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BMW X5 Car Review | BMW X5 4.8i | December 14, 2006

Driven December 2006

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There's not even a sense that you can feel the elements working, so seamless and quick is the witchcraft. On the road, the X5 has marginal understeer and a whole load of general day-to-day grip. To push willfully past the generous limits should bring absolute disaster because you'll be travelling horrendously quickly atop two-and-a-bit tonnes of car with normal (albeit huge) road tyres. But it doesn't.

The brakes, even when stomped on most ungraciously halfway round a corner stutter slightly under your foot, but bring the X5 to as serene a halt as you've ever seen. You won't be surprised to hear that CBC (Corner Brake Control) is involved with the ABS, meaning that if all four wheels are sliding and one manages to find some grip, the X5 can slow itself down using just the one rim.

It also compensates for brake fade by applying more braking force as the temperatures get higher - no matter what you're doing in the cabin - and will gently apply the brakes in the wet to keep them dry.

Torque will even be apportioned specifically between front and rear axles to counteract both over and understeer so that the X5 doesn't wander off line, as well as that Active Steering applying opposite lock.

Say, for example, you come in too hot and the car starts to understeer, the xDrive system will punt almost 100 per cent of power backwards, curing the problem. The same can happen in an oversteer situation, shoving power to the front axle and balancing the car without steering input.

Even on gravel roads, with too much throttle, mid-corner braking and sawing at the wheel like a joyrider, the X5 just understeers a bit and goes where you point it. I even initiated what should have been crash-worthy oversteer by approaching a bend on a private gravel road at twice the speed recommended, braking late and giving a left-right-left on the wheel.

I shut my eyes and went for it, photographer Bramley jumped out of the way faster than I've ever seen him move. The X5 corrected most of the slide on its own. This car is awesomely clever.

The thing with the new X5 is that although it looks very big, it just doesn't drive like it. It should be super-comfy, but it rides like a sports car. Taking its lead from an extremely well-sorted new double-wishbone front axle arrangement, it doesn't seem to wallow, or lean, or squeal like it should considering its visual c-of-g, and it doesn't have any problem tearing up twisty lanes like some kind of freakishly fast land yacht. But it feels fake.

Even though it does it all with enormous aplomb, it's not really a car that you enjoy driving. You may respect it as a machine; but it's not emotive. Which, I suspect, is exactly what 99.5 per cent of those who buy an X5 really want; a tank version of a 3-, 5- or 7-Series.

Forty one per cent of X5s (which are built at BM's Spartanberg, USA, plant) will be sold in America. That might explain the upscaling, because in the US, size really isn't so much of an issue. But the new X5 is another car that's rewriting the rule book for all the wrong reasons. It might be brilliant, but that doesn't make it a good thing.

Tom Ford

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