BMW X5 review
The third-generation BMW X5 is still an imposing and well built car, but rivals have since caught up
The BMW X5 was the brand's first forray into the lucrative SUV market way back in the late 1990s. It took the market by storm, and it wasn't until 2006 that Audi would respond with its gargantuan Q7. On the outside, the latest X5 looks like an unexciting evolution of the previous car, while the interior matches modern rivals for fit, finish and design.
Worryingly for a brand that promises a dynamic driving experience, though, the latest BMW X5 lags behind the likes of the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport, as the chassis doesn’t live up to the promise of a raft of technology. It's comfortable and spacious and offers seating for seven if you're prepared to sacrifice some bootspace.
If you’re after a premium image, luxurious interior and plenty of practicality, the X5 certainly doesn’t disappoint; it’s just that it’s no longer an SUV that sets the standard in its class.
Since its arrival in 1999, the BMW X5 has always been considered one of the more car-like SUVs to drive – a characteristic that stemmed from its monocoque construction in an era when most SUVs were still built on a separate truck-style chassis.
It set a new standard for driveability back then, with great dynamic ability and a punchy range of engines. This third-generation model may look similar to its immediate predecessor (it sits on the same platform as the Mk2 X5, so it’s similar under the skin, too), but it moves the game on with the promise of more comfort and practicality than ever before. Interior space for passengers has increased as well, especially around the shoulders.
This latest X5 is also lighter than the car it replaced. An aluminium bonnet and thermoplastic side panels are just a couple of examples of the car’s extensive weight loss regime, while BMW’s xDrive 4x4 transmission is 1.4kg lighter than before. Even so, the M50d weighs 2,190kg – that’s 75kg more than the top-spec diesel version of its close rival, the Range Rover Sport.
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All X5s get Drive Performance Control, with up to four driving modes, to adjust throttle response, steering weight and gearshift speed. The M50d also comes with Adaptive M Sport suspension, which includes active damper control and self-levelling air-suspension at the rear.
To further complicate matters, BMW offers Adaptive Dynamic suspension for around £2,500, too. This adds active anti-roll bars for better body control.
There’s an entry-level rear-wheel-drive diesel model – the sDrive25d – while four-wheel-drive versions are all badged xDrive. A plug-in hybrid xDrive40e version joined the range in 2016, too. All engine variants are available in SE or M Sport trim, apart from the high-performance X5 M50d and X5M.
Around 40 per cent of buyers opt for the seven-seat option, ensuring BMW’s big 4x4 will remain a common sight outside school gates for years to come. But BMW won't have it easy – the luxury SUV market is looking particularly crowded these days, and the X5 has to battle the Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes GLE and Range Rover Sport. All are significantly better to drive on the road than SUV buyers would have expected from this kind of car in the nineties, and the trailblazing original BMW X5 can take some of the credit for that.
Engines, performance and drive
The original BMW X5 introduced sporty handling to the 4x4 sector, but the definition of how an SUV should drive has changed recently. Now, the best cars in this class blend sharp handling and excellent off-road ability with refinement to rival that of the top luxury saloons.
Yet even if you specify the X5 with the Adaptive Dynamic suspension, which some owners may find over-complicated, it can’t match the current class leaders for all-round driver appeal.
While body roll is well controlled, the BMW rides too firmly in the sportier settings, making Comfort the mode you’ll want to stick to. As a result, you wonder whether the car really needs so many different settings.
Even in Comfort, the X5 tends to follow cambers in the road and never feels settled or relaxed like its rivals. This is a problem compounded by the strangely numb and inconsistent steering. Overall, the car has neither the composure and sharp reactions of the Porsche Cayenne nor the refinement and lightness of touch found in the Range Rover Sport.
If you think opting for the silent plug-in xDrive40e hybrid will help your cause, you're sorely mistaken. It is quiet in electric mode, but it's heavier and even less responsive. Put your foot down and there's an alarming delay from input to action, which can make it quite frustrating to drive.
If it's crushing performance you're after, though, the X5 M is top of the tree – this is a truly ballistic SUV. It leaves the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Range Rover Sport SVR trailing in its wake with a 0-62mph time of 4.2 seconds, while firmer suspension keeps the body even flatter in corners and makes the most of the immense grip.
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BMW has shunned thirsty petrol engines for the X5 – it offers only one in the range, as it clearly believes the vast majority of buyers will opt for its excellent diesels.
Kicking these off is the entry-level four-cylinder rear-wheel-drive sDrive25d model, which claims over 50mpg fuel economy and a 0-62mph time of 7.7 seconds. The xDrive30d, meanwhile, offers an even more impressive blend of performance and efficiency – 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds and 48mpg.
Go for the more powerful xDrive40d, and the benchmark sprint time is cut to 5.9 seconds without affecting economy too much – it still claims 47mpg – although this model costs nearly £3,000 more.
In 2016, BMW launched a petrol/electric xDrive40e hybrid version of the X5, promising a total power output of 305bhp and claiming impressive 85.6mpg fuel economy. It'll do 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds, but in reality the diesels feel more responsive.
At the other end of the scale is the X5 M, complete with a 567bhp 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 and supercar-shaming straight-line pace. Even the 443bhp xDrive50i feels amazingly quick (for a vehicle the size of an X5), with a 4.9-second 0-62mph time.
If you want ultimate diesel performance, look to the 381bhp M50d, as its 0-62mph time of 5.3 seconds is simply breathtaking. This model’s 3.0-litre tri-turbo straight-six diesel really stands out.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The headline news for the latest X5 as far as efficiency is concerned is the new xDrive40e hybrid. It combines a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor to deliver not only an impressive total power output, but also staggering 85.6mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions of only 77g/km. Unfortunately that's 2g/km over the threshold for London Congestion Charge exemption.
If you can’t stretch to the £51,000-plus price tag of the hybrid, but are looking to keep running costs to a minimum, the entry-level sDrive25d model could be the answer. It’s rear-wheel drive, and claims 50.4mpg economy and 149g/km CO2 emissions.
A 4x4 version is also available, badged xDrive25d, which uses the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine to deliver 47.9mpg and 155g/km, but provides the reassurance of total traction. The xDrive30d offers a great balance of power and economy – its 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine has 40bhp more power and 110Nm more torque than the 25d version, but efficiency only falls to 45.6mpg and 162g/km.
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The xDrive40d is worth considering if you plan to add lots of options, as the cost of these extras drops if you go for the bigger engine. The top-spec M50d and xDrive50i carry similar price tags, and serve up similar performance, while CO2 emissions of just 177g/km mean the M50d is cleaner than the equivalent Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne.
The diesel has more torque, but the xDrive50i petrol makes a better noise, and neither will be cheap to run. Don’t expect to get close to their official fuel economy figures if you drive with a heavy right foot.
Unsurprisingly, the X5 M is the thirstiest model in the range, with BMW claiming 25.4mpg economy and 258g/km CO2 emissions.
It’s big and it’s fast, so the BMW X5 isn’t going to be cheap to insure. Even the entry-level sDrive25d sits in insurance group 41, while the M50d is in group 49 and the X5 M takes you to group 50.
These rates pretty much mirror the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport line-ups, although if you’re in the market for one of these cars, steep annual premiums aren’t likely to put you off.
Depreciation is one of the biggest factors to consider when buying a big luxury car. And our experts suggest that, with predicted residuals of 49.1 per cent, the X5 won’t hold its price as well as its rivals. Over three years, that means the M50d is likely to lose just over £32,000 in value.
Interior, design and technology
The first two generations of the X5 were a huge success for BMW, making the car one of the most recognised premium SUVs on the planet. In total, it clocked up combined global sales of 1.3 million across its first two incarnations.
It comes as no surprise, then, that BMW has played it safe with the styling of the latest version. It's described as "deliberately evolutionary" and, while the looks are unlikely to offend anyone, it's certainly less distinctive than its predecessors.
The squat stance and flared wheelarches have been toned down, having been replaced by slab sides and a front end reminiscent of the latest BMW 3 Series. The rear end looks a little bland, but the squared-off exterior styling has led to an increase in interior space – making room for comfortable seats, big windows and first-rate quality.
The X5 M ups the excitement with massive 20-inch wheels (21-inch rims are optional), plus a deeper bodykit and M-specific 'breathers' behind the front wheelarches.
The dashboard design is a familiar X5 feature and in line with models from across the BMW range, but the smart switchgear and swish lighting are impressive.
The latest version of the company’s iDrive cabin control system is matched to a superb 10.2-inch screen, while standard equipment includes an attractive three-spoke M Sport steering wheel, memory seats, cruise control and two-zone climate control.
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Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The X5 has the latest 10.2-inch screen, and while it doesn’t feature a ‘touch’ function, that is taken care of by the main iDrive control dial between the seats. The top surface of this works as a touchpad that allows you to enter characters and numbers straight into the cabin control system without having to twiddle the dial.
As you would expect, the X5 comes with a pretty comprehensive package of infotainment tech. The list includes Bluetooth, an advanced sat-nav, BMW online services, music streaming and various apps.
Sound system upgrades are available from Bang & Olufsen and Harman Kardon.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
By updating the looks, BMW has given the new X5 much more usable space than the old car. And that was necessary to distance it from the smaller X3, the latest version of which has grown considerably. Around 40 per cent of X5 buyers opt for the extra two rear seats, which fold up out of the boot floor to give a 5+2 layout.
The driving position is high and offers a commanding view of the road. It also provides a wide range of adjustment, so buyers of all shapes and sizes should be able to find a comfortable setting.
There are large door pockets and a decent central cubby in the X5. The latter can be specified with a cradle for your iPhone if you opt for BMW’s suite of ConnectedDrive services.
Interior quality has taken a step forward in this latest model, with plenty of high-grade leather, metal and plastic used throughout. Some of the materials are light coloured, though, so it’s worth bearing in mind how they will look over time if you plan on carrying children or pets on a regular basis.
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At this end of the SUV sector, you’re buying the sort of practical and luxurious interior space that you’d expect to find in a people carrier. The boxy basic outline provides the X5 with a very roomy cabin and a big boot, and this combines with the elevated ride height and road presence to give drivers the confidence behind the wheel that they demand from a large SUV like this.
The BMW is a big car, even in this class. At 4,857mm long, it’s a bit longer than the 4,846mm Porsche Cayenne and 4,819mm Mercedes GLE, although it sits between these rivals in terms of width and height – the X5 measures 1,933mm wide and 1,776mm tall.
It’s also a few millimetres longer than the Range Rover Sport, although the British contender is the widest car in this quartet.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
There’s plenty of space in the front and rear seats, with more than enough leg, shoulder and headroom. The X5 feels particularly wide at the front, where driver and passenger enjoy large and luxurious seats. In the back, three people will find it easy to get comfortable, with the flat floor ensuring there’s plenty of legroom for all.
Buyers can spec a pair of seats in the boot, too, and it has proven a really popular option across the range. If you go for the xDrive40e hybrid, however, you'll sacrifice these for the bulky batteries under the floor.
Headroom is generous throughout, even if you opt for the glass sunroof. Plus, ISOFIX child seat mountings are included as standard.
All X5s have a split tailgate, with the top half being electrically operated. The boot is big, serving up a minimum of 650 litres of space, while the rear seats split 40:20:40.
It’s not as spacious as the Mercedes GLE, which offers up to 2,010 litres with the back seats folded, but the X5’s maximum of 1,870 litres is still impressive. The Range Rover Sport gives you 1,761 litres and the Porsche Cayenne 1,780 litres.
Towing is often an important factor for SUVs, and the X5 doesn’t disappoint here. Depending on your engine choice, towing capacities range from 2,700kg to 3,500kg.
Reliability and Safety
Euro NCAP awarded the BMW X5 a five-star crash safety rating, because it’s available with more safety kit than ever before. On top of a host of standard safety equipment, the big SUV can be specified with a variety of options to protect its occupants.
For example, the Active Security package includes lane departure warning, rear collision alerts and a blind-spot monitor, all of which can be activated or deactivated at the touch of a button. BMW Emergency Call is part of ConnectedDrive and uses your phone to contact and send details to the police or ambulance service should you have a crash. Meanwhile, Night Vision and LED headlights are also on the options list.
The engines and technology used in the X5 are found in other BMW products, so it shouldn't prove too much trouble to run. However, as this is such a big, heavy car, wear and tear is likely to be considerable.
And the X5 doesn’t have the strongest reliability record. It finished a lowly 96th out of 150 cars in the Auto Express Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey – with most of the complaints concerning electrical malfunctions – and didn’t even make it into the expanded top 200 cars in our 2015 or 2016 polls. BMW came 15th overall in the 2016 survey – ahead of Audi but behind Mercedes, Jaguar and Lexus.
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BMW supplies the X5 with three years’ standard warranty cover, but there’s no limit on mileage – which could be a significant benefit to high-mile business users. In comparison, the three-year warranty on the Audi Q7 comes with a 60,000-mile cap, while the Porsche Cayenne is only offered with two years’ cover as standard.
As with most BMWs, the X5 can be maintained via a fixed-price servicing scheme. And although this works out a little more expensive than the servicing costs for a Range Rover Sport, it’s in the same ballpark as the Audi Q7. Porsche Cayenne servicing is likely to set you back more, but none of these models would be considered cheap to maintain.