REVIEW DATE: 12 Aug 2009
Models Covered: (5dr Luxury 4x4, 3.0, 4.4, 4.6 petrol, 3.0 diesel[SE, M Sport])
The second generation X5 may not have changed the way we think about luxury 4x4s in the way that its predecessor did but it's a substantially better car, having evolved from the groundbreaking original. It's the best big 4x4 of its era from a keen driver's perspective and it will still do a reasonable job off-road. The ride can be firm and the cabin isn't as practical as some rivals but that's about as far as the downsides go with this consummate luxury SUV.
The BMW X5 is often said to have revolutionised the luxury 4x4 market with its prowess on the road but this isn't that X5. The model we look at here is the second generation one and by the time it appeared in 2007, it was evolution that was called for. The BMW bigwigs wanted to put the X5 back on top, ahead of a glut of rival models which had followed its revolutionary lead. The differences might not be immediately obvious but a squint at the detail shows a car that's bigger, plusher and more sophisticated than its subversive forefather.
The original X5 turned up in 1999. It was BMW's first glimpse above the parapet in the 4x4 market and, with hindsight, it was exactly what should have been expected from a brand touting itself as builder of 'The Ultimate Driving Machine'. Nobody expected it. The X5 immediately made rival luxury 4x4s look like 1930's farm machinery by comparison. BMW had dumped its car's ability to wade up to its wipers through swamps and trundle through boulder fields. Instead it went for nimble handling and sports car performance over terrain that well-to-do UK buyers were infinitely more likely to encounter - tarmac. Big success came the X5's way and soon, the market was packed with imitators. The first stage of BMW's response came in 2004 in the shape of the X3. This was a smaller vehicle but not that much smaller than the original and the upper-spec versions were very close to the X5 in price, making it look somewhat redundant until the second generation version arrived in 2007. BMW's luxury 4x4 had grown larger, more sophisticated and more expensive. Its lunge upmarket left wiggleroom for the X3 below and BMW's 4x4 range took on a more cohesive look. The engines were largely carried over from the Mk1 model but nobody was going to complain about that as they were largely excellent. The most affordable options were the 235bhp 3.0-litre diesel and the 272bhp 3.0-litre petrol. Then there was the range-topping 355bhp 4.8-litre petrol powerplant. Arriving a little later and not inherited from the original car was the diesel unit in the 3.0sd model that used twin turbochargers to boost its output to 286bhp and a 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol. The model designations were later tweaked so that twin turbo petrol became the xDrive35i. The two diesels became xDrive30i and xDrive35i while the V8 petrol got xDrive48i branding. By mid 2009, only the two diesel models and the xDrive48i V8 petrol were being offered in the UK and there was a further addition in the shape of a twin-turbo V8 packing 555bhp. This monster formed the centrepiece of the X5 M.
Let's have a look at the pertinent facts. This X5 is only 19cm longer than the original model but manages to incorporate up to three rows of seats. Even with all three rows occupied, there's still 200 litres of boot space. In a more conventional five-seat configuration, the X5's boot measures 620 litres, up 155 litres on its predecessor. There's also an additional 90-litre storage compartment under the floor if you're not interested in having seven seat capacity. This X5 is also 6cm wider than its forebear but, in another case of the engineers pulling a rabbit out of their hat, weighs no more in base specification. Those third row rear seats are quite small and an adult wouldn't want to spend any length of time cooped up in them. They aren't protected by the X5's side airbags either and they were only offered as an option, so the majority of used models won't have them anyway. Space in the other seats can't be faulted and neither can the build quality. The design inside is standard BMW stuff, minimal and neat without too much wow-factor but you've got to love the way it's all put together. The iDrive control interface will flummox owners at first but it can be mastered without too much effort and you should be whizzing through those menus in no time. The styling of the car is a good deal more conservative than many contemporary BMWs with little of the ostentatious 'flame-surfacing' seen on the 5 Series and Z4 of this era. Instead, BMW adopted a more restrained look not a million miles away from the old model. The stance of the car is much like a supersized and rather chunkier X3. It's a very deft piece of styling that, in common with its predecessor, manages to disguise the bulk superbly.
Used prices are firm for the diesel models and less so for the petrol ones. The cheapest cars you'll encounter will be the 3.0si petrol variants on 56-plates which still command around £25,500. The V8 can be had for around £29,000 which is about the same price as a 3.0d model. With these early cars, the M Sport trim level with its styling accessories and sports suspension is still worth around £2,500 over the standard SE. The xDrive 35i petrol version is £38,000 on 08-plates and the V8 will be £42,000. Go for a newish diesel and it will be £40,500 for an 08-plate xDrive30d or £42,500 for an xDrive35d. Insurance ranges between groups 17 for the entry-level diesels and 20 for the X5 M.
The BMW X5 has no known faults although it would be wise to check the underbody, exhaust and suspension for signs of damage from overenthusiastic off-roading. Over enthusiastic on-roading may well have taken its toll on the car too. The sports models fitted with 19-inch wheels are prone to kerbing damage and an enthusiastically-driven example can soon make mincemeat of its front tyres which, at around £200 per corner, could be a bill you don't want to be saddled with. There's quite a lot to go wrong with all those electronic systems on board but other than the odd tetchy sensor, it generally doesn't.
One thing that BMW was keen not to alter was the X5's reputation as being the best driver's car in its class. When the first model appeared, the German company invented a new classification for it, steering away from the lumbering 'Sports Utility Vehicle' (SUV) tag and dubbing the X5 a 'Sports Activity Vehicle', marketing doublespeak for the fact that this car was aimed at on-road performance rather than off-road ruggedness. BMW's intent is obvious when examining the finer engineering beneath the X5. Instead of a high-mounted engine that stays clear of water, much as you'd get in most serious 4x4s, BMW went the opposite way, mounting the engine and gearbox as low and as far back as possible for an aggressive centre of gravity to help spirited cornering. From behind the wheel, you'll marvel at how something so big can feel so nimble and while it's no sports saloon, the X5 can be hurried along a B-road with real relish. The ride quality is somewhat hit and miss, proving somewhat firm over poor surfaces, especially in the M Sport cars. The adaptive suspension system that was optional on most models largely solves this problem but on a good road, the X5 will draw few complaints anyway. The engines are outstanding. The diesels that accounted for the majority of sales have no problem shifting a two-tonne X5 around and still manage to turn in fuel economy that will keep you in the black. The xDrive35d can sprint to 60mph in a hot hatch rivalling 6.6s and return 34mpg on the combined cycle. It actually has more torque than the 4.8-litre V8 with a huge 580Nm. That's some engine and the xDrive30d isn't too far behind if you can't quite afford it.
BY STEVE WALKER
(approx. based on a 2007 X5 3.0si) A replacement clutch is around £150, while front brake pads weigh in around £50 and an alternator (exchange) roughly £250.
|OVERALL||7.2 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|