpg. Key though is the government believes BMW's quoted CO2 figure (now down to a best of just 18g/km), which will have very positive implications for your BiK tax rating.
What else might you need to know? Well, routine maintenance is dictated by 'Condition Based Servicing' that monitors oil level and engine wear, taking into account how long it's been and how far the car has travelled since its previous garage visit. You can check all of this using menus in the 'iDrive' centre-dash display and the car will give you four weeks' notice of when a check-up is needed so you have plenty of time to book it. To help plan ahead for the cost of regular work, at point of purchase you'll be offered a 'BMW Service Inclusive' package that lasts for three years and 36,000 miles.
What we have here is a more mature X5, this improved version of the fourth generation model having evolved into a smarter, more comfortable and more efficient proposition. It will probably never reclaim the dominant market share its MK1 predecessor originally enjoyed, but BMW once again has the hardware to remind its closer German rivals just who really developed the luxury SUV sector in the first place.
True, this might not be as handsome a design as it used to be, but it's still imposing and classy. Better connected too and more relevant, not only in terms of its lower running costs but also its hi-tech infotainment ConnectedDrive cleverness. And all of this on top of a range of virtues that more than ever, offer as much motoring flexibility as you could ever need. We are, after all, looking here at a car with economy pretty close to that of an ordinary family estate, yet one that potentially can keep up with a hot hatch, scale the lower slopes of Ben Nevis and potentially even take up to seven folk to the theatre when all is done. It is, by any measure, a very complete vehicle - and now perhaps the most accomplished all-round choice in a very talented segment when all is said and done. A benchmark then. Just as X5s have always been.