Got enough grille?
Yeah, just about. You’re of course looking at BMW’s brand-new X5, which has just arrived in Britain. Over here it can be had with one of three engines – all 3.0-litres, two diesels and one petrol. So far we’ve tried the two diesels – the entry-level single-turbo 30d and quad-turbo (yes, QUAD) M50d. Much more time spent in the former, so that’s the focus of this review. We’ll get some more time in the M50d soon, so watch out for the definitive review.
BMW normally does good engines.
Quite right, and these diesels are no exception. The 30d is the entry-level engine, costing a little over £1,000 less than the petrol 40i. It’s smooth as you like, quiet and very refined, though probably (just) a few per-cent less than Mercedes’ equivalent. With 261bhp and 457lb ft, it’s just about punchy enough to keep the X5 motoring along at a decent pace. 0-62mph takes less than 7 seconds, and the top speed is 143mph.
The transmission is an eight-speed auto - shifts are seamless, and you get the sense it’s devoting some thought to when to make them. There’s no hunting around for the right ratio, as you very occasionally get in a Range Rover Sport. Paddles give manual control and therefore smoother, swifter progress down country roads.
Country roads. Will I enjoy driving down those?
Yes and no. The first-generation X5 was among the very first SUVs that drove like a car. Nowadays most of them do to a greater or lesser degree. But what you can’t really engineer your way around is the sheer size of them. The X5 is really big – 66mm wider than its predecessor, which wasn’t the narrowest of cars to begin with – and you feel that just about all the time. Not because it pitches and wallows, but because it’s a fraction too big to be an entirely relaxing, fuss-free thing to drive on any British road bar a motorway. Just like all its competitors, then.
Find a road that’s wide enough, and the X5 is really good for such a big car. We’d avoid the optional all-wheel steering, though. Just as we discovered when we drove it in the US, it makes the steering a little unpredictable at times and gives twitchy turn-in. It’s not badly executed in the same way the system in say, the old Renault Megane GT was, but it’s an option you really don’t need to specify. There are enough cameras and tech to make parking easy enough anyway, without the added manoeuvrability the system gives at lower speeds.
The 30d gets air suspension as standard - it gives a placid ride and good body control, though the massive wheels thump a bit through potholes and so-on.
It’s an SUV. Can it actually go off-road this time?
It can actually. Nothing like as well as a Land Rover, but an optional pack that gives different terrain modes and more underbody protection gives the new X5 a greater degree of off-road ability than most of its owners will ever need or use. We had a quick go and came away duly impressed with the way the all-wheel drive system shuffles power around to hunt for traction. That said, it wouldn’t have needed to quite so much if we’d had some proper tyres – not the 315-section summers, complete with 22-inch rims, we’d actually had.
You can still tell this isn’t a car designed to do much off-roading, though. Take the doors – the bottoms don’t wrap around the sills, so you get mud on your trousers when you’re getting in or out. Even the Renault Koleos does this.
How about inside?
It looks nice in here. Quality is fine for the most part, though it still doesn’t have the hewn quality of a big Audi, the seats are supportive and the driving position pretty-much spot on. New iDrive – which isn’t actually called iDrive anymore – makes good use of the big screen, which is mounted high in the driver’s eye line.
You still get a rotary controller, but the interface is obviously much more geared towards touch now. There’s a lot of information in the instrument cluster itself, too, which in the words of my colleague Paul Horrell “trades legibility for attention-seeking”, and yet more information in the optional HUD. It’s all a bit overwhelming, if we’re honest. There is such a thing as being too well-informed.
Lots of glass makes the cabin a bright one, and easy to see out of. The boot and back seats are roomy enough. A third row is optional but we didn’t get a chance to try it.
Should I buy one?
Sure, it’s a good car, with a comfortable (if busy) interior, good engines and handling and much practicality. Prices start at £57,495 for the 30d, but the options list is long and tempting. Fortunately you don’t need to go too deep to get yourself a decent spec.