BMW’s original SUV is bigger, bolder and brimming with tech. It’s coming to India in Q2 2019. Here’s everything you need to know.
What we have here is the latest version of BMW’s original SUV – the X5!
Well, you and I say ‘SUV,’ BMW has actually always referred to the X5 as an SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) – presumably because where it broke new ground when it was first launched was in regards to the fact that it brought car-like driving dynamics into the SUV-fold rather than newfound ‘utility.’
That notwithstanding, two decades ago, when BMW was first developing the X5 there’s no way that they could ever have imagined how important this model would become for the Bavarian manufacturer. Not only have they sold 2.2 million units of the X5s since its launch in 1999, but it’s also spawned a full range of SUVs that now extend all the way from the X1 to the uber-luxurious X7 (which is in its final stages of development) – with the X2 (which isn’t available in India) to the X3 and X4 (which will be launched in India in early 2019) that slot in between. Not to forget the X6 of course.
For my money, the X5 was always the perfect daily driver in our conditions. It was genuinely fun from behind the wheel, while having just enough ride height and utility to tackle anything that our roads threw at it. Plus, the drivetrain – the 3.0-litre in-line-six turbo-diesel mated to the ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox – was absolutely sublime. So, I approached this all-new fourth generation model with excitement and trepidation in equal measure – excitement to see just what they’ve improved, and by how much, and trepidation because there’s always a chance of ruining a good thing while tweaking it. After all, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But the X5 was beginning to appear dated compared to the competition, so BMW raced to redevelop it.
And, in this case, they’ve done more than just tweak it. This fourth-generation machine is all-new, and it’s no longer just evolutionary. If you look at it in front of its predecessors, the first thing you notice is its meaty, imposing stance – and especially the massive single-frame double kidney grille that looks as though it could swallow anything in its path. All manufacturers are attempting to make their machine appear more distinctive and imposing, and BMW has truly achieved this with the new X5. In profile too, it’s sharper and more crisp, with its squared-off wheel arches and distinct shoulder line that curves into the rear door handle. At the back, it looks a lot like the 7 Series, which is to say it looks quite good – modern and contemporary, sporty even with its big twin exhausts.
Heated & cooled cup holders, if you please
On the inside too, it’s cleaner and more modern – minimalist almost. You sit facing two 12.3-inch screens. Directly ahead of the driver is a brand new fully digital instrument cluster, and sitting on top of the dash is a large iDrive screen of similar size. To add a bit of bling to the cabin, BMW has crafted the gear lever and a few other bits out of crystal. The gear lever has an X under the glass, which multiplies depending on your vantage point thanks to the shape of the crystal. Honestly, though, to me it looks a little out of place in what is otherwise a very modern and luxurious cabin. The cabin of our test car was all-black, but I’m sure that the India-spec car will offer more colour options. What really strikes you about the cabin is just how comfortable the seats have become. The heated and cooled front seats also offer a massaging function, while the cup holders can be heated and cooled as well – so that your beverage always stays the right temperature. There’s wireless charging of course, and the iDrive is easier to use. To change the radio station, for instance, you can choose between any number of ways – you could ask politely through the voice command system, you could flail your arm about to use the gesture control system, or you could be more discreet and just use the buttons on the steering, the iDrive knob between the seats or the buttons on the centre console. Let’s just say you won’t be left wanting for options.
Now, typically, I like a set of clear analogue gauges – something that BMW did better than everybody else. And while Audi’s Virtual Cockpit – that’s how they refer to their digital instrument cluster – has always been very well executed, I’ve never really been a fan of BMW’s interface. Until now! Visually, it’s very aircraft-esque, and it works quite well. The speed and rpm readouts are at the two ends, which frees up the space in between for a host of other information – including the navigation information, which is also displayed in the now expanded head-up display.
Bigger & taller, but no extra legroom
Overall, the X5 has grown quite a bit from its predecessor. It’s 66mm wider, 19mm taller and 36mm longer. The wheelbase is up by 42mm. But, while the rear seat is more comfortable, the surprising thing is that rear legroom has stayed largely the same – which will certainly be a liability in our market. You do get the option of a third-row of seats, which by themselves are actually quite usable, but when deployed they further eat into the legroom in the second row. From the driver’s seat, meanwhile, you get a more commanding driving position, as you can sit higher up than before. On the whole, you do get a sense of the increased proportions of this machine.
But, the all-important question is this – does it still feel as chuckable and athletic as the previous generation? The drivetrain remains largely the same, which is a good thing. In the West, it comes with ammonia injection to meet Euro 6 norms – so you have a separate AdBlue filler right next to the fuel filler. It has a capacity of about 20-litres, which lasts up to 50,000 kilometres, so you don’t have to worry about filling it up in a hurry. The 3.0-litre in-line-six turbo-diesel produces 261bhp and 620Nm of torque, which allows the X5 to accelerate to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds. So, on paper, the performance remains virtually the same as before. On the road, though, while the turbo lag is certainly less pronounced, and the power delivery more linear, it appears to have lost that shove-in-the-back acceleration that was so enjoyable in the previous gen. They’ve certainly made it smoother and more refined, but in doing so it feels less urgent. While it is distinctly larger, the new X5 weighs virtually the same as before, thanks to the increased use of aluminium and high-strength steel. The transmission, meanwhile, is just as smooth as it ever was.
What has changed is the way the X5 behaves in the different driving modes. Previously, the difference between Comfort and Sport wasn’t as pronounced as it is now. In the last generation, engaging Sport meant that it would rev a little higher and hold a lower gear for longer, but now there’s a distinct difference in the behaviour of the machine in the two modes – let’s just say it’s now noticeably more urgent in Sport. This is true for both the 30d and the 40i – which has a 3.0-litre in-line-six turbo-petrol that produces 340bhp and 450Nm, enabling it to accelerate to 100km/h in just 5.5. seconds. The 40i will also come to India next year. And while the 40i is considerably more free-revving and sounds absolutely fantastic in the upper reaches of the rev range, the diesel appears to run out of steam as it approaches the redline. And while the exhaust sounds far sportier than before, frankly, I could do without the booming exhaust note. The M-Sport pack, as fitted on our test car, comes with an additional speaker under the seats that beefs up the exhaust note when you engage Sport. Frankly, seeing as this is an SUV, and not a sports car, this feature is something that I could certainly do without.
Rather clever machine
That said, mechanically, this is one very clever machine – especially our test car, which was fitted with all the goodies. Air suspension at both axels is finally available in the X5, and this means that the ride is absolutely unflappable no matter what the terrain or driving conditions. Even if you don’t opt for air suspension (and in India it isn’t recommended, because the failure rate can be quite high thanks to our high dust conditions), electrically adjustable dampers are standard. Our test car was also fitted with integral active steering, which is essentially four-wheel steering. At slow speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction of the front wheels, which makes the car much more manoeuvrable, while, at high speeds, the rear wheels turn in the direction of travel – making the car more stable while powering through corners at high speed. With the M-Sport or Off-Road package, you also get an active locking e-differential at the rear that ensures you can always power out of corners. You also get electric active roll stabilisation that works through a pair of very clever anti-roll bars that have electric motors built into them that can dynamically stiffen each anti-roll bar individually (in as little as 10 milliseconds) to ensure that you always get maximum grip. Combine all these electronic goodies with the massive 275/40 R21 tyres on our test car, and let’s just say that grip was simply never an issue – even at crazy speeds through tight bends in greasy conditions. So-much-so that even the DSC system doesn’t have to kick in to keep you on the straight and narrow.
So, it’s hugely capable, but what you notice from behind the wheel is that it feels a lot softer and more compliant than before. Put it in Sport mode, though, and things sharpen up considerably, but it still doesn’t feel as engaging as before. You can go faster through a corner no doubt, but it’s doesn’t goad you into doing so like it did previously. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hugely capable, and BMW has a knack of making large cars feel small and lithe – in a way that you can’t believe – and the X5 is no different. It’s just that it no longer feels like a hot-hatch when you throw it around. Of course, this is a very capable luxury SUV. If you want a hot hatch, look elsewhere. If you want a dynamically capable SUV, you’ve still come to the right place.
The biggest difference, though, is the off-road capability that this new model has gained in its transformation. For the first time, an X5 comes with multiple off-road modes – sand, snow, gravel and rocks – and they really work. BMW had set up a course on a private estate, where we could properly test its off-road capabilities – and, boy, was it a revelation. As soon as you select ‘X-Rocks,’ the ride height increases automatically by 40mm. The standard ride height is 214mm. We were on a very tight course, with some sharp inclines and descents, as well as a few large rocks, and the approach, ramp-over and departure-angles were more than sufficient in each instance with the increased ride height. There are any number of cameras that can help you navigate a tight off-road trail as well, including a 360-degree view in the off-road mode. It also tells you angles of roll and pitch, so you know exactly how brave you’re being. But the X5 makes off-roading so effortless – especially since the ride is so compliant – that you don’t feel very brave at all, even when you’re really powering through the rough stuff. The hill descent control ensures that all you have to do is steer when you’re descending even the steepest slope. Let’s just say that BMW is certainly stepping on Land Rover’s toes with the new X5. This is now a formidable off-roader.
So, there you have it – more imposing, more comfortable, grippier on-road and far more capable off it. What more could you ask for? Well, a little more legroom in the rear seat perhaps. But, other than that, objectively, I can’t find anything else to fault in the new X5. Expect its India-launch in Q2 of next year. Before then, look out for the launch of the X4 and we’ll also bring you a first look at the X5’s soon-to-be-revealed bigger brother – the X7. Stay tuned…
- 2019 BMW X5 xDrive30d
Engine: 2,993cc / 6 Cylinders / 24 Valves / Turbocharged / Common-Rail Direct Injection
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / All-Wheel Drive
Power: 261bhp @ 4,000rpm
Torque: 620Nm @ 2,000-2,500rpm
Acceleration: 0-100km/h – 6.5 seconds
X-Factor: Bigger, smarter, faster, and now also off-road capable.