BMW 5-Series

9 Mar, 2005 10:58am Piers Ward

It does not snow very often in this country, but when it does there is no mistaking the owners of a four-wheel-drive car. When everyone else comes slithering to a halt, they simply glide past in safety.

Verdict

Thanks to one of the most modern 4x4 systems in the world, the 5-Series xDrive is a truly impressive four-wheel-drive saloon. The engineering costs to convert to right-hand steering are too high to justify its introduction in the current model, but we hope the next-generation 5 has an x-rated machine in its UK line-up.
It does not snow very often in this country, but when it does there is no mistaking the owners of a four-wheel-drive car. When everyone else comes slithering to a halt, they simply glide past in safety.

Many UK buyers turn to off-roaders for all-weather reassurance, but do we need such an extreme solution? Adding a 4WD system to an executive saloon will seem obvious to Audi buyers, but in Britain, at least, rival manufacturers have not followed suit.

However, in other countries BMW's 5-Series is available with a choice of transmissions, feeding power to either the rear or all four wheels. We braved the big freeze and tried out the firm's latest 4x4 saloon to see if it could increase the blue propeller's grip on the executive car market.

The 5-Series xDrive has just been launched on the Continent, having already been introduced into the US. Its technology is an impressive engineering achievement which was showcased on the X3 and X5. Unlike most other four-wheel-drive vehicles, the 5 does not rely on oil pressure to engage all the wheels, instead employing a computer to determine where power is needed.

Using a multi-plate clutch to direct the drive where necessary is much quicker than traditional systems, and this helps make the 5-Series feel more controlled out on the road. In normal conditions, xDrive sends 50 per cent of its torque to each axle, giving excellent balance when cornering.

The £1,750 set-up was certainly impressive when we put it to the ultimate test on a frozen river. Even on ice, grip was surprisingly good, and only when we stepped out of the car did we realise just how slippery the surface was.

BMW had fitted our 3.0-litre six-cylinder 530 xi with winter tyres, which offer much better traction than the all-year rubber most Brits have on their vehicles. But even allowing for this, the model still showed a big improvement when turning into tight bends, and had plenty of grip out of corners.

In fact, if you are gentle with the throttle the 5-Series does not even engage its stability-control system, which is cleverly linked to the computer governing the xDrive. The only time you really notice the adverse conditions is under braking, when the ABS kicks in far earlier than it would on dry tarmac.

Elsewhere, the 5-Series xDrive remains unchanged from other models in the range. There are no compromises in terms of cabin space or refinement, with the extra mechanicals having no effect on the interior noise levels.

It is testament to the quality of the system that the 0-62mph sprint takes only 0.3 seconds longer than the 2WD car, and economy falls by only 0.6mpg. This puts many 4x4 rivals to shame, as mechanical inefficiencies often mean such vehicles are slower and thirstier. So would xDrive make sense in the UK? BMW has not ruled out bringing it here on the next-generation 5-Series, but the work involved in converting to right-hand drive would need to be factored in early on to make it financially viable.

For now, at least, BMW buyers have a choice between opting for an SUV, or putting up with the annual struggle for grip around this time of year.

Disqus - noscript

I read your article regarding BMW x drive with interest and sent an e mail to BMW asking when they might introduce a 3 series or 5 series x drive to the UK. The reply is shown below and does not stack up with your article. I wonder how many of their X3 and X5 are ever used off road in the U.K. They are losing the opportunity to take orders from Audi and at the same time increase the price to those people who choose to pay extra.

Thank you for your online enquiry dated February 6, 2011.

I can confirm that we do not produce an all wheel drive version of any of our dedicated road-going vehicles for the UK market, as we feel that the advantage given by four wheel drive over the few winter months is far outweighed by the compromise of performance, fuel economy and handling over the remainder of the year.

Our vehicles would not be able to deliver their class leading levels of performance and economy if they were fitted with a heavy and power draining four wheel drive system, which for the majority of the year would not be beneficial.

However, I have passed your comments on to our Product Development Team for their future consideration and details of this contact have been noted under the case number 1-6675338962.

I hope this information is of use to you, however, if I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Yours sincerely

BMW Group UK

Margaret Cocking

Customer Information Executive

I read your article regarding BMW x drive with interest and sent an e mail to BMW asking when they might introduce a 3 series or 5 series x drive to the UK. The reply is shown below and does not stack up with your article. I wonder how many of their X3 and X5 are ever used off road in the U.K. They are losing the opportunity to take orders from Audi and at the same time increase the price to those people who choose to pay extra.

Thank you for your online enquiry dated February 6, 2011.

I can confirm that we do not produce an all wheel drive version of any of our dedicated road-going vehicles for the UK market, as we feel that the advantage given by four wheel drive over the few winter months is far outweighed by the compromise of performance, fuel economy and handling over the remainder of the year.

Our vehicles would not be able to deliver their class leading levels of performance and economy if they were fitted with a heavy and power draining four wheel drive system, which for the majority of the year would not be beneficial.

However, I have passed your comments on to our Product Development Team for their future consideration and details of this contact have been noted under the case number 1-6675338962.

I hope this information is of use to you, however, if I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Yours sincerely

BMW Group UK

Margaret Cocking

Customer Information Executive

BMW GB response to 5 series X-drive in the UK- a case of shooting itself in both feet.

Surely, it's firstly about customer choice. If the customer is prepared to pay, why not offer it on sale here?

I take my car to Europe several times a year, including in the winter time, a 5 series x-drive would be ideal. For the reasons given by BMW GB, I don't want to lug the significant added weight of an X5 all year round.

Are BMW GB seriously suggesting the extra weight of the all wheel drive version (approx 80 kg = 1 adult passenger) will compromise the models class leading performance? If that is so, the F10 won't be class leader for long.

BMW GB would be advised to do their homework and compare the performance and fuel economy data of the 535i v 535xi. It seems to me the results are completely at odds with their reasoning.

In relation to your response from BMW, I asked the same question of BMW in November and was given the same response word for word.
I felt the response was a little patronising as they are making the decision for the paying customer on their beliefs. Would it not be better left to the individual to decide to accept the compromise of performance, fuel economy and handling?
A better response would be the truth that the financial return would not be these for developing a 3 series 4x4. This is would also find hard to believe as they already make AWD in America (although LHD) and i also believe the new X1 is built on the 3 series platform.
I still believe BMW GB are missing out as in the last snow fall i know of 3 families which sold up there BMW as they cannot afford to have their only car off the road for these periods of time.
Hopefully they will see sense.

My purchases in last 15 years have been 4 Jaguar X types, 2 Audi A8, 2 Audi A6. All are AWD. 3 of the Jaguars and one each of the A6 and A8 are still with me. In 2011 I even bought a used X-type to fill a gap. I am sure there must be a good number of people out there who share my views, views formed over a 2 million mile driving lif e. We are not all track-day Clarkson fodder. The AWD saloon car is a major factor in driving security in the real world.

AEX 1334
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