Piers Ward26 June 2014

First drive: the RWD BMW X5

We test the cheapest version of BMW's largest SUV with a more eco tilt than most. And rear-wheel-drive. Wait, what?

What is it?

BMW's largest SUV, but with a slightly more eco-tilt than most - uniquely for a mammoth off-roader, this sDrive 25d is only available in two-wheel drive. And that's rear-wheel drive, seeing as this is still a Beemer. As such, the CO2 emissions are 149g/km and it should average 50.4mpg. Impressive stuff for a near-two tonne SUV. It's also the cheapest X5, with prices starting at a relatively parsimonious £42,945.

Two-­wheel drive? What if I want to go off-road?

Then you'll be in the 0.1 per cent of BMW X5 owners who actually get their car dirty. In reality, the four-wheel drive system is surplus to requirements for most and by ditching it, BMW has shaved 45kg off the all-wheel drive version. Not a huge diet, but every little helps.

As mentioned, because it's a BMW, power in this sDrive model is sent to the rear wheels, and on dry roads you can't tell the difference between two and AWD. There's no scrabbling for traction when you plant your foot, and you can¹t feel any difference in grip levels.

So it still handles like a BMW?

Er, not quite. But that's not a criticism directed solely at this sDrive X5 - the whole range of new X5s don't handle as well as we'd like. They all feel a bit flabby and distant, and the sDrive is no different. It certainly doesn't shrink around you like X5s of old, and something like the Rangie Sport is far more entertaining to drive now.

What about the engine? Is that different?

Yes , it's the first time an X5 has been offered with a four-cylinder. It's the hugely impressive diesel from the 325d, with 215bhp and 332lb ft. 0-62mph takes 8.2 seconds, and it's a smooth unit - don't go thinking that because this X5 hasn't got one of BMW's superb straight sixes that it's any less refined. It¹s still a good car to chew through miles.

But it's more suited to cruising than reacting. A generous 332lb ft may look like a lot of torque, but it's not punchy enough when you're overtaking on B-roads, mainly because it starts to run out of puff when you want to slip past someone doing 55mph. The 3.0-litre diesel has nearly 413lb ft, and you can tell the difference in those circumstances.

So should I bother?

That question needs answering in two parts.

1. If you're just after an SUV, then no, you shouldn't bother with the X5, either in this variant or the others. There are better options out there.

2. But if you're after a BMW SUV, then yes, you should at least have a look at this one. If nothing else, it offers an interesting alternative to the 3.0-litre. Ultimately, we'd still plump for the larger engine because it offers more flexibility on the open road, but as a low-mileage cruiser, then the 25d is perfectly adequate.

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