When the original X5 arrived in 1999 it was BMW’s first ever 4x4 – a first step into the unproven world of premium SUVs. Fourteen years later and the X5 has reached its third generation, BMW’s SUV line up has exploded to include the X1, X3, X4 and X6, and competition is getting fiercer by the day.
It’s no surprise then that BMW has stuck to its successful styling formula, with familiar set of proportions to its predecessor (although its 32mm longer and 5mm wider). Cues like the headlights flowing into the front grille tie it in with the new 3 and 4 Series, while the air curtain and air breather vents either side of the wheel arches are stylish, and aerodynamically beneficial, additions.
With the 10.2-inch screen taking pride of place the interior is gorgeous to look at, while the levels of craftsmanship and comfort inside the BMW X5 are just astounding. Despite a slightly offset driving position, this is a terrific cabin in which to spend time, and to our eyes noses the X5 ahead of the Range Rover Sport in terms of overall quality.
There is, needless to say, a raft of high-tech, high end options including collision warning and avoidance that can slam on the brakes at speeds of up to 40mph, an infra-red camera that can detect and differentiate between people and animals, active cruise control (which features a system to creep the car in heavy traffic), surround camera parking system and an excellent head-up display.
Despite growing in size the BMW X5 is 5kg lighter overall than before, and the boot capacity has gone up by 30 litres to 650-litres with the seats up, or a massive 1,870-litres with them down. And once again, the X5 can be had with optional third row seats that fold away into the boot.
The 3.0-litre turbodiesel will be the best-seller and develops a little more power - up by 13bhp to 254bhp - and a little more torque - up by 20bhp to 560Nm. It’s accompanied by the 443bhp twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 petrol found in the xDrive 50i model, and the 376bhp triple-turbo M50d. The first ever four-cylinder X5 will also appear soon in the shape of the £42,590 sDrive 25d - the first ever rear-wheel drive X5.
We tried the xDrive 30d, which is as punchy as ever with all the performance you’re likely to need. It sounds familiar too – a distant gruff growl, which gathers into a more distinct snarl as you press hard on the throttle. The extra grunt leads to sharper acceleration - the 0-62mph time drops by 0.7- to 6.9 seconds - but fuel economy and CO2 emissions have improved by 7.4mpg and 31g/km to 45.6mpg and 164g/km.
The X5 has always had impressive handling for a car of its size, and the new model continues the trend. All new X5s will be fitted as standard with BMW’s Driving Experience Control, a toggle switch that lets the driver switch between Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Eco Pro modes.
Comfort really is comfortable, bringing to the X5 a fluidity and level of bump absorption that simply wasn’t present in the old version. Even in Sport mode (Sport+ has the same level of damper stiffness but dials out the assistance from the ESP and traction control) this new X5 has a level of comfort that would have been utterly alien to its predecessor. Unfortunately that means it can’t match the steering feel and chassis responses of its predecessor.
The electrically-boosted steering has a lovely weighty feel to it, but it fails to transmit precisely what the front tyres are up to. As the cornering forces build, things improve, and there’s still a level of agility only the Porsche Cayenne can beat and the Range Rover Sport can equal. But it’s still not quite the drivers’ car it was.
These things are relative though and the X5 will still dance rings around the Audi Q7 and Mercedes ML-Class. The fact that BMW has dialled down the dynamics slightly and upped the comfort levels shows they are fully aware of this car’s target customers – people who want a safe, high-riding SUV with an alluring badge on the bonnet. If a customer want to set lap times, they’ll buy an M3, if they need something to drive around the farm, they’ll buy a Land Rover anyway.