When it launched in 1999, as BMW’s reply to the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, the X5 was the brand’s first ever SUV, paving the way for what is today, an entire lineup of crossovers: the X1, X3, X5 and X6, plus the recently unveiled X4. But while the first-generation E53 X5 was about the size of the current X3, the second-generation E70 X5 that followed, was a major leap forwards in terms of size.
The same can’t be said about the third-generation F15 X5, which is only marginally longer (+29mm) and wider (+5mm) than its predecessor, while its roof sits 14mm lower and the wheelbase stays the same (2,933mm).
The X5 xDrive30d model offered to us by BMW Romania came in a classic five-seat configuration so we didn’t have the opportunity to see what the optionally available third-row seats are like.
Compared to the previous generation model, a few important things need to be mentioned, starting with the design that is an evolution of the previous model. The lowered height makes it look less bulky, but I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. To put it differently, my opinion is that the E70 X5 oozed a little more confidence than the current model. That’s not to say the F15 has a shy appearance. As if to confirm BMW’s latest ad campaign for the X5, most oncoming vehicles gave way to the X5 on narrow streets or in unmarked intersections.
The cabin is a big step forward
The interior is a much bigger step forward though: the quality of materials is clearly improved, with our model featuring, “Fineline Pure” textured wood trim on the dashboard, center tunnel and doors (a €501 option) and Dakota leather in Mocha color (€1,833). The car also had piano black wood on the dashboard, as well as brushed aluminum trim. Overall, the cabin felt luxurious and a really nice and comfortable place to be in.
The seats are comfortable, although I would have preferred a little more lateral support. The front seats were electrically-adjustable in height, tilt and lumbar support, but strangely, the fore and aft adjustment was manual.
The X5 offers plenty of interior space for five people and their luggage. There’s slightly more legroom in the back than before, but the boot profits the most from the added length of the car, boasting a capacity of 650 liters (22.9 cu-ft), 30 liters more than the previous model. With the rear seats folded flat, volume increases to a cavernous 1,870 liters (66 cu-ft), making it 120 liters larger than before. There’s even an additional partitioned compartment under the boot floor. As one would expect from an SUV, practicality is high, with the new X5 retaining the split tailgate, which provides an easy access to the loading area. There are plenty of storage spaces inside, with big bottle holders in each door, plus a surprisingly big closed compartment underneath the armrest.
From an ergonomic point of view, I can’t say the new X5 is a very user-friendly machine, as the driver needs a fairly long time to get used to the multiple controls, switches and menus of the car’s infotainment system. I would recommend drivers to take their time and operate the settings before driving away, as they can be distracting. Oh, and since I mentioned the word settings, there are a lot of them. From the color of the ambiance lighting, to driving modes, navigation and many more, almost everything in the X5 has different settings available. You can even set the opening height of the tailgate. I could have literally spent hours exploring all the different settings and options and even then, I’m not sure I could have exhausted all possibilities.
A technology cornucopia
This brings me to the toys in the X5 I tested, which were too many to mention here, so I’ll only talk about those I enjoyed the most. The color Head-Up Display system (a €1,180 option) is a really useful tool, as it allows the driver to keep the eyes on the road. It displays not only the speed, but also speed limits, directions from the navigation system, the status of the Active Cruise Control system and urgent warning signals. It’s not cheap, but it’s a useful thing to have and I hope all cars will have it as standard in the futures.
The Active Cruise Control with Stop&Go function is another option (€1,315) that one could expect to find in all cars of the future, as it makes highway driving much more relaxing. Another toy that I think is very useful is the backup camera (€356) combined with Surround View (€628) which makes parking the 4,886-mm long SUV a stress-free experience.
Finally, the Driving Assistant (€552) made its presence felt and slammed the brakes on when a reckless driver decided to turn left without signaling – for the record, I was already braking at that moment, but the system deemed my attempt too timid and decided to apply more braking force. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to have a car that can do that. The system also includes the camera-based Lane Departure Warning and Approach and Pedestrian Warning systems.
Engine and transmission: Best combo
The xDrive30d is the bread and butter model of the X5 range in Europe, and frankly, I don’t see why would anyone choose another engine for this car. The 255hp (258PS) 3.0-liter inline-six turbo diesel engine is a peach, and the 8-speed automatic gearbox does a great job to unlock its full potential. How does a manufacture-measured 0-100 km/h in 6.9 seconds sound? Certainly not bad for a 2,070 kg (4,563 lbs) car – it’s what a decent hot-hatch delivers these days. And it doesn’t feel bad from inside either. The power delivery is almost instant, as 560 Nm (413 lb-ft) of torque are available between 1,500 and 3,000 rpm. Furthermore, the engine at high revs sounds more like a gasoline engine than a diesel.
Then there’s the transmission, the 8-speed auto from ZF. When in Eco Pro mode, it does a great job of striking a balance between fuel economy and performance. I managed to get the board computer to show a fuel consumption as low as 10.2 l/100 km in urban traffic (23 mpg US or 23.1 mpg UK), which I believe is not bad, even though it’s quite far from the official 7 l/100 km (33.6 mpg US or 40.3 mpg UK) fuel consumption for the city. In extra-urban driving fuel consumption dropped as low as 8 l/100 km (29.4 mpg US or 35.3 mpg UK) in Eco Pro mode. By the way, driving the X5 in the city was an almost stress-free experience, thanks to the car’s parking and proximity sensors and its array of active safety systems.
The best handling SUV?
As far as driving modes are concerned, I preferred to use Comfort the most for the approximately 600 kilometers (373 miles) covered equally on city and country roads. As its name says, it offered the most comfortable and refined ride, something that people want in a luxury SUV, while not short shifting as the gearbox does in Eco Pro.
You also have the Sport and Sport+ modes, which sharpen the throttle response, make the suspension firmer and change gears near the rev limit. I had the chance to play a little with Sport+ on twisty mountain roads and I have to say that I was impressed by the X5’s road holding capabilities. The traction is superb and the car doesn’t seem to be aware of its mass. Sure, there is body roll, but not as much as one would expect from an SUV of this size. It really sticks to the road and I dare say it even feels nimble in corners, with the army of safety systems making that possible. It’s only under braking that you realize you drive a 2-ton vehicle. I haven’t yet driven the latest Porsche Cayenne, but I suspect that’s the only SUV that could be better on-road.
However, handling is somewhat penalized by the vague feel provided by the new electrically-assisted steering. The steering wheel feels slightly disconnected from the front wheels, especially in the first moments after turning the wheel left or right. The brakes, on the other hand, are a different story. They have a progressive feel, but press the pedal hard enough in case of an emergency and they will try to rip your head off. They do a great job of bringing the 2-ton behemoth to a standstill.
All these come at a price…
Now let’s talk numbers for a little bit. You may have noticed many of the toys I mentioned above were optional extras. As a matter of fact, the car we tested had a base price of €51,100. However, it also had €24,586-worth of extras, bringing the actual price of the car to €75,686 (€93,851 with 24 percent VAT/TAX). To be honest, I had no idea a BMW X5 xDrive30d could cost that much…but then again, that’s what German premium carmakers do best.
The way I see it, the alternatives for the BMW X5 xDrive30d can only be the Mercedes-Benz ML 350 BlueTec 4Matic, the Porsche Cayenne Diesel and the Range Rover Sport TDV6. The Mercedes and the Range Rover are cheaper (at €48,450 and €50,900, respectively), with the Porsche starting at €53,562. While I know very few luxury SUV customers will take them off-road, it’s good to know they can handle unpaved roads if necessary. The Mercedes and the BMW have reasonable off-road abilities, but the Porsche and the Range Rover are clearly superior from this point of view. In the end, the choice is subjective, but one thing is certain: the third-generation BMW X5 has always been an SUV for the road and in that respect it’s hard to find any flaws to it.
Note: All prices are available for the Romanian market and do not include 24 percent VAT
Thumbs Up: Superb engine and transmission, great handling capabilities, comfortable and refined ride, an array of gadgets
Thumbs Down: Expensive optional extras, basic off-road capabilities, steering feel
A second opinion on the X5 xDrive30d
BMW is lying to us; the X5 is not at all what people usually call it – an SUV. It’s not even what BMW themselves call it (SAV – Sports Activity Vehicle), but rather a big comfy estate car for people with a height complex. Having driven the very latest incarnation, the very rounded-looking F15, with most of the important bells and whistles specified, it’s not hard to understand where its appeal stems from.
Its main qualities are the supremely comfortable ride, at least on the example that we tested, fitted with 18-inch rims rolling on tall winter tires, the plush interior that is hard to fault for functionality and quality, the excellent road holding – I’d even call it confidence inspiring, only let down by the dead electric steering.
On the side of the negatives, the first thing would be exterior styling and design, which to me looks like a step back and not as attractive and planted a shape as the now-defunct E70 model. Personally, I wasn’t so taken about the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox as I didn’t find it sharp enough, though, it’s not by any means bad; the straight-six diesel is a peach and it helps the overall impression too.
It’s definitely recommendable if you want a high-riding vehicle, as it sits close to the top of its class and is very capable, but why not look at an actual estate first, before you go out and get an X5, and see if you could live without the extra ground clearance and interior height advantage? If you want something in between with a BMW badge, why not try a 5-Series GT?
By Andrei Nedelea
Images Copyright Carscoops.com / Dan Mihalascu