Road tests

New BMW X5 2018 review

The new BMW X5 has few weak points but it's not short of strong rivals in the luxury SUV class

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The new BMW X5 is a fantastically capable all-rounder. It’s big, comfortable and quiet, and the diesel engines should offer decent performance with reasonable running costs. The fact there’s not one single thing that elevates the X5 above its rivals is perhaps a little unfair; the premium SUV segment remains a highly competitive and fiercely fought class.

The original BMW X5 was arguably the first true sports utility vehicle; the first car capable of mixing genuinely accomplished driving dynamics in a raised-up off-road body. But fast-forward 20 years and the market is awash with premium SUVs. Does the fourth-generation X5 still have what it takes to topple the Volvo XC90, Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7

Still overtly recognisable as BMW’s evergreen SUV, the latest X5 takes many of its styling cues from the smaller X3. There’s a set of bigger kidney grilles at the front, alongside a sharp lighting signature and defined body creases. The rear gives the car a more distinct personality, with slim tail-lights and boot-mounted badging. The X5 is longer, wider and taller than before.

Best SUVs to buy now

To find out what it’s like to drive, we took a trip to the US to try the all-new X5 in popular 30d and top-spec M50d guises. We also had a go in the xDrive 40i petrol car, which BMW hopes will account for an increasing proportion of sales as the buying public turns its back on diesel.

For now, however, the 30d will remain the biggest seller. After only a few miles it’s easy to see why; it’s punchy, refined and super-flexible. The familiar 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine packs enough shove (0-62mph takes 6.5 seconds) for effortless overtakes, while also feeling relaxed enough for motorway cruising. The new eight-speed automatic transmission remains one the best gearboxes in the business.

The rear-biased xDrive all-wheel drive system is now able to split its 620Nm of torque between the front and rear axles for what BMW calls “even greater precision and speed on demand”. While it is sharper to drive than the old X5, the latest Porsche Cayenne will show it a clean pair of heels on a twisty piece of road.

But that’s not to say it’s sloppy through the bends. In fact it’s surprisingly agile for a 2.2-tonne SUV; the steering is accurate and body control is good, while the ride was compliant and composed on our car’s twin-axle air suspension. It’s far preferable to the M50d’s less settled Adaptive M Suspension, that’s for sure.

Unsurprisingly, the basic 30d is our pick of the range. It’ll happily return 40mpg, while favourable CO2 emissions place it on par with the petrol version when it comes to company car tax. Those after even lower running costs should wait for the xDrive 45e plug-in hybrid due in 2019. 

Yet as much as the original X5 set the benchmark for sporty handling, the way people use these cars means it has to be a talented motorway cruiser, too. Luckily, BMW’s semi-autonomous driving functions work brilliantly, and successfully limit the stress associated with longer journeys or stop-start traffic. 

We trialled the firm’s latest Driving Assistant Professional pack during Atlanta’s heavy morning rush hour and quickly learnt to rely on the intuitive Active Cruise Control system. BMW has tweaked the Stop & Go set-up to reinitiate after sitting still for up to 30 seconds, which adds another layer of convenience to the skilful system. It’s completely unflustered by merging traffic, and was only ever caught out when one lane widened into two. 

In a first for BMW, the X5 will also be available with an Off-Road package. Adding underbody protection and a rear differential lock, the driver can engage a variety of drive modes to tweak the DSC system and help control the car. Our short off-road route in the 40i showed the X5 to be capable enough on loose ground, but a Range Rover Sport is still more proficient when things get rough.

Elsewhere, the all-new X5 boasts a completely overhauled interior, with a beautifully crafted dashboard and slick 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The resolution and graphics are super-sharp, while the iDrive set-up is reassuringly intuitive to use. 

The digital dials aren’t as complex or customisable as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, but they add a layer of luxury missing from the old car. BMW has even seen sense in fitting Apple CarPlay as standard, though the inclusion of Android Auto is still notable by its absence. 

Two specs (as well as the standalone M50d) will be available at launch. Even entry-level xLine cars like ours include 19-inch alloys, LED lights, wireless phone charging and a Wifi hotspot. Other kit includes heated front sports seats, automatic wipers and that excellent air suspension system.

Up to 80 per cent of British buyers will opt for the M Sport car, however. The racier spec costs £3,500 extra, but adds larger 20-inch wheels, an M-specific body kit, aluminium interior trim and illuminated door sills. BMW will offer various option packs, too, including a Visibility Package with laser headlights that can shine up to 500 metres on full beam.

Space in the back is very good. Despite every version getting all-wheel drive as standard, there’s little in the way of a transmission tunnel – so three across the rear bench is entirely feasible. Unfortunately none of the cars on our US launch were fitted with the optional (£1,390) third row of seats, but it’s unlikely to be as spacious as a Land Rover Discovery for those in the very back. 

The electrically operated tailgate splits in two, revealing a useful ledge for help when loading heavier items. The 645-litre load bay is competitive, but the 1,860-litre maximum means it slots in behind the forthcoming Mercedes GLE for outright space.

Most Popular

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox
Dacia Duster gear lever
News

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox

With more drivers learning in autos and electric cars, the DVSA is looking to update the driving test so people can still drive manuals in future
16 Jun 2021
Tesla Model 3 police car all set for evaluation by UK emergency services
Tesla Model 3 police car - front
News

Tesla Model 3 police car all set for evaluation by UK emergency services

Tesla hopes to offer UK police forces a new zero-emission emergency responder option with the Model 3 police car
17 Jun 2021
New 2021 Vauxhall Astra to offer plug-in hybrid power
Vauxhall Astra render
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra to offer plug-in hybrid power

The new Vauxhall Astra will get a plug-in hybrid powertrain and a more premium image - here’s how it could look
17 Jun 2021
Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review
Ineos Grenadier prototype
Ineos Grenadier 4x4

Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review

Can the Ineos Grenadier really fill the mud-splattered void left by the old Land Rover Defender? We take a first drive in a prototype to find out...
15 Jun 2021
Motorists think they can get away with driving offences due to lack of road police
police speed gun
News

Motorists think they can get away with driving offences due to lack of road police

Lack of road traffic police officers in the UK is making it easy for drivers to break the law, according to a survey of 15,500 British motorists
16 Jun 2021
New Nissan Qashqai 2021 review
Nissan Qashqai 2021
Nissan Qashqai

New Nissan Qashqai 2021 review

We get behind the wheel of the larger, more comfortable and higher-tech Nissan Qashqai SUV in the UK
16 Jun 2021
New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review
Audi Q4 e-tron 2021  front
Audi Q4 e-tron

New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review

We get involved with the new all-electric Audi Q4 e-tron SUV on UK roads for the first time
17 Jun 2021
Dacia unveils new badge design
Dacia badge
Dacia

Dacia unveils new badge design

The new Dacia branding will feature on the company’s cars from 2022, with the Bigster being the first candidate
17 Jun 2021
UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars
Electric car charging
News

UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars

Analysis reveals lithium refining takes 65 per cent of Chilean region’s water, while 40,000 child miners dig for cobalt in DRC
14 Jun 2021
'I was cynical about Hyundai's aim to be the world's 2nd biggest carmaker, not now'
Opinion Genesis Hyundai Ioniq
Opinion

'I was cynical about Hyundai's aim to be the world's 2nd biggest carmaker, not now'

Steve Fowler is impressed by Hyundai's electric cars, its N division and now its luxury Genesis brand
16 Jun 2021
Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition revealed
Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition
Ford Puma

Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition revealed

Ford unveils a special edition Puma ST, with a black and gold colour scheme chosen by Ford fans over social media
18 Jun 2021
Mazda to launch 10 new hybrids and three new EVs by 2025
Mazda electric plan
Mazda

Mazda to launch 10 new hybrids and three new EVs by 2025

The electrification push forms part of Mazda’s goal to become a completely carbon neutral company by 2050
17 Jun 2021
New Renault Arkana 2021 review
Renault Arkana - front
Renault Arkana

New Renault Arkana 2021 review

Does an eye-catching coupe-SUV body give the new Renault Arkana the edge over other mid-size SUVs? We find out...
16 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021