Meet the new ‘Boss’ – BMW X5 delivers a classic hit
With its new X5, BMW has finally come close to emulating its earlier landmark model, and is once again worthy of its nickname ‘The Boss’
Date Reviewed: September 3, 2013
Several years ago, BMW launched the updated version of the first-generation X5 in Co Clare. It was the first one with the “Angel Eye” headlights and I took the opportunity to grab one – a 3.0-litre diesel, of course – for the journey home to Dublin. Eschewing motorways (not that there were many way back then), I crossed the country in a vehicle that stunned me with its agility, its precision and the dynamism of its chassis and steering. It remains a landmark car, still stored in the filing cabinet of my brain against which to benchmark others, and it explains why I was so underwhelmed when the second generation X5 arrived. It’s bigger, heavier, harsher-riding and nowhere near as satisfying as its progenitor.
Things are somewhat different now. Instead of the gently rolling hills and flat midlands of Ireland, the terrain I’m crossing is covered in trees and punctuated with steeply rising towers of granite. I’m on the Pacific north west coast of Canada, just outside Vancouver, and the road that leads up to the Winter Olympics park at Whistler is fast, open and full of corners that would not disgrace the Nurburgring. And the new BMW X5 is most certainly not a disappointment.
Within BMW, a colleague once told me, the X5 is known as “The Boss”. This has nothing to do with any aggressive tendencies within its SUV DNA, and everything to do with its strong global sales and seriously chunky profit margins. The Boss makes money for the bosses of BMW, and it makes it hand over fist. So BMW could have been forgiven for taking the second generation model (which, even if I didn’t like it much, was still a massive global sales success) and giving us more of the same. Thankfully. however, they haven’t.
The sign on the gate reads, in tidy red print, “Olympic Park Closed For Event”. BMW has closed the park and turned it into a temporary private test track for us. While a short (and surprisingly tricky) off-road section awaits us at the top of the mountain, just next to the currently snow-less ski jumps, the real treat here is the access road. It’s a series of narrow but fast and open corners with an occasional tight alpine hairpin, and it’s here that the new X5 comes to life.
It’s slightly larger than before – 5mm wider and 32mm longer – but it’s lighter by a few kilos and the 3.0-litre Diesel engine has brought an extra 13bhp to the party, lifting it to 254bhp to match the V6 diesel found in the Mercedes ML350 CDI. Not a lot of extra power, you might think, but torque is also up by 20Nm to 560Nm and that’s what propels the X5 forward with snarling alacrity. This straight-six diesel is still one of the best engines in the class, with excellent low-rev refinement and a crackling snarl when you push it really hard. 0-100kmh is done with in just 6.9secs, and this is, I would remind you, a 2.1-tonne SUV.
It doesn’t feel it in the corners. BMW has eradicated the ponderous, hard-riding nature that so blighted the outgoing X5 in my eyes. The Driving Experience Control is now standard and allows you to choose between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes. Eco Pro saves you fuel, Comfort saves you from poor road surfaces and Sport is where the X5 does its best work. Even with the electronic dampers set to their stiffer Sport setting, the X5 still has a fluid and forgiving ride quality (at least on the standard 19in alloys) that allows you to enjoy yourself in the corners without needing to wince in anticipation of a pothole impact.
It’s an exceptionally well-balanced car, with an agility and a responsiveness that no big 4x4 should reasonably possess. Only the steering is a weak point – there’s a slight dead patch just off-centre and a feeling of occasional disconnection from the front wheels at times when the electric assistance software can’t seem to quite keep up. A shame, as that’s all that stops this X5 being every bit as good to drive as the original.
The cabin is another high point, with tremendous
quality, comfort and refinement. You can have your X5 fitted with all manner of high-end gizmos including collision avoidance, surround camera view and infra-red night vision, but the underlying sense of brilliance to the interior layout is what really pleases. It’s practical, too, with a 650-litre boot and the option of seats for seven.
It’s much more handsome than before too, and if the €78,600 price tag for this 3.0d SE model sounds a bit steep, then just wait for the more affordable sDrive25d version, which will be both the first rear-drive X5 and the first four-cylinder X5 when it arrives.
Is it as good to drive as that ’99 original? Perhaps it’s the rose-tinted memories, but I’d have to say no. The original X5 is still the best big sports SUV in my head. But my mental benchmark is surely the only one this new X5 fails to hit.
3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel; 254bhp at 4,000rpm; 580Nm of torque at
164g/km ( motor tax €570)
Sharp to drive, sharply suited and with an interior to beat anything Range Rover currently produces.