26 Nov 2018

BMW X5 2018 first drive review

Luxury fourth-gen SUV impresses on first impression
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Towering over large sedans, the sales success of big SUVs make this one of the most important new models for BMW.

Sure, the brand recently introduced new versions of its flagship 7-Series limousine and 5-Series executive sedan. But unless you’re a hire car driver or highway patrolman, chances are the X5 is the large BMW on your radar. This is the one people buy. 

And an increasingly diverse range should help the X5 appeal to a broader range of buyers than before.

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Overview

The new X5 is currently available in three forms representing one petrol option and a choice of two diesel engines. 

Petrol fans can pick the X5 40i, which brings a turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine with 250kW and 450Nm outputs for $115,990 plus on-roads. 

The diesel-sipping X5 30d is a little cheaper at  $112,990 plus on-roads, employing a turbocharged 3.0-litre engine to serve up 195kW and 620Nm of grunt, while the range-topping X5 M50d brings a thumping 294kW and 760Nm for $149,900 plus on-roads.

Every X5 drives all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. 

More models are on the way - expect a plug-in hybrid variant for the green crowd, a V8-powered X5M for performance enthusiasts and a more modest two-wheel-drive version for buyers on a budget. 

Built in Spartanburg, the most German-sounding city in South Carolina, the X5 feels like a premium machine. Our test examples were rattle-free on the road, with tight panel gaps and premium materials throughout. 

What do you get?

Standard kit is a strong point for the X5, which is loaded up with a generous level of gear including 20-inch wheels, a powered tailgate, panoramic sunroof, head-up display and a full suite of driver aids including stop-and-go traffic jam assistance and steering assistance BMW classifies as level two autonomous driving technology. The latter is made possible by seven cameras, five radars and 12 ultrasonic sensors placed around the vehicle, and can be augmented with night vision technology if you need a tech suite to rival modern fighter jets. 

As ever, there are myriad options and enhancement packs which take the car to a new level.

Fitted as standard with five seats, the X5 can be ordered as a seven-seater in combination with air suspension for around $7500. The brand offers a choice of five suspension settings starting with conventional springs with electronic dampers. Performance setups tuned by BMW’s M Division include the option of rear-wheel steering, active anti-roll bars and a torque-vectoring rear differential for keen drivers. 

Two-axle air suspension (replacing air combustion’s mounted only on the rear) brings a more comfortable ride, while BMW’s new xOffroad package builds on that with improved ground clearance, underbody armour, reprogrammed software and more. 

Capable of varying its ride height by 80mm, the new off-road pack lines up as a terrain-conquering alternative to the Range Rover Sport. 

There are 11 alloy wheel styles, eight exterior colours, seven interior trim options and nine leather colour schemes, along with a choice of xLine or M Sport exterior styling packs.

BMW offered drives of the diesel duo during its product launch in Tasmania, so we’ll focus on those. 

What's the interior like?

Longer, taller and significantly wider than its predecessor, the new X5 makes a strong impression on the road. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - a huge part of SUV appeal stems from a higher entry and exit point, along with a commanding view of the road ahead. You don’t have to make ergonomic compromises in the X5, which comfortably accommodates drivers of a range of shapes and sizes.

That big body translates to an impressive boot home to 650 litres of cargo space. Drop the three-way split/fold seats and you have 1870 litres to play with - not bad at all. Fit BMW’s tow bar kit and you can tow up to 3.5 tonnes - something it promises to do with more panache than dual-cab utes.

Inside, twin customisable 12.3-inch widescreen displays bring modern functionality backed by clever touches such as ambient lighting that flashes when you receive a phone call and pulses red to show you if a door is left open. 

An optional Bowers and Wilkins stereo with illuminated speakers look ace, as does a crisp, high-high-resolution head-up display system which integrates beautifully with other readouts.

BMW has updated its gesture control system to recognise new hand signals, such as making a fist, but we’re not overly impressed by a gimmick that requires you to be within a few centimetres of the air conditioning or radio controls in order to manipulate them.

Drivers with a modern Samsung Galaxy or Android phone can use their handset as a key capable of locking, unlocking and starting the car - you can even send a temporary “digital key” to someone who needs to borrow the car, and set specific driving rights for various users.

Wireless charging is on the menu, as are four USB points including USB-C fast-charging outlets as opposed to the standard rectangular charge points most people are familiar with. 

The X5 is a comfortable, beautifully-finished machine that makes you want to drive all day. Customers can choose between a well-bolstered sports seat or a more accommodating comfort chair with a greater ranger of adjustment.

Drivers who want one with the lot can pick a $9500 indulgence package bringing front and rear seat heating with ventilation and massage functions for the front occupants, extended Merino leather trim, soft-close doors, heated and cooled cup holders and “crafted clarity” cut-glass ornamentation for the gear selector, volume knob, starter button and multimedia controls.

What's it like to drive?

The crazy tech here is a new parking system with what BMW describes as a “reversing assistant”. Like many models, the new X5 can spot an opening and parallel park for you. But unlike other cars, the X5 offers the ability to replay your last bit of forward driving, while in reverse.

Imagine you take a wrong turn down a narrow alley and have to reverse back onto the road - with the simple press of a button, the X5 will mirror your steering inputs while travelling backwards, following the same path for the last 50 metres of forward travel. It’s tech that should be welcomed by people with complex parking arrangements or less-than-confident drivers, and something you won’t see on rival machines.

Our day with the X5 afforded opportunities to test two 3.0-litre turbo diesel machines.

The entry-level X5 30d is all the car you need. It’s a smooth and quiet performer, with reasonable fuel efficiency and adequate punch from 195kW and 620Nm outputs.

Genuinely flexible, with torque on tap from low in the rev range, the X5 30d brings effortless performance while hustling a two-tonne body down the road with ease.

BMW says the engine is good for a 6.5-second dash to 100km/h.

If you need more, the X5 M50d is the answer.

A thoroughly reworked example of the standard car’s engine, the 50d features four turbochargers split into pairs - two compact units feeding large variable-geometry turbines in a sequential layout with complex pipework allowing the car to choose which compressors to employ, and when.

The result is a diesel-drinking 2.2-tonne SUV capable of reaching 100km.h in 5.2 seconds. That’s properly quick for a car of this size - quick enough to hassle hot hatches or junior sports cars in a straight line. 

Quick enough to make in-gear acceleration the best part of your morning, surfing on the sort of torque wave 294KW and 760Nm totals can offer. 

Quick enough to rival Porsche’s twin-turbocharged, petrol-powered Cayenne S wagon.

Just as smooth as the 30d, but a little louder, the X5 M50d represents the best kind of overkill. This motor is a completely unnecessary indulgence in the oldest traditions of high-powered performance cars, an engine that you choose simply because you want to, and you can.

Though it makes little sense, the big dog is the one we want to take home.

BMW’s SUV offers a greater degree of connection between car and driver than we’ve experienced in most cars of this type. Excellent control weightings bring predictable responses, making the big unit feel natural and comfortable in a variety of conditions.

The M50d is a cracker, with oodles of grunt backed by prodigious grip from enormous Pirelli tyres.

Coupled with the top-spec suspension and active diff, the combination is capable of inducing mild oversteer when exiting corners, bringing a touch of performance car dynamics to the family SUV.

Back in the real world, the X5 family feels taut and composed when cornering. The first X5 30d we tested featured a rather undesirable combination of steel suspension with low-profile 22-inch wheels which made for a nervous, busy ride on Tasmanian roads. Another example with smaller rims and air suspension was a much better bet, soaking up bumps with a good degree of compliance, though we suspect this machine won’t be a class leader for ride comfort.

The bigger M50d doesn’t tread lightly on the road, using brute force to get the job done when pushed into action. No doubt purposeful, the most potent X5 feels a little too heavy for our tastes, weighing in excess of 250 kilos more than the equivalent Cayenne.

What's the first impression?

Yep, this car meets my expectations for a new BMW X5. Representing a solid leap forward in terms of technology, the X5 is also a driver’s pick and a value-packed option with strong standard equipment. The only issue it faces is strong competition - the new Cayenne is a cracker, a fresh Mercedes-Benz GLE is just around the corner, and Volkswagen is preparing to launch a new Touareg. All of those represent large luxury SUVs that matter.

 

2018 BMW X5 30d price and specifications

Price: From plus on-road costs

Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel

Power: 195kW at 4000rpm

Torque: 620Nm at 2000-2500rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel-drive

Fuel use: 7.3L/100km

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