First Drives

06 September 2013

First Drive: the new BMW X5

The new car is noticeably more hushed, plush and smooth in every way...

Pat Devereux
Car image

What's this?

The 2014, third-generation X5, since you're asking. Rather than throwing away the old car and starting again, BMW has focused on improving the quality, comfort and refinement of the second gen car.

How have they done?

Very well. The current X5 is hardly uncomfortable and noisy, but the new car is noticeably more hushed, plush and smooth in every way.

How did they achieve that then?

By looking at almost every component of the car, in a typically obsessive BMW way, and then improving each one. The revised styling might now ape the X3's lines more closely, but there has been a significant improvement in the 3G X5's slipperiness, which lowers noise and saves fuel. The steering is now electronically assisted, which save a bit more gas but also allows the assistance to be variable according to the active chassis settings. They've done the same to the rest of the chassis, drivetrain and cabin, too.

Sounds like it's going to be a long list of improvements...

It is, so I'll just focus on the highlights. Engine-wise, the choice at launch is going to be the trusty 3-litre single turbo-diesel (to be badged 35d), now with a dollop more power and torque and fewer death gases, and the 4.4-litre V8 petrol, now with an extra 50bhp, more torque and less of the planet warming stuff. There's also going to be a triple-turbo diesel (M50d) with a raft of other petrol and diesel engines added to the range, including a 2-litre turbo-diesel, but we didn't get to drive those yet. Of the two we did try, though, the in-line six diesel was the choice of the two. It just worked much better with the eight-speed gearbox, particularly when pulling out of junctions. The 4.4 would falter for a second but the diesel would fly.

What about the chassis?

Even though the standard cars will roll out of the factory on steel springs, there are several adaptive suspension packages available to enhance your 3G X5 drive. The Comfort package adds active damping and rear air suspension; Dynamic, which swaps the air suspension for overall active roll control; and Professional, which combines the two. An M Sport pack, with tighter suspension, will also be available.

What about an X5 M?

BMW wouldn't say at this point but if we don't at least hear about one within 18 months I'll eat my virtual hat.

What about the interior. Much change there?

Oh yes. Pretty much everything other than the seat frames is new. The whole interior has been subtly repackaged to give more load space. The rear seat now splits 40:20:40, for more flexibility. And there will still be a seven-seat version. But it's the generally higher quality of everything you see, touch and hear that is the most overriding impression. Every screen, lever and button now works faster, smoother, and better than before. The leather, textiles and other materials look and feel tighter, softer. It's all just more comfortable and quieter.

What about the way it drives?

It's noticeably smoother there, too. The BMW engineers reckon they have lowered in-car noise by 2.5dB, and it sounds like it. There's very little wind, road or suspension noise now. Steering feel in all the various programmes wasn't perfect, but the car steered precisely, so shouldn't really complain. For the sort of work these cars do, it's probably better that it feels a little more insulated. But that's not to say you can't still fling the X5 around - you can and it will be happy to play along. It flew happily down a damp, twisty Canadian mountain road at speeds you don't normally associate with SUVs.

And off-road?

The course we did was a long way from challenging, but the car shrugged off the light duties we threw at it. Doubtful if it has Range Rover-style abilities, but that won't bother 99 per cent of owners.

Sounds like job done then - should I buy one?

If you have already had an X5 and loved it, this 3G version would be a nice upgrade present to yourself. If you are new to the car, this is by far the best one BMW has built so far. There's plenty of scope in the spec to build a car that's able to run with the best from Porsche, Audi and Range Rover. The M50d version should be a total monster and the upcoming 2.0d drivetrain with the seven seats could be a new school run favourite.

Quote for poster?

A worthwhile and valuable update all round.

The numbers
2,993cc, 6cyl, AWD, 258bhp, 560Nm, 6.2ltr/100km, CO2 162g/km, 0-100kph 6.9secs, 231kph, 2,145kg

Tags: bmw, x5

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