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The Top Gear car review:BMW X5
What is it like on the road?
If people really do permanently swing away from diesel – and big SUV buyers will be among the last – they can have some fun with the six-cylinder petrol in the 40i. It sounds the choir of combustion harmony, revs with glee and pulls like it really means it. And it’s got a petrol particulate filter to ease their local-air-quality conscience. Their global-carbon conscience won’t have such a great time because it’s going to be a drinker.
Luckily the 30d diesel is a smasher. It hits all the latest toxic-emission requirements and drinks less. For a diesel it’s smooth and quiet (sport mode synthesises some bass through the speakers but that’s superfluous), and in the middle rev bands it’s pretty well as lively as the petrol. But if you’re trying to overtake, it labours to haul the X5’s 2.2 tonnes.
Both engines play perfectly with the super-attentive eight-speed auto.
The X5s we drove had four-wheel steering. We’d advise caution here. The system, like nearly all of its type, does counter-steering for urban parking smarts, and for agility in tight corners. Then it goes to same-phase steering for high-speed stability. Clever in theory.
In practice, not so much. The steering is a little unpredictable and ornery. It’ll turn into a 50mph bend with a twitch, so you stop winding on the lock, then mid-bend it wants some more. It’s tricky to be smooth. Sport mode increases the threshold speed for counter-phase steering, so at least the car behaves the same at most road speeds.
In the end after an especially serpentine section I reckoned I’d got used to it. Hmmm. Shouldn’t the car suit the driver, rather than the driver eventually suiting the car?
Really, do you actually need this? UK motorways aren’t fast enough to need that extra stability, and neither do we have roads with loads of tight second-gear bends. So the standard front-only steering system ought to be fine.
Anyway, in other ways it’s a good undercarriage. There’s loads of grip (almost too much: the test cars had 315-section back tyres). The overall body control is remarkable for a 2.2-tonner and you even feel an entertaining tingle of rear-drive action if you belt out of a bend in sport mode.
The ride’s placid enough at most speeds, though on those 21-inch wheels can have be harsh on sharp little lumps. Road noise isn’t any great issue.
The brakes are a fully by-wire system, borrowed from the new 8-series. You’d never know – they feel very natural. So, er, why? ‘Because they allow the next generation of driver aids.’
Ok then, switch on all those aids. Now a little camera in the instrument pod starts spying your face. Look away from the road for long, and it warns you, then turns the aids off. I never got that far; without my input into the steering, even in well-marked motorway lanes, the thing lurched about like it was driving away from the pub after a monumental session.
Electronics for going (deliberately) off the road are more helpful, especially with the off-road pack which includes a set of calibrations of powertrain and DSC for various conditions. There’s an amazing set of camera views that let you see the ground, plus rocks and trees and holes, all round the car. The pack also adds underbody protection, but with the raised-height air springs you’re less likely to need it.