As a company, you know you’re on to a good thing when you can sell over two million examples of a product. This being so, it’s a fair bet BMW’s beancounters would be giving each other high-fives, based on the fact the German carmaker has been able to roll out in excess of 2.2m units of the X5 over three generations of the big SUV — or SAV (for Sports Activity Vehicle) in BMW-speak.
The first X5 broke free of BMW’s roots when it launched in 1999, as the marque had until then been a purveyor of solely saloons, coupes and wagons. The all-terrain diversification was clearly an inspired initiative though, as the X models (all the way from X1 to X6… with the new X7 flagship still to come) now account for a significant chunk of the Bavarian brand’s sales, just as the Macan and Cayenne do for Porsche.
The third-generation (F15) X5 that launched in 2013 is the most successful one to date, with 759,894 sales to its credit, yet BMW has just rolled out an all-new replacement (designated G05) after only five years, when the typical model lifespan is seven years. Why is this so? After all, the existing X5 doesn’t look overly dated, and its packaging/dynamics still stack up okay.
The answer is obviously because BMW is intent on sustaining the X5’s sales momentum, particularly as archrival Mercedes-Benz has just revealed its stylish, tech-laden new GLE, while Volvo and Audi also have capable and relatively fresh offerings in the form of the XC90 and Q7 respectively.
So, what does the new G05 X5 bring to the table? For starters, it’s underpinned by the new ‘Cluster Architecture’ (CLAR) platform that also forms the basis for the latest 5 Series, 7 Series and imminent X7. In the case of the fourth-gen X5, it’s enabled the vehicle to undergo a significant expansion. The axles have been pushed 42mm further apart (making for a more spacious cabin), while width is also up by 66mm, so three occupants can sit in the back seat without rubbing shoulders. The new X5 is also 19mm taller, which means even beanpoles won’t find their noggins brushing up against the roof lining.
As evident from the accompanying images, BMW has trodden a heavily evolutionary path stylistically with the newbie, as the vehicle’s profile isn’t a drastic change from its predecessor. That said, the oversize kidney grille up front is so large that it’s almost a caricature of the brand’s trademark schnoz. Some cyber critics are also letting rip at the new X5’s elongated taillights, which, to be fair to the naysayers, seem more Japanese/Korean in execution than German. Be that as it may, the latest X5 is still a handsome looker with an imposing stance. Apart from those taillights, there’s no mistaking its identity as anything other than an X5.
A key element in the X5’s face are its LED headlights (naturally featuring BMW’s emblematic twin corona rings), but an added splurge gets you the optional BMW Laserlight package with Adaptive LED Headlights that boost the high beam’s range from 300m to 500m, virtually turning night into day.
Body roll is well controlled and the vehicle is able to resist understeer until pushed beyond the point where most owners are ever likely to go. The steering is better than past BMWs, but still not telegraphic in the info it relays to your fingertips.
There are two broad trim levels under the umbrella of the xLine and M Sport packages. The former is the more utilitarian choice, as you get a front bumper/fascia with greater ground clearance, plus front and rear underguards to offer basic protection in rugged terrain. The package also brings 19in alloy wheels with taller rubber, a special air breather design (for water crossings) and aluminium trim highlights all around the bodywork. For those seeking more serious all-terrain credentials, there’s a new optional off-road package adding a sump guard, centre diff lock and programming for sand, gravel, rock and snow conditions
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the M Sport variant, offering a choice of rims ranging from 20 to 22in in diameter, beefed-up M Sport brakes, a louder M Sport exhaust, lower, stiffer M Sport suspension and an M Aerodynamics package with bespoke front and rear bumpers, plus side skirts. Oh yes, you also gloss-black finish on the side window trims.
Not surprisingly, the fourth-gen X5 comes packed with a raft of driving aids, including Traffic Jam Assistant, Lane Keeping Assistant, Steering Assistant, Lane Control Assist and Automatic Speed Limit Assist. They’re all designed to make the task of driving easier and safer, although I personally find the Lane Keeping Assistant overzealous and occasionally irritating. That said, you can disengage it.
The cabin makes a distinct step forward from its predecessor, not only in terms of kit levels, but also in its premium ambience and design innovation — it’s pretty much as good as it gets in the domain of prestige SUVs. The dash and centre console in our test vehicle are trimmed in highly polished timber (there are various other finishes on offer too), and there’s a fair degree of geometric artistry in the way the instrument binnacle, air vents and switchgear are laid out.
The dash houses a brand-new digitised instrument cluster (a first for the company) that can be configured in a number of ways, depending on what information you want prioritised. There’s an additional 12.3in screen perched above the central air vents for the infotainment systems. You can control this via the steering wheel buttons, iDrive Controller, the touchscreen display, voice control or BMW gesture control. That said, mastering the last two obviously takes some schooling as we couldn’t always get our desired command obeyed.
The available goodies list includes sumptuous multifunction seats (with heating/cooling and massage functions), cooled/heated cupholders and a huge panoramic “Sky Lounge” glass roof with more than 15,000 LED lighting elements. There’s also a boomtastic 1,475-watt Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System and Rear-seat entertainment Professional system with 10.2in touchscreen display. If it tickles your fancy, there’s even a bling-bling crystal-topped gearlever, but I personally found it chintzy and out of place in a vehicle that’s otherwise brimming with restrained elegance.
Luggage space isn’t massive for a full-size SUV at 650 litres (the upcoming new Mercedes-Benz GLE offers 825 litres), but this can be boosted to 1,860 litres (2,055 litres in the new GLE) by folding down the 40/20/40 split rear back seat. For those who need seven seats, there’s an optional third row with two additional pews. Access to these is provided by pushing a button, which prompts the middle row seats to tilt up and out of the way.
The luggage compartment is accessed via a two-section tailgate (the bottom part drops down, while the upper section rises up), although I can’t really see the advantages of this over a conventional one-piece tailgate. That said, the electrically operated luggage compartment cover (just push a button and it slowly glides into place) is a nice touch, eliminating the need for awkward stretches across the load bay. Another clever element is that the (optional) front and rear air suspension allows the loading sill to be lowered by 40mm via a simple button-press, making it easy to stash heavy and/or bulky items into the luggage compartment.
Okay, so that’s the practical aspects done and dusted. Does the new X5 make any significant gains in terms of the driving/riding experience? In a word, yes. The biggest step forward is in the area of refinement as the supple ride, silky-smoothness of the drivetrain and silent cruising ability of the newbie is now Range Rover-esque.
We drove the xDrive40i, which will be the entry-level model in our region. It packs an uprated 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo motor that ekes out 335bhp and 450Nm — on tap from 1,500rpm all the way to 5,200rpm. The fat band of torque makes for effortless overtaking and unflustered cruising at 140kph (or more). BMW quotes a 0-100kph split of 5.5sec and top speed of 243kph, which are decent numbers for a luxo-laden 2.1-tonne SUV.
Our market will also get the xDrive50i, propelled by a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 that thumps out 456bhp and a robust 650Nm, but we didn’t get to drive this at the launch. However, having sampled this engine in other applications, we know it to be an even more potent and refined powertrain than the six-pot. As is the case with the current X5, both engines are hooked up to the excellent ZF eight-speed automatic transmission.
The X5 might not be configured as sportily as Porsche’s Cayenne, but its dynamics have been sharpened via standard Dynamic Damper Control, and you can up the ante via optional Adaptive M suspension Professional with active anti-roll bars, air suspension (offering ride height adjustability of up to 80mm), rear-wheel steering and an electronically controlled differential lock for the rear axle.
With or without all these extras, the X5 is respectably agile for a 2.1-tonne behemoth that stands as tall as the average male. Even pressing on at a relatively brisk pace doesn’t upset its demeanour. Body roll is well controlled and the vehicle is able to resist understeer until pushed beyond the point where most owners are ever likely to go. The steering is better than past BMWs, but still not telegraphic in the info it relays to your fingertips.
Not surprisingly, the fourth-gen X5 comes packed with a raft of driving aids, including Traffic Jam Assistant, Lane Keeping Assistant, Steering Assistant, Lane Control Assist and Automatic Speed Limit Assist.
At the launch we tackled a basic off-road loop in the X5 equipped with the, er, Off-Road package (well, duh), providing proof the Beemer isn’t a dunce in the rough stuff — even though you’ll probably never see a BMW owner pitching their X5 across sand dunes or rock-strewn trails. The choice of four drive modes and variable ride height means you can get the thing up, down and across a variety of terrain. As is the norm with most modern all-terrainers, the on-board electronics constantly tailor the traction/stability control and differentials to their optimum settings, so all you need to do is to steer, brake and accelerate. Everything else is handled seamlessly and invisibly by the electronic gubbins.
BMW bills the new X5 as “The Boss”, and while the new Mercedes GLE and existing Audi A7 and Volvo XC90 might have a thing or two to say about that, there’s no doubting the depth of engineering and attention to detail that’s gone into the vehicle. It moves the game on technologically, yet retains the core X5 strengths of being practical, engaging to drive and stylish in an understated way (apart from that XXL grille). It seemingly has the goods to push cumulative X5 sales past the three-million mark. This should make BMW’s beancounters even happier than they already are.