The BMW X5 was always something of a reluctant revolutionary. Before the X5 was launched in 1999, 4x4s were generally big, slow and agricultural. Other manufacturers were just beginning to see that it was possible to build in a little refinement and elegance but when the X5 first appeared in 1999, it changed everybody’s perception. Here was a 4x4 that could drive like a sports saloon yet still had that elevated driving position and all-weather utility. It was such a runaway success.
The second-generation car got bigger and better equipped, and was better in almost every regard, but by the time of its launch in 2007, the market had closed in on it. It was still there or thereabouts at the top of the class but was no longer the clear pick of the bunch. Fast forward another six years and we’re now presented with the third-generation X5 BMW needs to call upon every weapon in its considerable arsenal if this one is to draw clear of a very talented bunch of rivals.
There’s some new nomenclature to get to grips with here. The big thing that you’ll need to come to terms with is the concept of a front-wheel drive BMW X5. That’s right, the range opens with the 218PS BMW X5 sDrive25d, powered by a four-cylinder diesel. You can also buy this engine in a “proper” four-wheel drive form, although I expect the front-wheel drive model will chalk up a fair few sales.
Those looking for more in the way of grunt will want the 258PS 3.0-litre six-cylinder xDrive30d. More power and a drop in weight means this model now accelerates from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds – seven-tenths quicker than before. The 313PS X5 xDrive40d is where things start getting really serious and then there’s the M-badged M50d with 381bhp and 740Nm, resulting in a sprint to 62mph of 5.3 secs. Your petrol-powered options are slim but strong, in the shape of the xDrive50i. With 449PS, 650Nm of torque and the ability to crack five seconds to 62mph with a favourable wind, this is a minority interest model, but it’s more than welcome.
All versions come with an eight-speed automatic transmission which not only adds to driving enjoyment but also makes its own contribution to fuel-saving. The X5 also comes as standard with a Drive Dynamic Control switch, allowing the driver to fine-tune the balance between comfort and sportiness on and off-road. There’s also a choice of four suspension packages.
You might feel a little disappointed that the styling looks so similar to the outgoing model but BMW has styled the car in a deliberately evolutionary manner. Signature exterior features are short overhangs, a long wheelbase and a short distance between the front axle and the instrument panel. The front apron has air intakes at its outer edges which emphasise the X5’s wide track and broad stance, while striking underbody protection elements are a nod to its off-road chops.
BMW has rather slyly morphed the X5 into more of a scaled-up X3 in silhouette, gently teasing the shape of the glasshouse into one that’s a little more accommodating. The interior features a layered front panel with a horizontal structure and 3D surfacing – and high-quality materials throughout. .In all models, there’s the option of comfort or sport front seats. Heated comfort seats are also available for the second row. Third-row seats can be lowered into the floor individually. The X5 offers a minimum of 650 litres of luggage space, and 1,870 litres – an increase of 30 litres with the seats up and 120 litres with them folded – in two-seat formation.
The addition at the base of the range of the X5 sDrive 25d means that this X5 actually opens at a more accessible price than its predecessor. You’ll now need around £43,000 to put one in your garage, but you’re getting a car with better economy, emissions and residual values which should soothe that initial sting, and equipment levels are a bit more generous too.
The X5 offers two design packages as alternatives to the familiar SE and M Sport trims. Design Pure Experience emphasises the X5’s robustness, while Design Pure Excellence goes for a more elegant effect, both accompanied by a long options list.
BMW claims to have improved efficiency by an average of 20 per cent across the board, through engine advances and extensive weight and drag-reduction measures, making the new X5 the lightest and most aerodynamic car in its class. This translates into excellent fuel economy and emissions. The entry-level X5 sDrive25d returns 50.4mpg on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of just 149g/km.
The X5 once again demonstrates BMW’s thorough understanding of this sector. Now that buyers take good looks and sporty handling as a given, the Germans have pushed the envelope in other areas. It’s not always wholly original, as the quest for Mercedes-style safety provision and Audi-style interior finishes proves, but this is demonstrably, and by some margin, the most well-rounded car in its class.
Nothing gets close to matching the X5’s combination of performance and economy in a car of this type, its chief rivals, the Audi Q7 and Mercedes M-Class, trailing behind in key areas. So despite all the changes, it looks as if the status quo will continue. Expect the X5 to be the target all the rest are tilting at.
CAR BMW X5 xDrive 30d
PERFORMANCE Max speed 142mph, 0-62mph in 6.9secs.
MPG (combined) 45.6mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 162g/km