BMW X5 35d SE

One of our favourite SUVs still makes a strong case for itself

  • The use of EfficientDynamics technology means the X5 has regenerative braking, which helps to improve emissions and economy. But it’s the performance that really stands out. The torque advantage means power delivery is excellent and in-gear thrust impressive – the BMW has pace to match class-leading hot hatches. For £5,120 extra you can opt for the racy M Sport. Its power output is unchanged, but you get bigger 19-inch wheels, sports suspension and styling tweaks.
  • Opt for a third row of seats in your X5, and the luggage capacity drops to only 200 litres. They cost a hefty £1,320, yet even without them the BMW’s boot is smaller than the Mercedes’. To make matters worse, the middle row of seats doesn’t fold completely flat.

When we included BMW’s X5 in our green 4x4 test in Issue 1,036, we were taking a gamble. Since the launch of the original version in 1999, the German model has surpassed all expectations – but being described as eco-friendly proved to be a bridge too far.

Put head-to-head with its M-Class arch rival in sporty twin-turbo diesel form, the BMW is more at home. As with the Mercedes, the X5 is now in its second generation. Yet what’s immediately clear is that the blue propeller car doesn’t have the visual impact of its opponent here.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the BMW X5

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At least the curves and sharp creases help to disguise the X5’s bulk, making it look smaller and tauter than the M-Class. However, our SE-spec car only gets 18-inch alloy wheels as standard – and these are dwarfed by the Merc’s 20-inch rims.

In the cabin, the understated theme continues. The simple dash is well laid out, with the centre console-mounted iDrive controller replacing the clutter of buttons usually needed for climate and audio functions. There’s also plenty of space for five adults, and although they’ll find less room for their luggage than they will in the M-Class, neat features such as the split tailgate and under-floor storage provide ample compensation.

But it’s more difficult to forgive the shorter list of standard equipment. If you want electric seats, then you’ll have to fork out £770, power-fold mirrors will set you back £225 and leather is an eye-watering £1,510. All these items come as standard on the Mercedes, which costs £1,110 more.

If you’re prepared to dig a little deeper, then the BMW does have a trick up its sleeve. For an additional £1,320 the German firm will fit a third row of seats, turning the X5 into a genuine MPV alternative.

What you won’t have to pay extra for is the blistering performance. The BMW’s 282bhp twin-turbo diesel engine delivers explosive acceleration. At the test track, the X5 covered 50-70mph in 3.7 seconds – nearly 1.5 seconds quicker than the Merc. Better still, the EfficientDynamics technology helps the car deliver an official CO2 output of only 216g/km – which is an incredible 38g/km less than the Mercedes. It also has the upper hand at the pumps, returning a respectable 26.1mpg.

And given the X5’s size and weight, its ability on twisting back roads is even more remarkable. Sharp steering and good body control combine to inspire confidence, making the BMW more fun than its rival.

However, even in softer SE spec the ride is still firm. The X5’s composure is often upset by bigger bumps – although it’s not as uncomfortable as the pricier M Sport version, which comes with tuned suspension and an aerodynamic bodykit.

If you can do without the aggressive looks, then the understated SE model makes much more sense. Its standard equipment tally isn’t as long as that of the M-Class, but the X5’s compelling blend of polished driving dynamics, ferocious performance and reasonable running costs means it should have all the ingredients of a winning formula.

Details

Price: £43,175Model tested: BMW X5 35d SEChart position: 1WHY: Chunky SUV looks and explosive on-road performance make the X5 a tempting package.

Economy

They’re evenly matched on list price, but the BMW is the wiser investment, thanks to its superior residual value. It will be worth £4,166 more than the M-Class after three years and 30,000 miles. And that’s not the only financial benefit of choosing the X5: it also has a lower tax band than its rival – a year’s disc will cost £210 rather than £400. Maintenance will be cheaper, too, but insurance costs are marginally higher. The other obvious difference comes at the pumps, because despite its performance advantage, the BMW is also more economical than the M-Class. In our hands it returned 26.1mpg – that’s 3.5mpg better than the Merc.

Environment

Given its size and weight, the BMW is remarkably efficient. CO2 emissions of 216g/km put M-Class firmly in the shade, while a fuel return of 26.1 mpg is good considering the performance on offer.

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