The desirable BMW X5 has received a tech, luxury and handling upgrade. And thermo cup holders, writes Declan Colley
It is always a little disconcerting when attending the launch of a new and decidedly expensive piece of automotive kit, that the engineers and designers rave about stuff built into the car which should be nothing other than a footnote to the overall package.
Thus when present at the launch of the new BMW X5 in the UK recently, it was a little disappointing to hear the BWM people not talking about engineering advances or design breakthroughs, but rather the cup-holder.
I mean, here we have not just a car that broke all the rules when it transformed the SUV genre from bulky, unwieldy behemoths into something that was actually car-like and nice to drive.
Indeed BMW’s achievement in doing just that was a key factor in transforming SUVs from being a niche market into one which dominates the whole automotive landscape.
And they’re banging on about the cup-holder? I mean, really...
The real news about this car is that it raises the X5 bar further, making it even more luxurious and grand than was previously the case. A whole lot more sophistication has been built into every aspect of the car — from the engines to the driving experience.
There has been much emphasis too put into the development of the X-Drive 4x4 system which was always considered to have been pretty ineffective when it came to taking the X5 away from its normal habitat of the leafy ‘burbs and into uncharted off-road territory.
Indeed, we were allowed to subject the car to a pretty challenging mud-plugging test during the course of the launch programme. Slithering the X5 around some of the Earl of March’s Goodwood estate high up on the Sussex Downs, one felt that not too many of the examples of the car were ever going to be challenged in this way, but you also had to be impressed with the manner in which it took to and overcame what tests were thrown at it.
It was largely sure-footed, even on really difficult terrain with only road tyres fitted. Clearly BMW has been stung by some of those voices that maintained it was only really good for driving on tarmac surfaces, such was the level of competence it showed on the rough stuff.
Naturally, however, it was on the road that the big Beemer displayed its real talents. Both in the impossibly talented M50d and the one that will be the big seller here in Ireland when the car gets here — the X-Drive 3.0d xLine — demonstrated an embellished level of the qualities which saw the X5 sell over 2.2 million units worldwide since we first saw it nearly 20 years ago.
The fourth generation of the car is bigger in almost every respect over that which it replaces. Each variant has also received a tech, luxury and handling upgrade. Standard kit now will include BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional, a system of two 12.3” screens, one of which replaces the traditional instrumentation in front of the driver, the other a centre-mounted touchscreen tied in with the new iDrive system.
The latter has come a long way since its first and terribly fiddly iteration and is now quite the thing to use and live with. You’ve got voice commands, hand gesture control and the steering wheel-mounted operational buttons to give you full management of all the stuff on offer. The whole thing is pretty impressive, it has to be said.
Out on the road in the 265 bhp three-litre straight-six turbodiesel version, where the engine is mated to an eight-speed auto ’box, the car will hum along very nicely indeed, thank you, and the standard air suspension provides great poise for such a big machine even on Sussex back-roads.
On standard 19” alloys (you can get 22” wheels on the M Performance models!) it will soak up anything the road surfaces have to offer without upsetting a hair on driver’s or passengers’ respective heads, and the X5 is supremely at ease in handling terms when you are utilising up to 75% of its performance capabilities. Over that, it gets a little more lairy.
Comparing this engine against that of the 400 bhp quad-turbo M50d was actually something of a surprise because there did not seem to be a vast performance difference between them — 6.5 seconds 0-100 kph as against 5.2 — given that there’s a 135 bhp horsepower gap between the two.
Driven over the same roads, I actually thought the supposedly lesser engine was the more tractable of the pair.
Given the near 30k price difference between them, I’d definitely plump for the entry-level car. It would appear that BMW feels most people will do, too.
We did not have nearly enough time to explore the complexities and technicalities of the new range, but what we saw was an enchanting glimpse of a car which has, over its three previous generations, led BMW to the top table of the SUV food chain.
And, taking in what we saw, this latest version of the X5 is bigger, better and more accomplished than anything that preceded it. That it also has so-called ‘thermo cup holders’ is certainly not the most significant thing about it.
The Cost: from €94,325
The Engines: three to choose from, but the 3.0d will be the seller
The Specification: sophistication taken to a new level
The Overall Verdict: terribly desirable