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BMW X5 2014 review

When BMW's first X5 was released to a mildly shocked public way back in 1999, it was highly unlikely that even BMW thought it would be so successful. It snatched a huge number of sales from the tarted-up-commercial-vehicle brigade and helped shape a new category of car, the luxury SUV.

Now in its third generation, the X5 is an important car for BMW. In Australia, partially thanks to a tax and duty regime friendly to SUVs, its sales figures are bettered only by the 3 Series.

The new X5 doesn't look significantly different to the old one, but it is a substantially new car with a huge number of gadgets and a dizzying range of models and options.

Weight and fuel consumption are down, it has a new interior and a lot of new gear. Is it still a BMW or a safe re-issue of its rivals?

Value

If we were to explain every option and combination, you'd have enough time to collect enough aluminium cans to pay for your chosen X5. The options list is long, on top of a reasonably generous basic equipment list, with many interior and exterior options. So we're going to go with the highlights.

The third-generation X5 will be a big-seller in Australia, the big SUV dramatically out-selling the 5 Series sedan. The range starts with the sDrive (that's BMW-speak for two-wheel drive) 25d at $82,900, rising to $87,900 for the same engine but all-wheel drive x25d.

Next up the rung is the xDrive 30d 3.0 litre turbodiesel, starting at $99,900, the 40d at $115,900. The top of the ladder is the (some say blasphemous) M-fettled M50d at $147,900.

The petrol xDrive 35i 3.0 litre petrol kicks off at $106,900 with the 4.4l V8 50i finishing the petrol range at $133,900.

All X5s sport the eight-speed automatic, with M Sport-equipped cars getting paddle shifters and a slightly different shifter.

There are two exterior lines available - Pure Excellence and Pure Experience. Pure Experience is the default option, but you can select Excellence should you prefer a slightly less blingy look.

Design

Whether in M Sport, Excellence or Experience exterior trim levels, the X5 is unmistakable. Not just as a BMW, but as an X5. The styling has gently evolved, with the car lowering and widening its visual stance while maintaining its iconic profile. As with the second-gen car, it's an improvement on the last, with a less gawky appearance. In fact, the gawk has been banished almost completely.

The front bumper has an imaginary X motif bordered by lights and bumper shaping and the rear lights are the now familiar L shape, again widened slightly to make the car look lower. By German SUV standards, though, it's not a big car and is totally outgunned by the Mercedes and Audi equivalents for exterior chintz.

Inside is a big, light, airy cabin, especially if you open the sunroof (if it's fitted). There's a ton of room up front while the second row is comparable with the 5 Series. Third row passengers will find it a very tight squeeze, but the chairs are comfortable enough for short trips.

The boot is larger than the old, but is still not fooling anyone into thinking it's big - it's good, but no class leader.

Technology

Being a BMW, even the base models are bristling with all sorts of gadgets.

The six cylinder turbo diesel in its three guises is a super-strong engine. The basic 3.0d puts out 190kW and 560Nm. The 40d is still the same basic engine, but with 230kW and a formidable 630Nm. The M50d adds two turbos (taking the count to three), with an astonishing 280kW and Atlas-rocket like 740Nm.

The petrol V8 we drove, the 50i, is BMW's venerable twin-turbo 4.4l V8 punching out a super-smooth 330kW and 650Nm of torque.

Both petrol and diesel engines have fat, flat torque curves from low revs, obviously much lower in the diesel.

New technology highlights (and there are many) include a new torque vectoring rear differential, which is fitted as standard to the M50d. This diff means that the traction and stability control systems are far less reliant on the brakes, re-distributing power rather than simply braking the spinning wheel.

As part of an array of option packs, the X5 can be specced with lane departure warning, pedestrian and collision warning which features automatic braking at speeds up to 60km/h. The active cruise control feature works at up to 210km/h (!) and will brake the X5 to a standstill.

The huge screen atop the dashboard, which is similar to the fixed screen of the new 3 Series features lots of toys including vehicle angle, torque distribution and a variety of screens to keep your passengers amused and/or terrified.

There are, of course, airbags everywhere to add to the active safety tech, with the predictable 5 star ANCAP rating.

Driving

None of these is a duffer and each has its own distinct character. It's a complex range, with different suspension, engine, suspension and wheel/tyre combinations.

The V8 50i rides on gigantic 315 tyres and coupled with the adaptive suspension pack is a formidable road warrior. Pin the throttle to the firewall and with just the slightest lift of the nose, it will streak to 100km/h in five seconds dead. When you're not doing that, the claimed fuel consumption of 10.5l/100km is rather optimistic, but you won't see the 23.9l/100km we got unless you are absolutely belting it.

In many ways, the xdrive30d, the entry level all-wheel drive diesel, is the pick of the range. With a judicious addition of the M Sport package, the 30d is a cracker of a car on and (moderately) off-road. In the loose gravel of the test loop, the 30d was better able to change direction and was less prone to a bit of a shake over the washboard surface we occasionally encountered.

There's plenty in this model to keep you entertained, but the driving experience is certainly not lacking. The 0-100km/h time of 6.9 seconds is not mucking around either, given the first gen X5's diesel couldn't even crack 10 seconds.

Up-spec to the top of the range, the M50d and you have a seriously quick but easy-on-the-fuel weapon. Shod with the same 315s as the V8, but this time from Pirelli rather than Dunlop, the P-Zeros make the triple-turbo a grippy tarmac tearer.

The xDrive never betrays the strain of the engine outputs, flinging the car down the road in 5.3 seconds, slightly slower than the 50i. You can select between different driving modes and these actually make a difference, particularly in the M Sport-equipped cars, but none of them will make this a really serious off-road challenger.

From the road-biased tyres, to a reasonably low ride height, BMW has sacrificed mud-plugging for on-road poise. The only real let-down is the sometimes-remote, too-light steering which isn't always welcome in such a big car.

All of them are quiet and comfortable, but the V8 and M50d cars with their huge tyres did get a little noisy on the coarse chip roads.

Verdict

In a way, it's business-as-usual for the X5. It's a big, fast, luxury SUV that will be a smash-hit with its existing fans and will no doubt pinch a few new customers along the way. It's an excellent all-rounder as long as you don't want to go wading up to your windowline in boulders, mud or water.

The 3.0 litre diesel xDrive 30d is terrific car, and the standout for all-round value and performance. It hits a lot of marks and is quite likely to be the best seller, and with good reason.

What is impressive about the range is its long list of talents that keeps getting longer as you work your way up the range. We didn't get a go in any of the sDrive variants, so we had to settle for the 30d, 50i and M50d. All are terrific cars, with no serious flaws and close-to-perfect on-road manners.

The new X5 may not look that much different to the old one, but it builds on the badge's considerable reputation and delivering a lighter and faster range.

These are not my kind of cars but I had a lot more fun than I was expecting, with the 30d with M Sport coming very close to my soft SUV favourite, the SQ5. The M50d and 50i blow right past it (but are much more expensive).

If I had to have a big SUV, the X5 would be it. It's that good.

Pricing Guides

$50,990
Based on 235 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$35,980
Highest Price
$79,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
M50d 3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $55,999 – 79,990 2014 BMW X5 2014 M50d Pricing and Specs
sDrive 25d 2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $38,888 – 54,990 2014 BMW X5 2014 sDrive 25d Pricing and Specs
xDRIVE 25d 2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $40,990 – 47,990 2014 BMW X5 2014 xDRIVE 25d Pricing and Specs
xDrive 30d 3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $35,980 – 64,900 2014 BMW X5 2014 xDrive 30d Pricing and Specs
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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