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Car reviews - BMW - X5 - xDrive40d Sport

Our Opinion

We like
Superb interior furnishings and flexible seating arrangement, agile road manners, engine performance
Room for improvement
Ride over sharp bumps, reflected road noise on coarse-chip bitumen

7 Jul 2010

SOME cars have sharper dynamics and more pace, while some SUV wagons carry more stuff and are more economical, but the BMW X5 40d Sport bridges the gap. It feels faintly ridiculous calling this a sports car – it’s a two-tonne wagon – but it is not exactly going to keep up with a Patrol on a gnarly track either. Jack of all trades and master of er, some?

Certainly the 40d Sport looks the part on its 20-inch optional alloys. It reminds us of the first breathed-over X5, the 4.6is, with its rubber band profile tyres on big beefy wheels completely filling the wheel arches.

The X5 design has matured well in its second iteration, and here in its mid-cycle upgrade the tweaks are minor. The E70 design is an obvious evolution of the first generation X5 without being a slavish copy. It is an attractive, elegant design, although the kidney grilles are perhaps a bit over-sized. Perhaps the engineers won the toss on that one and got better cooling flow through the bigger grille.

The simple and almost utilitarian BMW interior is contrasted with, in the case of the test vehicle, bone leather on seats and door cards. It might be harder to keep clean but it sure looks good.

Although the interior looks almost spartan, it doesn’t mean it feels cheap. The interior furnishings are well stuck together and the materials reflect the $113k-plus asking price.

Spending money on quality furnishings doesn’t mean a car-maker has necessarily spent time and money designing a good interior, but in the X5’s case there has been plenty of time and thought put into it.

The way the second and third row seats fold is clever and saves space, while the amount of available space in the cabin is generally good.

The second row seat will not accommodate three child booster seats easily, while adults seated in the third-row seats will need to appreciate confinement in a space better suited to the sub-teenager group.

The driver is treated to an enticing experience even before starting up and moving off. Vision to the front and sides is clear, with large side mirrors also presenting a broad rearward view.

The restricted view out of the rear window is obviated by the reversing camera. How did we ever twist our bodies around to reverse before the rear-view camera?

The controls and instruments are excellent – they may lack the flair and showiness of an Italian car but they leave you in no doubt about what is going on with the car.

The head-up display is also an invention that has evolved to an extremely useful level in the X5. Speed, cruise control and navigation functions are displayed simply. It just works.

Getting the most out of the i-Drive controller takes some practice, though. Even though it is not any worse than competitors in this regard, it just shows how a standard for electronic gadgets would be helpful.

It’s not like manufacturers decide on their own foot pedal arrangement, saying “hmmm, let’s see, why don’t we make the left pedal the accelerator this time?” So why not get together and decide on a computer/controller functions standard?

The transmission selector is another item that is just different for the sake of it, but it becomes easy to use once accustomed to it. Pressing a button on top of the lever for Park and tilting it forward or back while pressing a side release lever is a good idea in theory but initially confusing in practice.

The twin-turbo engine fires up to an even, subdued idle, and when moving off it overwhelms any tinny diesel rattle with a gruff timbre. On the scale of diesel engine audio, it is far more Sherman tank than tractor.

If the 40d twin-turbo becomes the standard for turbo-diesels, there will soon be a generation of drivers who won’t know what turbo lag is. In the 40d, there just isn’t any.

The amazing thing is that, at slower, urban speeds at least, you just have to pick a space on the road you want and squeeze the accelerator and you’re there.

In the cut-and-thrust of traffic, it’s one of the closest things to having a big V-twin motorcycle without the need for donning leather and a helmet.

Incredibly responsive down low, the engine revs crisply to 5000rpm. The eight-speed auto is so smooth and intuitive that you wonder why this can’t be the norm.

Of course, other drivers are less likely to use the excuse ‘I just didn’t see you’ with the X5 than the motorcycle. In euphemistic advertising-speak, the X5 has ‘presence’. In other words, it takes up a fair bit of road – although it doesn’t feel as bulky to drive at all. A lithe sumo wrestler?

But two tonnes can’t be hidden by wrapping it up in a lolly wrapper labelled ‘sports car’. Where a sports car such as the MX-5 might give the driver the precise feedback of a scalpel, the X5 just bludgeons it with a sharp axe. It does the same job it’s just far more brutal about it.

The 20-inch Bridgestones fitted to the X5 40d test vehicle grip the road tenaciously, but there is a sense that once the X5 has given all it’s got, the transition from grip to slip will be a quick one.

The X5 rides firmly but quite well until you hit a sharp ridge in the road or deep pothole, when it shudders through with quite an impact. The run-flat tyres are often blamed for this BMW ride experience, and while we don’t know if they are to blame here, the thumping ride is certainly not a luxury SUV trait.

Reflected road noise is also quite intrusive in the cabin when on coarse chip roads – and in fact when not all that coarse really, such as in some of the city-end sections of Sydney’s M4 Motorway

Fuel economy sat around the 9.0L/100km mark on test, with 11.5L/100km in more congested city driving. With similar – arguably better – performance as the first-gen X5 4.6is petrol, the 40d Sport uses almost half the fuel of its forebear.

The X5 40d is an amazing vehicle in some respects, with a honey of a powertrain and a sure-footed chassis and accommodating interior. It’s a shame the jarring ride and noisy tires detract from the experience, but for many these are negatives worth living with to experience that incredible engine.

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