Sales figures can tell an interesting story - in Australia, it says the BMW X5 is king of the German brand's SUV brigade. It outsells the smaller and cheaper X3 models and comprehensively pulverises the X6. The X5 this year is second only to the 3 Series for the company's sales. The reason? It's the most versatile and talented of the BMW crossovers.
At $113,300 it's not likely to shade the Mazda3 for value and volume - in fact the Mazda3 sold more in a month than the X5 has so far this year - but it's versatility and features list are not out of proportion to the price.
The 40d (fitted with a no-cost-option M Sport package) gets sports-tuned suspension, electrically-adjustable front sport seats, 20in light-alloy wheels, a sports leather steering wheel. There's also cruise control with braking function, front and rear parking sensors, a rear view camera with top view, power-adjustable, heated, folding and auto-dimming rearvision mirrors (inside and out) that will also dip to show the rear wheel when parallele parking.
There are also puddle lights on the door handles, automatic headlights, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, 60/40 splitfold rear seats, keyless start/stop button, power windows, an infotainment system that includes hi-res 3D satnav, an 80gb hard-drive for music and map storage, Bluetooth link for phone and audio, and a USB and 3.5mm audio jack.
The test car also had the optional (for $8000) Innovations Package fitted, which adds an automatic tailgate, rear and side camera "Top View" system, bi-xenon headlights with washer-jets and auto-dipping high-beam, head-up display and a whopper glass sunroof. Internet access is also on the options list for $200, but you'll need a co-operative phone to get it - as tested it's a $122,900 machine.
The heart of this big wagon is the three-litre all-aluminium straight-six cylinder turbodiesel, fed by common-rail high-pressure direct-injection and two - one small, the other large - turbochargers. The pair work together - the smaller one starts proceedings and the larger one kicks in later on - to produce 225kW and 600Nm, the former arriving at 4400rpm and the latter on offer between 1500 and 2500rpm, while 450Nm is being generated at 1000rpm.
The acceleration provided for the 2.5 tonne wagon is 6.6 seconds to 100km/h, yet it also claims 7.5 litres per 100km; the particle-filtered diesel is hooked up to an eight-speed automatic and delivers drive to all four wheels as required.
BMW's all-wheel drive system runs 60 per cent rear and 40 per cent front, although it varies according to the conditions. The big Beemer also boasts brake energy regeneration and a cruise control system with braking function, which holds a speed better than some radar-controlled cruise control systems.
The test car also had the optional lane departure warning system, which operates above 70km/h and sends a vibration through the wheel if wandering is detected.
Hardly a work of art, the big, bold SUV is a handsome machine, much better looking to the author's eyes than the rest of the SUVs in BMW's range and a couple of the passenger cars as well. Bulges around the wheelarches, big front air intakes and the headlights that give you the evil-eye, it all adds up to a brutish exterior.
The cabin has typically-German functionality, with illuminated storage, a big infotainment screen and the flight-controller style joystick standing in for a conventional gearshifter. There's plenty of room, with the rear passengers benefiting from the deeply scalloped seatbacks to get every millimetre of available knee room.
The 620-litre boot (which expands to 1750 litres with the seats folded) has clever tie-down rings and some sub-floor storage (around the temporary spare).
Wearing a five-star crash test rating, the X5 gets dual front, side and curtain airbags, active front headrests, four-wheel ventilated discs brakes with anti-lock function, stability control (including corner-braking, hill-descent and roll-over systems), with the subtle and clever all-wheel drive system operating quietly in the background.
There are five lap-sash seat belts, a tyre run-flat indicator and an emergency spare wheel, which is replaced by a "mobility kit" if the third row of seats are selected from the options list.
Given that these things rarely get muddy, sandy or dusty, it's no surprise the Beemer crossover doesn't have much of a leaning towards off-road ability. In fact, it doesn't lean at all - the body control for such a tall piece
of equipment is exceptional. The M Sport package sport suspension endows this German wagon with handling prowess that belies its height.
Sharp turn-in from the steering and precious little complaint from the low-profile runflats means a brisk pace can be maintained in the bends, and the solid shove from the twin-turbo diesel means exits are rapid. The clever all-wheel drive system apportions the considerable amounts of drive as required - although the clever rear diff from the X6 to fire drive left and right across the rear axle would be nice as well.
Turning off all the electronic nursemaids (on sealed or unsealed roads) doesn't unmask any chassis issues, as the AWD keeps it tidy - it's a remarkably capable for an SUV, as long as you steer clear of "off-roading." The payoff comes in ride quality and BMW says there's no scope to drop the M Sport no-cost option. While bumps in bends are adeptly dealt with, cruising or commuting can be hard yakka if the road crews have been absent.
The twin-turbodiesel is quiet and its outputs - 225kW and 600Nm - and fuel economy (a claimed 7.5l/100km) are all outstanding. Gentle throttle pressure is all that's required for solid forward progress, but push a bit harder and the delivery between 2500 to 4500 is considerable - flat to the firewall and it will hit 100 in 6.6 seconds - nearly hot-hatch territory.
The ZF eight-speed automatic is another clever transmission from that company - its shifts are almost imperceptible, which is a good thing as it seems to want to swap cogs too often, a legacy of too many choices?
There's plenty to like about the infotainment system, with USB and Bluetooth link, satnav and phone access, but the system decided at least four times to shut down and re-start while driving - which isn't really up to scratch for a car in this price bracket.
Boot space of 620 litres - with adjustable tie-down points - is useful, with more on offer by folding the back seats (which have a 40:60 splitfold function); maximum storage space is listed as 1750 litres.
There is much to like about this SUV - space, features, frugality, drivetrain brute force, handling and presence - but the brittle ride and its spare tyre would make it tough to live with on a daily basis.
Dropping back to an 18in or 19in wheel with more sidewall profile and losing the sports tuned suspension wouldn't hurt (the dynamics are still good on the cooking models). But in this guise a solid package is let down by the ride.
BMW X5 40d
Price: from $113,300
Warranty: 3 years, unlimited km
Resale: 60% Source: Glass's Guide
Service Interval: condition-based
Economy: 7.5l/100km, on test , tank 85 l; 198g/km CO2
Safety: Equipment six airbags, ABS, EBD, stability and traction control. Crash rating 5 star
Engine: 225kW/600Nm 3-litre DOHC 24-valve twin-turbodiesel six-cylinder
Transmission: 8-speed auto
Body: 5-door, 5 seats
Dimensions: 4857mm (L); 1933mm (W); 1776mm (H); 2933mm (WB), ground clearance 170mm, towing 750kg unbraked, 2700kg braked (270kg ball download)
Tyre size: 255/50 fr, 285/45 rr R19. Spare tyre: Space saver
Mercedes-Benz ML 350 CDI- compare this car
Price: from $92,425
Engine: 3-litre, V6 turbodiesel, 170kW/540Nm
Transmission: 7-speed automated manual, four-wheel drive
Body: 5-door wagon
Thirst: 9.5L/100km, CO2 249g/km
Audi Q7 3.0 TSFI- compare this car
Price: from $90,500
Engine: 3-litre, V6 turbodiesel, 176kW/550Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic four-wheel drive
Body: 5-door wagon
Thirst: 9.1L/100km, CO2 239g/km
Range Rover Sport TDV6- compare this car
Engine: 3-litre, V6 twin-turbodiesel, 180kW/600Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body: 5-door wagon
Thirst: 9.2L/100km, CO2 243g/km