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Car reviews - BMW - X5 - xDrive40d Sport

Launch Story

7 Jul 2010

BMW does not call its X family of vehicles SUVs or four-wheel drives. They are SAVs or Sports Activity Vehicles. There’s nothing utilitarian about them.

You are about as unlikely to find a BMW belting up an outback track in central Australia or Kakadu as you would be to find a good cup of espresso when you get there.

While the X BMWs do have a four-wheel-drive system, and BMW’s xDrive is one of the best, they lack the ground clearance and low-range gearing of a true off-roader, but that is not what they are all about.

xDrive gives sure-footed all-wheel-drive handling and hence safety on all road surfaces, be they sealed, wet, gravel or snow, and allows the driver to venture that little bit further on formed dirt tracks or sand.

Like most soft-roaders, X5 gives the high-riding look, feel and functionality of a four-wheel drive wagon but it doesn’t come at the expense of luxury, performance and dynamics.

Back in 2000, the original X5 was the first vehicle of its kind to combine the passenger car-like underpinnings of a monocoque chassis, the opulent interior of a luxury saloon and the functional body of a wagon with a sophisticated, electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system.

Other soft-roaders were available, as were other luxury four-wheel drives and all-wheel-drive wagons, but none melded the combination as well as the X5, which became an instant success.

The mid-life update of the second-generation X5 carries on the themes set by the original, adding improved performance, luxury and efficiency with a slightly revised look that is even more on-road oriented.

A decade ago when the X5 was new to us, we would never have associated diesel engines with high performance vehicles. Oil burners were the domain of trucks and heavy duty off roaders, and even BMW’s own turbo-diesel X5 was at the bottom end of the model’s performance.

The entry level xDrive30d might be one of the slowest of the new range, yet it is no slouch. Zero to 100km/h in just 7.6 seconds makes it quicker than many so called performance cars and most family sedans, and a top speed exceeding 200km/h is far more than most of us will ever need.

The single-turbo, 3.0-litre, six-cylinder diesel engine delivers its 180kW and 540Nm in a linear surge. The mountain of torque comes on from just 1750rpm and it shifts through the new eight-speed ZF transmission seamlessly to reach Australian highway speeds with ease.

While the torque feels as if it is available anywhere in the engine’s rev range, its job is made easier with the two extra ratios in the new transmission. Gear selection is still via the electronic shifter, which is fiddly to use until you become familiar, especially in tight spaces.

The transmission is so intuitive and works so well when the shifter is tipped across to the ‘sport’ auto mode that you wonder why some one would ever feel the need to use the manual-shifting mode. Manual operation is still there if you feel the need or want complete control when descending steep grades or driving on snow or ice.

The performance offered by the x5 xDrive30d is such that you also wonder why anyone could ask for more. The money saved by choosing this engine variant could well be put to delving in to BMW’s treasure trove of options.

Should you still want more from a diesel X5 there’s the xDrive40d Sport which uses the same engine and transmission configuration.

However, the engine employs a pair of turbo-chargers to deliver 225kW at 4000rpm and 600Nm from 1500 to 2500rpm. This will take a full second off the 0-to-100km/h sprint over the 30d while giving away only 0.1 of fuel use per 100km on the combined cycle.

The ‘Sport’ on the end of the model name indicates that the Sport Package comes as standard on the xDrive40d, and this includes firmer suspension.

The xDrive40d was the one model we did not get to drive on the launch so we can’t comment on the suspension or the engine.

The 40d rides on 19-inch alloy wheels, and it’s worth remembering that these wheels and tyres are not compatible with snow chains so you’ll need to arrange a second set if you’re into winter sports. These can usually be arranged on a loan from your BMW dealer.

The modern, quiet and refined turbo-diesel engines deliver abundant performance with amazing efficiency. Driving them back-to-back with the petrol variants you see why 80 to 85-per cent of X5 owners now take the diesel option.

But if you have an aversion to diesel engines and must have a petrol, the X5 offers two options in the xDrive35i and the xDrive50i. The 35i is the twin-turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine producing 225kW and 400Nm. With less torque it doesn’t deliver the show in the back acceleration of the diesel engine but it pulls strongly up higher in the revs where diesel engines fear to go.

Surprisingly the petrol six is noisier than the diesel when revved as it gives out a sporting roar, particularly up in those higher revs. It is almost silent and smooth while cruising, but hold it in the lower gears and give it its head and it howls a sweet call you might expect from an older M3, not an X5.

For the ultimate in refinement, you can’t go past the $133,400 xDrive50i with its twin-turbo V8. Smooth as hot chocolate and subtle as a feather it only reveals its alter ego when you squeeze the accelerator pedal and wind the tacho past 5000rpm where it steams ahead like a charging bull. Zero to 100km/h storms by in a sports car-like 5.5 seconds.

On the highway, the refinement conceals the speed so well you are reliant on the cruise control.

The xDrive50i we drove was also equipped with some of the features new to X5, including lane departure and active cruise control.

Lane departure warning is a $1700 option that uses a camera mounted near the interior rear view mirror to monitor the lines on the road through the windscreen. When it detects the vehicle wandering from its marked lane it warns the driver via a subtle vibration though the steering wheel. It doesn’t give a warning if the indicator has been used to change lanes or turn off the road.

The $4700 active cruise control uses radar to automatically keep a set distance to the vehicle front. A display in the gauge cluster shows when it is detecting the vehicle in front before you feel it slow your vehicle. It returns to your set cruise speed if you change lanes to overtake or the vehicle in front moves out of range.

The X5 has always been dynamically astounding, and this model it handles better than any two-tonne-plus SUV has a right to. It feels solidly planted on sweeping curves and belies its weight in the tighter stuff.

The suspension is firm, even without the sports set up but it isn’t until you hit rougher roads that it becomes a problem. Over sharp ruts and corrugations it will top out with a thump and deliver a shock to the usually smooth and quiet cabin.

The inclusion of servotronic steering as standard across the range now should appease those who criticised previous models for having heavy steering.

This speed-sensitive set-up gives lighter steering at slow parking speeds, but it firms up as speed increases to give well weighted feel for the road.

The X5’s mid-life make over is more akin to a touch of botox than a full on face-lift. The changes are subtle yet the improvements are noticeable and the X5 continues to be the unrivalled choice if you want your SUV to perform like a sports sedan.

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