Car reviews - BMW - X5 - M50d
Staggering breadth of dynamic ability from ride comfort to corner-carving prowess, driveline almost too perfect, semi-autonomous driving
Room for improvement
Fake-sounding exhaust note, chintzy interior, quality concerns, impenetrable tech, rear doors don’t open wide enough
The BMW X5 M50d is road-going proof that nothing exceeds like excess
8 Jul 2019
THINK large luxury SUV and BMW X5 is the model that comes to mind most easily. For better or worse, it’s a bit of a segment-defining model.
Now in its fourth generation, the X5 is bigger and more opulent than ever yet it has now been joined by the even bigger and plusher X7 to extend an already comprehensive SUV line-up that also consists of the X1, X2, X3, X4 and X6.
In the year to date, the new X5 is BMW’s second most popular model after the X3. We’re testing the range-topping – for now – M50d, a quad-turbo diesel performance variant with plenty of go-fast engineering to go with its high levels of luxury and technology.
It’s all a bit much, really, which is why plenty of people will absolutely love it.
Price and equipment
Until the rip-snorting, V8-powered X5 M comes along, the quad-turbo-diesel M50d tested here serves as range flagship with a sticker price of $149,900 plus on-road costs.
It’s comprehensively kitted-out as standard, too.
Firstly, it looks and sounds every bit the M car, with huge airy 22-inch alloys revealing big blue-painted brake callipers and dinner-plate discs, M division’s meaty aerodynamics and styling package, and a growly M Sport bi-modal exhaust.
Meanwhile, beneath the skin are an M Sport rear differential, adaptive M suspension and rear-wheel steering. Blue elements inside the headlight clusters signify the presence of darkness-destroying Laserlight technology.
The fourth-generation, G05 X5 debuts BMW’s latest iDrive 7 multimedia system. This means twin 12.3-inch digital displays – one for the main touchscreen and one for the instrument panel – plus wireless Apple CarPlay and a head-up display projected onto the windscreen.
In addition to the touchscreen, rotary i-Drive control panel and steering-wheel buttons, BMW’s new set-up has always-on voice recognition and broader gesture controls.
The depth of connectivity is such that the X5 can be turned into a mobile office (it even has Microsoft Office 365 integration).
With all that potential for distraction, it’s just as well that BMW has substantially upgraded its driver-assist functionality to enable Level 2 autonomous driving courtesy of the X5’s five radar sensors, 12 ultrasonic sensors and seven cameras. Features to this end include adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, lane-keep assist, front and rear cross-traffic alert, crossroads warning and ‘evasion aid’ that helps the driver maintain control when taking evasive action to avoid a collision.
Audio – including DAB+ digital radio– is piped through a 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. Cabin temperature is managed by four-zone climate control, there are heated and cooled cupholders, and the front seats have heating with customisable temperature distribution.
The list continues with keyless entry and start, soft-close doors, a panoramic glass roof, six selectable colours for the interior ambient lighting, surround-view cameras, park assist, LED foglights and tail-lights, rain-sensing wipers and dusk-sensing headlights.
Our test vehicle took this even further with $7900 worth of options, comprising a premium ‘Merino’ extended leather package ($2300), additional adjustment and memory functions for the front seats ($1900), an illuminated ‘sky lounge’ glass roof ($1600), glass gear selector and switchgear details ($1200), and a smartphone cradle with wireless charging ($900).
If you appreciate the décor of Palazzo Versace and Trump Tower, then our M50d’s cabin is for you. Especially with its optional quilted leather and ‘CraftedClarity’ cut-glass gear selector, iDrive controller, volume control and engine start button. It’s opulent and more than a bit over-the-top.
At night, our car’s optional ‘sky lounge’ panoramic sunroof took us from Trump Tower to Crown Casino, with the colour-selectable ambient lighting shimmering across a constellation of 15,000 etchings in the glass. Our three-year-old passenger loved it, which for some parents may be enough to justify the $1600 cost of this feature.
By contrast, the level, depth and complexity of technology aboard the X5 requires at least an undergraduate degree in computer science to successfully operate. It’s initially debilitatingly bewildering as each function has numerous pathways. And don’t dare mention the name BMW in conversation with your passengers or the auto voice recognition will deafen you with prompts.
It’s strange, then, that the new all-digital instrument panel has so few customisation options. Instead, it’s just a cluttered information overload. Thankfully the head-up display is much clearer.
The cruise control, by the way, also takes over steering and provides a pretty convincing preview of autonomous driving. It’s one of the slickest systems we’ve experienced yet.
Compared with our infuriating battle with wireless Apple CarPlay in the 5 Series, it was thankfully a more seamless affair in the X5. It successfully reconnected on all but one journey and BMW has integrated the Apple system into its interface beautifully. You can even use gesture control. During our week with the X5 we, as doubtless most customers will, stuck to the simpler, more familiar CarPlay interface rather than attempt to master iDrive 7.
But is it comfy? Oh yes. Once we’d fathomed the vast array of seat adjustments including shoulder support angle, side bolster tightness and thigh support length on top of the usual height, angle and lumbar controls. We could even choose whether to prioritise back or bum heating with the seat-heaters on. The level of personalisation in this thing is beyond belief.
Spacious? The driver is quite cocooned in the typical BMW cockpit layout but not hemmed in. Considering the size of this vehicle, we were surprised that rear legroom was adequate rather than generous. Three adults abreast in the back, though, is easily achievable. Both comfort and space in the central seat are acceptable too. Headroom is generous throughout.
Weirdly, the front doors open far wider than the rears. In fact, getting in and out of the back of the X5 is a bit of a chore and parents loading littluns into their child seats will undoubtedly grow to hate the restricted space between open door and body. It’s a weird oversight for a family SUV and so bad that it prevented us from easily photographing the rear seats.
Our car wasn’t optioned with the third seating row (it’s $3700 extra if you want it), so there was just a huge 650-litre boot with a handy split tailgate set-up and a broad, flat floor that made loading a cinch. A couple of fold-out bag hooks help secure smaller items in this vast space, and there’s a handy 12V accessory power outlet.
Cabin storage is rather good. The glovebox goes back a long way, there’s another by the driver’s right knee, all the door bins are huge with generous bottle-holding capacity, and a box under the front armrest is also a decent size.
The heated/cooled cupholders are handy and well-designed, as was our car’s optional phone caddy/wireless charger. Two map pockets, a shelf in the rear of the centre console and supplementary storage in the rear central armrest – along with another pair of cupholders – round out the list of practical stowage.
BMW has made the switch to USB-C, with all but one of the four charging outlets using the new socket standard. There are conventional 12V power outlets front and rear, as well.
The 360-degree parking camera system is phenomenal, although visibility through the big, deep windows is still excellent for those who do things the old-fashioned way and provides an excellent view out for children who enjoy watching the world go by.
We get that BMW has tried to lend the M50d a sporty exhaust note, but to us it just sounded like an engine working harder than it really was rather than the reality of being effortlessly over-endowed. It gets worse in the various Sport modes, which amplify the artificial-sounding pulsating drone to irritating levels.
On the other hand, the X5 was quiet once up and rolling considering its huge wheels and tyres. Road and wind noise were conspicuous by their absence, although this only amplified the various cabin rattles and shuffles that shamed this big-bucks BMW for quality.
Talking of quality, the steering column cover on our test vehicle was ill-fitting and came away completely during our week with the X5, dropping springs and other components in the process. The driver’s side wiper was also out of calibration, noisily colliding with the windscreen frame when in use.
Engine and transmission
Pull up a bar stool because this BMW comes with bragging rights. 760Nm of torque from a 3.0-litre diesel engine, courtesy of four turbochargers. What other car has four turbos? A Bugatti Chiron. And in a traffic-light grand prix, this 2.4-tonne SUV would keep up with a Golf R.
To provide some perspective of how far engine technology has come, Volkswagen extracted 850Nm of torque from a 5.0-litre V10 diesel in the Touareg R50 in 2007. That engine produced just 258kW of power compared with the M50d’s 294kW. Which, by the way, is the same peak kW output as an Audi RS3.
While the engineers behind this beast of an engine may rightfully enjoy a celebratory stein of weissbier in a Munich brauhaus, from behind the wheel there is surprisingly little emotion to be derived from burying the accelerator.
Rather than feeling brutally quick, it’s all so smooth. Selecting Sport Plus mode delivers an aggressive kick during up-changes and a contrived noise from the exhausts, but there’s no lag, no sweet spot to chase, just wads of torque. Everywhere.
Honestly, at any one time you can select any of three neighbouring gear ratios from the otherwise seamless eight-speed auto and they’ll all deliver the same level of thrust under full throttle.
There’s enough force that mashing the throttle early out of a greasy corner will momentarily get things out of shape, but momentarily is the key word here.
You really have to watch the speedometer to get a sense of it because there’s a distinct lack of sensation. It’s all so ruthlessly efficient in the way it gathers pace.
As we’re talking efficiency, how does 6.0 litres per 100km grab you? That’s what this thing achieved on the motorway. General suburban work yielded 9.7L/100km during our week-long test. For comparison, the official combined-cycle figure is 7.5L/100km.
Overall, we couldn’t help but feel that in the real world there’s little benefit to this engine over the standard 30d, which is a masterpiece in itself and much more characterful than the M50d unit.
But if you’re the type of person who must have most brag-worthy engine under their bonnet, BMW built this one just for you.
Ride and handling
There’s some kind of voodoo going on with the suspension of the X5 M50d. It’s on 22-inch wheels and the rear tyres are steamroller-spec 315/30, with 275/35s on the front – but the ride comfort is better than many cars on much chubbier rubber.
Of course, it’s firm, but nowhere near as much as you’d expect. On the worst urban roads, the experience is mildly lumpy rather than annoyingly jittery.
If anything, the round-town driving experience is a little cumbersome and lumbering, despite the presence of rear-wheel steering that should make the M50d feel relatively manoeuvrable. There’s a heaviness, inertia and resistive feel about its low-speed character.
But all this is shed as soon as speeds rise. Add a twisty road into the mix and the M50d feels surprisingly light on its feet.
Control is exceptional. Our dynamic test route includes rippled, patchwork, pockmarked surfaces, mid-corner dips and off-camber corners littered with lateral ridges. You name it, there’s something to challenge the very best suspension set-ups.
It’s one stretch of road that we hope never gets resurfaced and the M50d was among a small elite of vehicles that tackled all these obstacles as though they never existed. Even in Sport Plus mode, which firms up the damping somewhat.
Given the conditions were damp during our dynamic test, the X5’s performance out here was astonishing. It felt like cheating, really. That said, we were impressed by the amount of feel delivered to our fingertips when the M50d’s front end started to struggle on greasier corners.
It lent an unexpected feeling of control and finesse to a big, heavy vehicle that physics dictates should feel like a wayward sledgehammer when pushed in challenging conditions.
Another round of weissbier for the engineers who tuned the anti-lock brakes, traction and stability systems, too. They act transparently, even under braking hard enough for the X5 to close its windows in preparation for impact with slick bitumen underfoot. It was all done smoothly, predictably and without disconcerting noise or even the typical pedal-pulsing of ABS activation.
Likewise, gathering this top-heavy beast up when threading it along a quartet of wet hairpins was done without sudden interventions or over-correcting the driver’s own corrections. If anything, it’s all tuned to amplify the driver’s ability rather than reel in their enthusiasm.
The M50d is certainly a masterclass in the mind-bending defiance of physics, from the way it rides on such low-profile tyres to the poise and control it provides when driven hard on rough-and-twisty country lanes.
If BMW could just translate a bit more of that light-footed feel to its urban and suburban drive experience, we’d give it 10 out of 10 for ride and handling. Apart from that, it’s remarkably without compromise.
Safety and servicing
BMW X5 variants with a 3.0-litre diesel engine have a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from testing in 2018. Adult occupant protection was rated 89 per cent, child occupant protection 87 per cent, vulnerable road user protection 75 per cent and safety assist 71 per cent.
Standard airbags comprise dual frontal, side chest-protecting and side curtains plus one for the driver’s knee.
Autonomous emergency braking covering city, interurban and vulnerable road-user support is standard, along with lane-keep assist and speed assistance.
The standard BMW warranty lasts three years and has no kilometre restriction (unless using the car for driving instruction, limousine or taxi duties, in which case it lasts for 150,000km). BMW also includes three years of roadside assistance and the anti-corrosion warranty lasts 12 years.
Servicing intervals are calculated by the vehicle based on factors such as usage and oil condition. Customers can pre-purchase up to 10 years of servicing, with a five-year, 80,000km package costing from $1795 on the X5 (correct at time of writing).
In Germany, BMW engineers have polished the driveline and chassis of the X5 M50d to an almost mirror finish. BMW software developers have shoehorned most of Silicon Valley into the dashboard – thankfully including a bit of sanity-preserving iPhone technology.
And BMW interior designers have flown Emirates business class to the world’s erm, classiest establishments, in a quest to soak up design inspiration for the cabin.
Meanwhile. in Spartanburg, South Carolina, they clearly struggled with all the complexity and didn’t quite build it to the rock-solid standard German-branded cars were once revered for.
In an ideal world, your commute to work includes fast, sweeping bends through spectacular scenery and a soaring mountain pass that takes you to hairpin heaven. In a land with no speed limits. If you live in this world, or near enough, the M50d could be your perfect SUV.
For everyone else, it’s a bit excessive.
And that’s why BMW will probably sell a heap of them.
Range Rover Sport SDV8 HSE (from $150,200 plus on-road costs)
Sales-wise, the Sport constantly nips at the X5’s heels. This Brit is similarly brash but the slickness of the new X5 makes the Rangie feel old-fashioned.
Audi SQ7 (from $153,616 plus on-road costs)
If you like hot hatches but need seating for seven, the SQ7 might just be the road-rocket for you. A facelift is due next year, which will help the Audi level up in the tech stakes against the X5.
Tesla Model X Ludicrous Performance (from $149,600 plus on-road costs)
Like the X5, the big Tesla packs lots of technology and a drivetrain that can seem unreal. A recent price cut puts this zero-emissions rocketship into contention against the M50d rather than the full-fat X5 M.
Model release date: 1 November 2018
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