A new platform and posh, techy features puts the latest version of BMW’s original sport utility vehicle at the top of its class
For better or for worse, we have the BMW X5 to thank for shaping our sport utility vehicle (SUV) landscape of today. It may not have invented the genre, but it (along with the original Lexus RX) certainly set the template that most crossovers adhere to today: keep the tough looks, but make it drive and ride like a car, and to hell if it could chug its way through the scenery or not.
And since the X5 was one of the pioneers of the formula, it should come as no surprise that the latest fourth-generation version is also one of the best.
We first sampled the new X5 in the country it perhaps fits best in: the United States. It acquitted itself well there, where everything is supersized, but the one question we had no answer for was: how would it fare in tiny Singapore?
After all, the X5 has now swollen into a truly massive car. Based on the same longitudinal-engine modular platform that underpins every post-2015 BMW sedan and SUV, the new X5 is a whopping 4,922mm long and 2,004mm wide (2,218mm if you count the wing mirrors). That’s nearly the same length as a current 5 Series, but a whopping 14cm wider. Heck, the original 1999 X5 is smaller than today’s X3.
It does mean that the X5 is plenty spacious inside though, with legroom that wouldn’t be out of place in a traditional luxury sedan. A relatively flat floor benefits the passenger sitting in the middle, too.
Further back, there’s no shortage of boot space either. An airport run revealed that the 645-litre load area could easily swallow up three suitcases and two soft bags, with the split tailgate providing extra ease of loading without having to worry about scratching the rear bumper.
That said however, our test unit was a 5-seater model, which is available on indent basis only. Standard customer cars will have a 7-seater configuration when deliveries start in Q2 2019, and we can’t say for sure how that will impact cargo space (nor indeed, how fit that third row will be for human consumption).
Being a BMW, you might expect the X5 to be a solid performer around corners, and it sort of is, to an extent.
You can coax the X5 in to carrying unwise amounts of speed through the twisties, but even though the massive tyres tenaciously hold the road through sheer force of friction (they’re 275mm wide at the front and 315mm at the back), the car’s 2.1-tonne kerb weight means the overall impression is of a rhino trying to hustle through an obstacle course. Steering weight could also be better, with a slight gumminess when it comes to self-centering after large inputs.
Where a Land Rover Discovery always feels like it’s on the teetering edge, and a Lexus RX simply gives up and pushes into understeer, the X5 actually holds its composure pretty well on a twisty B-road, but there’s no denying the Porsche Cayenne is still the driver’s choice in this segment.
Far more enjoyable than the experience for drivers is the experience for passengers. The X5 comes as standard with air suspension, which in addition to allowing the car to kneel down for easier loading of humans and cargo, also imparts a truly plush quality to the ride. That’s in spite of the test car riding on huge 21-inch wheels (you can get 22s if you really have no fear of kerbs), although given the less than sporty nature of a huge SUV like this, we’d probably settle for the standard 20-inch items and revel in an even more cloud-like ride.
The other traditional BMW strongpoint though, continues to delight here. As ever, the 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine is a peach, as it has been in other such ‘40i’-engined BMWs like the X3 M40i and upcoming M340i. 340hp and 450Nm of torque are enough to propel the burly X5 from standstill to 100km/h in a sports car-baiting 5.5 seconds, and it’s buttery smooth while doing so.
BMW’s mastery of the straight-six layout is clear, which makes it all the shame that you can’t enjoy it unless you plump for the upper half of the brand’s model range. Be in no doubt that in time to come, a similarly effective, though less delightful four-cylinder version will probably also become available.
Where the new X5 really ups the luxury quotient is with its toys. Of course there are the usual headline-grabbers such as laser headlights (with a range of 600m), an optional glass roof that lights up with LEDs, an app that turns your smartphone into the car’s key, and an auto-reverse function that re-traces the exact path you took to drive into a tight parking space.
But more than that, it’s the intuitiveness of the interior’s operations that really impress. The new infotainment screen switches to a widget-based format, so you can display two to four readouts for your most-used applications (map, music, and phone, for example) without having to flick through levels of menus.
The new climate controls are particularly sensible; its placement between the air vents is a perfectly logical location, and the contrasting silver buttons for the key functions provides an easy target to spot in your peripheral vision while you’re on the move. Overall the X5’s cabin strikes a good compromise between keeping a clean aesthetic and maintaining an intuitive button-based functionality, without turning into an unfathomable button-fest (we’re looking at you, Porsche).
In fact, that’s pretty much how the X5 as a whole can be summed up. It might not be the last word in versatility (the HDB flat-sized Discovery wins on sheer size alone), nor the ultimate driving machine it once was (the Cayenne has that licked), but the X5 strikes a good balance between the two, while at the same time being simple and fuss-free to operate. That means the X5 is pretty much the best all-rounder of the luxury SUV pile at the moment, at least until the all new Mercedes GLE comes along later this year. Then again, that isn’t really so surprising, seeing as how BMW’s practically had the most time to refine this formula.
BMW X5 xDrive40i xLine
|Engine||2,998cc, inline 6, twin-turbo|
|Power||340hp at 5500rpm|
|Torque||450Nm at 1500rpm|
|Fuel Efficiency||8.5 L/100km (estimate)|
|Agent||Performance Motors Limited|
|Available||2nd quarter, 2019|