What is it?
A Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) if you believe BMW’s marketing hyperbole. Or SUV to the rest of us. In fairness to the Bavarian company, it did make the luxury off-roader segment its own with the launch of the original X5 and it’s still going strong despite accomplished rivals. You can buy a petrol version if you laugh in the face of rising fuel prices, but the X5’s diesel engines are gems, making this is one of the most frugal large SUVs. Do note, though, a new one is due in 2013.
Gone are the days when we all assume a large SUV will be a handful in the corners. Especially one with BMW’s badge on the nose. True to form, the X5 likes to test the laws of physics to the limit, though the driver is unaware of such goings-on underneath. Only when you go to haul the X5 down from speed do you realise just how heavy it is.
However, there’s very little body roll so you’ll be able to keep up a good pace on a twisty road without disturbing your passengers. Beware that the (admittedly cooler-looking) larger alloys upset the ride comfort and that you’re better off deselecting the sports suspension if you do opt for the M Sport versions for the same reason. The xDrive40d version is the star of the range, offering a scarcely believable 0–62mph time of 6.6 seconds, although we also like the mad potency of the tri-turbo M50d too. 0-60mph in 5.4 seconds and nearly 38mpg? That’ll do.
On the inside
A sign that the X5 is more luxury car than utilitarian off-roader is not just the fact that leather is standard, but that there are 16 different hides to choose from. The most expensive costs £2,795, but we’d be tempted. Even the standard skin is tasteful and the cabin reeks of quality. It’s spacious too and though you have to climb up into the car, it offers a great view out. Not everyone knows that this X5 can be specified with a third row of seats, turning it into a seven-seat car, although they’re best reserved for the kiddies.
BMW has taken the lead on endowing its large cars with decent fuel economy and emissions figures. Despite its considerable size and weight the X5 returns nearly 40mpg on the combined cycle.
Obviously that’s when powered by a diesel engine. There’s very little difference between the xDrive30d and the more powerful xDrive40d, so go for the latter if budgets allow. Don’t for a minute think that you’ll get supermini running costs though. The diesel X5s are in VED band J, costing £250 a year to tax (the petrol models are a hefty £475) and insurance is on the pricey side. In return the X5 holds its value well.