Road tests

BMW X5 3.0d Sport review (2003)

BMW enthusiasts will be pleased that designers have left the handsome looks of the X5 largely intact during its first major facelift.

The X5 is a different car to different people. It won't satisfy some buyers' off-road needs, but most will find its impeccable on-road manners more useful. The styling is sharper, while xDrive helps the BMW get closer to serious 4x4s. The big improvement is to the diesel's performance, but we'd stick with an automatic gearbox.

It's been a tough year for many die-hard BMW fans. As the new school of sharp-edged, wildly proportioned Chris Bangle designs has been unleashed on the world, there has been widespread disbelief among the firm's more conservative following.

For some, the styling is a step in the wrong direction, so blue-propeller enthusiasts will be pleased that designers have left the handsome looks of the X5 off-roader largely intact during its first major facelift. We got behind the wheel of one of the earliest UK-spec models to see what it's like.

Under the bonnet, the 3.0-litre petrol engine is the same, but there's a new 4.4-litre V8, while an updated 4.8iS will arrive in the spring. However, the biggest news is that the X5 is now available with the 218bhp 3.0-litre diesel engine from the 7-Series. This is 18 per cent more powerful than the outgoing oil-burner, which has accounted for nearly half of all X5 sales.

Once you've adjusted your driving to exploit the 500Nm of pulling power, it's hard not to be impressed by the diesel. A significant 1.8 seconds has been cut off the 0-62mph time, taking it down to 8.3 seconds, while mid-range punch is even better. But all is not perfect, and it's the gearbox that's to blame.

As well as the fresh motors, there are two new six-speed transmissions. Our car came with the manual gearbox, which felt awkward at low speeds, with a very short first gear and long-travel clutch. However, the auto offers slick changes, while the addition of a sixth ratio improves economy and refinement at speed. This means that, despite the performance boost, fuel consumption actually improves slightly from 32.5mpg to 32.8mpg, while the X5's CO2 emissions drop by 4g/km to 229g/km.

For buyers who want to venture off-road, the four-wheel-drive system has been re-engineered to enhance mud-plugging ability. Called xDrive, the new layout helps close the gap between the X5 and hardcore 4x4s. But the BMW is still more at home on tarmac.

While our Sport model's optional 19-inch alloys took their toll on the ride, the handling and road-holding are in a different league to virtually any other off-roader, despite the X5's reliance on old-fashioned steel suspension rather than the air springs on rivals. The restyled lights, flared nostril grille and pronounced bonnet lines add distinction to the shape, too, while subtle interior changes include a new 5-Series-style steering wheel. The bad news is that prices have risen, with the 3.0d Sport at £37,010 - £1,100 more than the existing version.

So can the X5 win back disillusioned BMW fans? Not much has changed, but the SUV is now even better all-round.

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