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Car reviews - BMW - X5 - sDrive25d

Our Opinion

We like
Well-equipped base X5 becomes a lot of car for the money, urban-friendly equipment, decent ride from default suspension on standard 18-inch rims.
Room for improvement
Lots of low-speed lag from twin-turbo engine, feels a lot slower than numbers suggest, expensive options list.

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BMW logo17 Nov 2014

By BARRY PARK

CHEAP is not a word normally associated with BMW – and not one that means cheerless, either.

When the Bavarian brand introduced its latest 3 Series line-up in 2012, even the entry-level variant felt richer than its pricetag would have suggested.

The same goes for the cheapest X5, the BMW sDrive25d, now priced from $82,900 and sending drive from its 160kW/450Nm twin-turbo diesel four-cylinder engine to the rear wheels, not all four.

Instead of building the X5 down to a price, BMW appears to have left the equipment list alone, producing a version of the high-riding SUV that lacks for more only under the bonnet.

For $5000 more, X5 buyers who value all-paw traction can still jump behind the wheel of the xDrive25d, with that little “x” showing the four-pot’s power is sent to all four corners of the car, not just the rear.

BMW provided four test cars for its launch of the new base variant, with two in rear- and four-wheel-drive layout sitting on 18-inch wheels, and another two in the same mix of drivelines but sitting on 20-inch wheels — the rims most owners are expected to opt for.

Surprisingly, all four cars were sitting on default suspension set-ups – a rarity for BMW considering most owners will also stump up for the optional air suspension that adjusts the ride between comfort and sports settings on the fly.

Our drive from Melbourne up to Daylesford in central Victoria started with the all-wheel-drive xDrive25d sitting on the 18-inch rims.

First, though, let’s start with a look around the cabin from behind the driver’s seat. For anyone who has experienced the former base model introduced last year, the $98,900 xDrive30d featuring a turbo-diesel six-cylinder under the bonnet, things don’t look any different.

You still sit on leather trim, the seats still adjust manually (although lack adjustable lumbar support), the engine still starts via a dash-mounted button, the big multimedia screen high on the dash is there, the lights still come on themselves at dusk, and parking sensors cover the front bumper and tie in with a reversing camera at the rear. There’s even the electric tailgate that was made standard with this generational leap.

In short, it doesn’t feel like a cheap X5 in any way, shape or form.

That is, until you start the engine. The entry-level X5 uses the same 2.0-litre four-pot that has powered the smaller 1 Series sedan and hatch, and the X1 baby soft-roader, where it has blurred the line between petrol and diesel engines in terms of performance.

However, in the X5 the small twin-turbo powerplant has to deal with an extra half a tonne of weight, even before adding a driver, passengers and all their luggage.

From a standing start, there’s a moment of hesitation as the engine struggles to generate enough power to get the 2.0t-plus heft of the X5 rolling.

Once a few revs are onboard, though, the X5 will pull cleanly and confidently, building momentum with the feel of a bigger engine thanks to the twin-turbo performance.

Ride on the steel-springed suspension is good, with the higher profile hoops helping to produce a quiet, comfortable buffer with the road despite the stiff-sidewalled Goodyear Eagle run-flat tyres.

The only letdown is remote-feeling steering, with previous generations of the X5 renowned for their cornering crispness.

The only difference between the rear-drive and entry-level all-paw X5 is the extra 45kg in weight to bring the front wheels into play alongside the rear ones. There is no equipment advantage otherwise.

One constant niggle with BMW – and some other luxury brands – is the price of options to individualise an X5, which many customers will do. For instance, adding paddle shifters behind the steering wheel is $400, while metallic paint is $2000. A sunroof is a big $3700, while an alarm with a remote adds $1050.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try the rear-drive and all-paw entry-level X5s back-to-back on a gravel section of our drive up to Daylesford, where the loose surface would have showed up the all-wheel-drive advantage – by default, 35 per cent of the engine’s performance is sent to the front wheels – of the xDrive system over sDrive.

However, on bitumen, the difference is still clear. Stomp the throttle from a standing start and while the xDrive25d will bolt away cleanly once the 450Nm of boost from the twin-turbo four-cylinder engine arrives at 1500rpm, the sDrive25d will flash the stability control warning light for a few seconds as the rear wheels struggle with grip.

At low speeds and in an urban setting, there’s no discernible difference between the two platforms. The only difference we did pick was between the cars sitting on the optional 20-inch wheels, which were definitely harder-riding than the default 18s, slapping over the cat’s eye reflectors on the road instead of absorbing them.

BMW expects quite a few base-model owners to overlook the appeal of all-paw traction, with only 30 per cent of buyers expected to tick the option for xDrive over sDrive.

Sitting on the road, no one else is going to tell the difference unless they look for that one small letter on the badge that the X5 wears.

All they will see is another happy BMW X5 owner who still sits in a luxuriously appointed SUV that, by all accounts, is something of a bargain.

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