BMW X5 (2018-present)

The latest BMW X5 still drives and handles better than most of its rivals, but it’s less spacious and practical.

The fourth-generation X5 has a lot more competition than its original ancestor had when it arrived in 1999. Now it has to look in its wing mirrors at the Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, Volvo XC90, Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover all attempting to usurp its position as the premium 4x4 to be seen in.

Luckily, this latest iteration has upped its game to keep pace with the pack, with a new design and upgraded equipment, as well as engines with greater refinement than ever (which has traditionally been a BMW strength).

Overall, the new styling works well with, dare we say it, more than a hint of what has made the XC90 so popular: the X5 has more lines and creases than the more minimalist Volvo, but shape-wise there are distinct echoes. However, the effect is somewhat diminished by the very large interpretation of BMW’s kidney grille – too large, in our opinion. Carmakers like to make these statements in what they call their down-the-road graphics (DRG), so other owners can see immediately that a BMW is coming their way, but the X5 now steps over the border between bold and overly brash.

Thankfully, the interior is more tasteful, swathed as it is in leather and with high-quality trim materials (we particularly like the brushed aluminium on the centre console and dashboard surfaces) throughout. It's all very comfortable, from the very supportive sports seats up front to the rear bench, with lots of rear leg- and headroom. It’s perhaps not quite as spacious at the back as the XC90, Q7 or GLS, but it's certainly decent, thanks in part to a 42mm increase in the length of the wheelbase. There are also two optional third-row seats, making the X5 a seven-seater, but in common with all seven-seat SUVs, these seats are really only suitable for short trips or very young children. Our test car didn’t have the extra seats, but judging from the difference in rear space compared to its rivals, we can’t see how third-row room could be greater.

The technology in the X5 is more impressive, however. The 12.3-inch widescreen display is highly visible and easy to use, while the latest version of BMW’s iDrive system is more usable than ever: true, it does take some getting used to, and there are still way too many menus and sub-menus, but once you get used to it, it’s easier to navigate through.

There’s also lots of safety technology that will form the basis of automated driving in the next few years, such as an active cruise control function that can bring the car to a standstill in congested, stop-go traffic, then get it back up to speed when everything gets moving again, without the driver having to touch the brake or accelerator pedals. Other nifty features include evasion aid, which can help the car avoid collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians that suddenly appear in its path.

Where the X5 excels, compared to most of its rivals, is in the ride and handling department. The adaptive air suspension helps in this regard, as it soaks up any imperfections in the road surface when in Comfort mode, then lowers the car in Sport mode and keeps all the car’s mass in check when cornering. The X5 therefore feels taut and composed at all times, while the steering is pointy and accurate, and there’s plenty of grip to instil confidence in the driver. So while the Q7 and XC90 feel perfectly accomplished on the road, only the Cayenne feels better to drive.

BMW has wisely stripped back the range of engines on offer to just three, all of which are 3.0-litre units, with a petrol engine, a standard diesel and the high-performance M50d diesel.

The X5 certainly has some stiff competition in the large SUV class, but BMW has thrown everything at its latest car to try and keep it ahead of the pack – which it is in some areas (ride and handling, for example), but isn’t in others (space and practicality come to mind). As an overall package, though, there’s nothing to suggest that the X5 won’t continue to hold on to owners who have owned successive generations of the car, while at the same time winning new fans.

Last Updated 

Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 23:00

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