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Car reviews - BMW - X5 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Improvements in value, safety, performance, efficiency, space, comfort, practicality, brilliant 3.0d
Room for improvement
Speed-sensitive steering feel, harder ride on bigger wheels, expensive options, timid design evolution inside and out

14 Nov 2013

IF one car has come to define the New Millennium, it is the BMW X5.

Released in Australia in time for the 2000s, it came to represent the upward mobility of our society.

For better or for worse, it reflects our obsession with attaining more wealth, consumption, status and self reward.

But even critics will agree that the X5 has also pushed SUV boundaries right out, in terms of positioning, respectability, driveability, quality, suitability and desirability.

You could argue that the high price of entry and options have long undermined the BMW’s value, but when you are building the best SUV in the world bar none, then value is relative.

So we get why the Bavarians don’t want to mess with the design, especially as the outgoing E70 is selling – and looking – better than ever.

However, handsome though it is, does the new F15 have to appear so disappointingly similar to the last one? The same goes inside, with only the tacked-on touchscreen (of dubious aesthetics compared to the nicely integrated old unit) being the really big visual differentiator.

This interior is typical BMW in that the dash is driver focussed, the driving position exemplary, the seats superbly comfortable and the controls where you expect them to be.

Compared to earlier efforts the smaller buttons, myriad switches, and the once-infamous iDrive menu controller are now all a beacon of functionality (after a minor period of acclimatisation), while that vast central screen’s graphics are also second-to-none.

Being a German SUV, there’s room aplenty up front for even taller adults, while the rear quarters are spacious enough as well, though the lower-than-expected back cushion calls for a slightly awkward knees-up posture that could be tiring after a while.

Beyond that, the split/fold bench tips forward on seven-seater (or, rather, “5+2” versions in BMW-speak), for a smaller pair of forward facing chairs for people 150cm and under in height. Actually, since the middle row slides, these make tolerable conveyances for most folk over shorter journeys.

But it is in the driving experience where BMWs are made (or broken), and here the X5 presents an interesting array of differences, according to tastes.

On the NZ launch, we only had three models to choose from – a standard xDrive30d (the volume model, with diesel), the rapid xDrive50i V8 petrol, and the flagship M50d (the same diesel as the 30d but with three turbos and a bit more besides).

If you love driving, seek comfort, and enjoy a great steer, you cannot go past the… xDrive30d.

That’s right, the variant most Aussies will buy (in the latter years it represented upwards of 70 per cent of the previous E70’s sales) has it all – an unbelievably quiet and refined in-line six-cylinder turbo-diesel offering a hefty dose of performance, coupled with one of the sweetest-shifting automatic transmissions that we’ve ever experienced.

This amount of forward thrust is more than enough for most people, particularly when you also factor in the exceptional official fuel consumption figure (6.2L/100km average – though we recorded a still respectable 8.1).

But there’s more. Fitted with the standard Servotronic electric power steering and 255/50 R19 tyres, the xDrive30d felt light, agile, and sporty, carving through corners in a way that completely belied its 2070kg-plus bulk.

It is fair to say that this is the most enjoyable full-sized luxury SUV we’ve ever encountered, connecting us to the driving experience like a BMW ought to, while providing a level of control and stability that would embarrass many so-called sports sedans from some other brands.

A long time has passed since we felt so enamoured with a basic BMW set-up, but the X5 xDrive30d with virtually no options except for the $4600 third-row seats did it for us.

Could this be the most complete SUV in the world today?Frankly, for us at least after the toweringly impressive 30d, the other two more expensive X5s represented a case of diminishing returns, even though they, too, have their appeal.

The xDrive50i is a deceivingly fast device, whooshing along at what feels like cruising speeds but what actually would land you in jail in Australia. Thank goodness it was remote NZ.

Anyway, the combination of seamless power and unseemly drivetrain refinement conspired to have us blitzing along in blissful harmony… until the first tight corner revealed the reality of the steering.

BMW’s usually helpful specification sheet that accompanies every test car made no mention of the optional Active Steering, but the overly light helm through wide turns, combined with a slightly nervous feel, made us long for the xDrive30d’s.

Plus, on the 20-inch plus tyres, the ride would range from firm to hard on anything other than the smoothest surfaces.

The M50d, meanwhile, impressed us with its sheer force of mid-range acceleration. Yet even with its tumultuous torque tsunami transmitted to all four wheels, it conducted itself with exceptional control and subtlety – until the road became a little rough and the shocks started to be felt.

Along with hundreds of kilometres of driving through some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever experienced, BMW took us over a few slippery slopes, down a steep drop (of around 25 degrees), and through a deep waterway, to demonstrate the X5’s better-than-anticipated off-road ability.

But we cannot imagine anybody seriously thinking this is a proper 4x4 despite the height and road clearance, though, while there are none of the dual-range 4WD gubbins underneath that the Range Rover Sport offers.

What we can imagine is the X5 continuing its successful run as the country’s bestselling luxury SUV.

While the changes are definitely more on the evolutionary side of things, the sum of progress in total means the series remains the world’s best in class.

More importantly, the $99,900 xDrive30d now seems to represent exceptional value for money, gaining not only over $20K’s worth of previously optional (or unavailable) gear as standard, but also a level of dynamic finesse that we weren’t quite expecting in such a large SUV.

The bottom line then, at least as far as the more basic X5 is concerned, is that the car of our times is better than ever.

Go out and flout your wealth with confidence!

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