While it can be argued that a high-riding luxury SUV will never really fit BMW’s ‘ultimate driving machine’ mantra, the company itself would never regret creating the X5. Originally launched in 1999 when the vast majority of 4x4s were utilitarian mud-pluggers, it taught buyers that you needn’t sacrifice on-road comfort and engaging handling dynamics just because you wanted a high driving position. It proved to be a master stoke and it went on to be a sales sensation. Fast-forward to 2014 and the X5 now faces a range of credible contenders, which also claim to do the business both off road and on. We took to the wheel to find out if the X5 can still cut the mustard.
What is it?
BMW’s flagship SUV, which sits in the same rarefied (read expensive) ranks as the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne in the premium 4×4 market. The model has been given a refresh for 2014, with sharper, even more aggressive looks, a leaner kerb weight (though still two tonnes in its lightest guise), greater practicality and a raft of new toys, including ‘Optional Entertainment’, which gives access to a vast library of music via the X5’s built-in internet connection.
The engine range is dominated by diesels, starting with the 215bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit, available with front- or four-wheel drive in the X5 sDrive25d and xDrive25d respectively. Six-cylinder units are both 3.0-litres in size and are available in 254bhp (xDrive30d) and 309 bhp (xDrive40d) flavours. Tested here is the brand’s newest diesel motor. Badged the M50d, it offers an impressive 376bhp, giving the X5 an impressive turn of speed, while still returning 42.2mpg on the combined cycle. The sole petrol option is a 4.4-litre turbocharged V8 developing 443bhp. While there is no doubt that it packs an impressive punch, the performance gulf between it and BMW’s mightiest diesel motor isn’t wide enough to justify the significant penalty in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
What is it like to drive?
BMW’s greatest achievement with the original X5 was to make such a big and heavy off-roader feel nimble and responsive on the blacktop. The new model continues this trend and the experience from behind the wheel belies the car’s sheer size and weight, feeling more akin to a sports saloon than a towering SUV.
The new M50d motor is something of a weapon, too; able to see the X5 to 62mph from a standstill in a scant 5.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph, all accompanied by a bassy, growling soundtrack, which – as we realised when we wound down the window – is the work of electronic trickery and ‘sound engineering’, with bystanders still subjected to the usual diesel cacophony.
A jittery ride quality was a criticism often levelled at the X5. The wide tyres and firm suspension required to make it a sensation in the corners did not make for a limo-like ride. BMW’s optional Adaptive Dynamic suspension goes some way to rectifying this, with the driver able to adjust the electronically controlled dampers at the push of a button. The harder settings are only really suitable for track use; amplifying even small imperfections in the tarmac. Opt for the comfort setting however, and the X5 settles down to become a relaxed cruiser, though it doesn’t cosset with quite the same panache as its Land Rover rival.
What is it like inside?
The dashboard architecture may be largely familiar from the 5 Series saloon, but what the X5’s interior lacks in sense of occasion, it more than makes up for in its use of high quality materials and precision fit and finish. The low-slung dashboard and seats (of which there are two choices: comfort and sport) means occupants enjoy a more sporting driving position that in loftier SUVs. Kit levels are impressive, too, with our M50d test car fitted with front and rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, a powered tailgate, radar cruise control and sat-nav (shown on a pin-sharp widescreen display) amongst the highlights. The premium ambience can be further enhanced with some posh options, including a full-length panoramic sunroof, Harman/Kardon stereo, reversing camera and a ceramic coating for selected buttons and knobs.
Is it practical?
Passengers are well catered for in the X5, with even those in the rear seats able to stretch out in style. As ever, there is also the option for a third row of seats, though these are more suited to children if you plan to use them regularly. Boot space has been marginally improved for the latest model and usefully square in shape with no loading lip thanks to a split tailgate. However, at 650 litres it trails behind its main competitors in outright size, particularly the gargantuan Range Rover Sport, which offers 784 litres. Visibility is hindered somewhat by thick pillars, particularly at the rear, though the plethora of parking gadgets available means the X5 is no more difficult to manoeuvre into tight spaces than a family hatchback.
Should I buy one?
The X5 remains a classy and credible jack-of-all-trades, as happy mixing it in the posher parts of London as it is on your favourite B-road or the school run. This evolutionary approach to the new model has seen some of the faults ironed out and its strengths further honed and polished. A string of ostentatious rivals has seen the X5 become one of the more subtle offerings in the premium SUV market – something which will no doubt appeal to customers put off by the segment’s somewhat brash image.
Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used BMW X5 in our classifieds here.
BMW X5 M50d
List price: £63,715
Price as tested: £76,830
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, turbodiesel
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
Fuel economy: 37.2mpg (urban), 45.6mpg (extra-urban) 42.2mpg (combined)
Emissions: 177g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five stars