I always thought it was a myth but someone at Volvo once confirmed to me that the Swedish do indeed have at least 50 words for snow. We shouldn’t be surprised. Just think how many descriptions we in Scotland have for rain. Teeming, smirr, dreich, bucketing and so on, and we all know exactly how wet each of those terms implies when it is persisting down.
It’s the same with mud. There’s glaur or clabber, which are well established as the really sticky stuff which attaches to your shoes and welcomes itself into your house or car at its first opportunity. From a wee boy in short breeks, I’ve always had an attraction to mud – or rather it’s always been attracted to me. A kickabout game of football just wasn’t worth the effort unless I returned home with my shoes and those same shorts caked in some fine Angus glaur.
All of which may explain why, in later life, I enjoy a bit of off-roading – the muddier and clartier the better. There’s real satisfaction to be had in throwing a 4x4 along a muddy track and letting it battle against the elements while you sit in the delightful dry at the heart of the controls. The other week I was doing just that on the historic Goodwood Estate in West Sussex, but what was significant about the day was the machinery I was using. The brand new third-generation BMW X5 is a sophisticated piece of kit with some nice updates and improvements on the existing model.
It’s extremely capable away from the tarmac, with a big brain which does a brilliant job in transferring power around the four wheels to get maximum traction from whichever of them is able to establish grip. Which is a shame and a bit of a waste, as by far the majority of them will encounter little more demanding than the kerb at the local supermarket. This car is labelled by BMW as an SAV, a Sports Activity Vehicle, a description coined by them to differentiate their range from the more common SUV and serving to emphasise that there’s nothing utilitarian about the X5.
It’s superbly finished inside, with more space and the third row of seats can be folded into the floor individually. And for the first time, the X5 is now available in two-wheel drive to open it up to a wider market who want the road stance and image of the 4x4, but have no need for its off-road ability.
There’s also a new, smaller four-cylinder, two-litre diesel engine, priced at just over £42,000. The three-litre, six-cylinder xDrive30d has improved economy and reduced CO2, but more power and torque and at the top of the range is the xDrive50i with a new-generation 4.4-litre V8.
All versions come with an eight-speed automatic gear box that has a mode which adapts the engine management, accelerator response and transmission characteristics. It even programmes the climate control and heated seats and mirrors for the most efficient use of energy.
Although the overall look is the same, there have been styling changes to improve efficiency, including active upper and lower air flaps in the front air intakes, air deflectors on the front wheel arches and vertical “Aero Curtains and Air Breathers”, which ensure that air passes over the wheels with the minimum of disturbance. There are also BMW’s “Air Blades”, which work with the rear spoiler to smooth airflow around the car.
The most noticeable change is the raised height of the bonnet, to incorporate pedestrian safety measures and a much larger signature kidney grille. I spent some time in the M50d which has a three-stage single turbo version of the three-litre diesel with big gains in power and torque yet with greater economy and reduced emissions. On the road it is a delight, especially when you call up the Sport setting on the Drive Dynamic Control for livelier performance in accelerator response and suspension characteristics.
But I wanted to get down and dirty in the mud and in spite of my fears, the luxurious interior and undoubted on-road performance were complemented by some impressive ability in challenging conditions. The huge 26cm information screen houses a whole range of displays, including real-time details of body roll, pitch and exactly which wheel is being sent the power as the vehicle struggles for grip.
On-board cameras help with positioning in tricky landscapes and while on the road, work with the radar sensors to provide active cruise control. Along with hill descent, the vehicle feels very confident on steep drops and superbly capable in dealing with the claggiest of conditions even while shod in its massive road tyres. Since it arrived in 1999, the X5 has been the company’s flagship machine and while the subsequent X3 and X1 have proved popular, the big brother still sets the benchmark for comfort and luxury.
Although it rarely gets the chance to do so, it’s perfectly happy to get its feet dirty too. What you might call a sophisticated tough mudder.
CAR BMW X5 M50d
PRICE £63,715 (£76,830 as tested)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 155 mph; 0-62 mph 5.3 secs
MPG (combined) 42
CO2 EMISSIONS 117g/km