REVIEW DATE: 27 Aug 2010
Most BMW X5 buyers choose the xDrive 30d diesel model. Jonathan Crouch finds out why
BMW's million-selling X5 was the luxury 4x4 that re-wrote the rulebook, setting standards that even now, competitors struggle to match. BMW hopes that the improvements made to this revised second generation version with more powerful, efficient engines like that used in this xDrive 30d will put it even further ahead of the chasing pack.
It's one thing to invent a revolutionary car: quite another to keep it on top. BMW certainly got the first part right back in 1999 with the first generation X5, a luxury SUV that completely changed the market for large 4x4s. Prior to its appearance, cars of this kind were slow and ponderous. This one proved it didn't have to be like that and buyers loved it. By the time the second generation version arrived in 2007 however, an even more sophisticated package was needed, to distance this car from its smaller X3 stablemate as much as from a growing copycat band of ever-improving rivals.
The result was impressive and enough to take total X5 worldwide sales comfortably over the million mark but deep down, BMW knew there was still work to be done. This car, after all, no longer had the market to itself and with a second generation X3 threatening the lower rungs of its model range, further enhancements were needed - and provided in 2010 in the form of the revised MK2 model we're looking at here. Think it doesn't look much different? We'd agree with you, but you can understand the Bavarians' reluctance to tamper too greatly with a winning formula. What's important, we're promised, is what lies under the bonnet, a package good enough to keep this as the car to have in this sector. But is it? Let's try the strongest selling xDrive 30d variant and find out.
Whether anything weighing 2.2-tonnes in weight and 1.8-metres in height can ever defy the laws of physics enough to match BMW's description of this model as 'a driver's car' is another question, but if you tick the extra-cost boxes for Sports suspension and the Adaptive Drive anti-roll bars that hydraulically stiffen in corners to reduce roll, then you might be tempted to give the German marketeers the benefit of the doubt. But what of all that new engineware so important in preserving this car's class-leading position? Well it amounts mainly to improvements in power, torque and efficiency for powerplants now linked to a higher-tech silky smooth automatic transmission boasting eight rather than six speeds.
"This is the standard to which all future luxury SUVs must aspire.."
BMW cheerfully admits that this car's xDrive 4WD system has a priority in maximising on-road traction at the expense of off-road capability. The result is a car that on a twisting country road, really doesn't feel very SUV-like at all - which is why the Bavarians call it an 'SAV' or 'Sports Activity Vehicle' instead.
Almost every UK X5 buyer will want one of BMW's silky-smooth six cylinder 3.0-litre diesels and this car offers them a much more satisfying choice, with 10 and 20bhp more respectively than the original units fitted to this model. Most go for the entry-level 245bhp xDrive 30d we're trying here, a car fast enough to demolish 62mph in 7.5s, quite fast enough, you'd think, for a car of this kind.
You really do have to be an X5 enthusiast to notice the changes visited upon these revised MK2 models. There are restyled bumpers with larger vents that better cool the engine and brakes, with matt aluminium-look lower scuff plates and vent fins supposed to underscore this car's performance credentials.
And the changes are equally subtle inside the particularly roomy and practical cabin with its high quality materials, superb commanding driving position and clear instrumentation. Clutter-free surfaces come courtesy of the iDrive control system that banishes legions of fiddly little buttons, the downside being that despite improvements, the set-up still takes a little time to master. Modern design touches like the gear selector that juts from the central transmission tunnel like a shard of glass further set this interior apart, but we're not quite so keen on the electronic parking brake.
In the back, there's room for three fully-sized adults as long as they're on reasonably friendly terms, while behind them, there's the option of the third row seating that BMW lengthened this second generation car to take but that it now says hardly any buyers ever want. On reason perhaps is that specifying them denies you a useful 90-litre under-boot cavity. Either way, the 620-litre boot is certainly a useful size, extendable to 1750-litres if you're able to flatten the split-folding rear seats.
You won't be expecting this car to be inexpensive - and it isn't. X5 pricing starts from around the £45,000 mark for this xDrive 30d diesel. As for rivals, well comparable Audi's Q7 and Mercedes M-Class diesel models can both slightly undercut this base diesel version, but offer less performance. For X5 money, you'd have a right to expect a pretty comprehensive spec list for the money and, by and large, you should be disappointed. Leather is now standard, as are Xenon headlamps and sharper Servotronic steering. Safety-wise, there's everything you would expect bar the disappointing absence of curtain airbags for third row passengers.
Running costs are a big issue with the X5 and its luxury 4x4 ilk, perhaps not for the well-healed individuals who drive them but in terms of their perception in the eyes of the world at large. It's no good simply dumping the X5 into the gas guzzler category and pointedly looking down your nose at it, the argument is far more complex than that.
Thanks to an EfficientDynamics-led reduction in emissions of 10%, this is the first conventionally powered luxury car of this kind to be able to record a sub-200g/km CO2 figure, 195g/km in the case of the 30d, a model that can return 38.2mpg on the combined cycle. Rivals can't match these figures, partly because they're heavier, an Audi Q7 for example, weighing a full 287kgs more. Predictably, the BMW X5 holds onto its value with some tenacity and the 3.0 diesel models in particular promise to be popular choices on the used market, so there's little to worry about on that score. Plus there's the usual 3 year unlimited mileage warranty.
This improved X5 may still never reclaim the dominant market share its predecessor once enjoyed, but BMW once again have the hardware to put upstarts like Volvo and Volkswagen firmly in their place and remind its closer German rivals just who really developed the luxury 4x4 sector in the first place. Of course there are alternatives who do certain things better. An Audi Q7 has more space: a Range Rover Sport offers more off road prowess. No competitor though, better suits the relentless on-road life that cars of this kind actually lead. Not for nothing do one in every three X5 owners stay loyal to the range when the time comes to change their cars.
BMW's most recent improvements further underline this model's mastery in this respect, its enhanced engine range establishing benchmarks for performance and efficiency that match those already set for handling and ride. It's a standard to which all future luxury SUVs must aspire. One day perhaps they'll match this car. By which time, no doubt the Bavarians will have brought us something even better. Such is the pace of progress.
|For X5 xDrive30d|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|