If you were to list all the things which make an SUV great, comfort, luxury, performance and build quality would probably be mentioned first. Although there are over a dozen great SUVs on sale today, things weren’t like they are now just twenty years ago. SUVs started taking off in popularity back in the late nineties, but no one expected them to be sporty or even remotely fast back then. The SUV which changed all of that was BMW’s very own X5, launched in 1995.
It wowed the world and quickly became one of BMW’s most profitable models. Suddenly, it proved to the entire world that SUVs didn’t have to have terrible road manners just because they were focused on going off-road. It was a genuine off-roader with car-like driving dynamics, and even hardcore sceptics had to admit defeat and take a bow. Twenty years after the first BMW X5 left the factory and a ton of motoring awards later, we arrive to the brand-new fourth-generation X5, BMW’s most prominent SUV to date.
To test its capabilities and have a chance to see if it’s still the definitive SUV benchmark, we were invited to Lebanon. Naturally, we cleared our entire schedule and booked transport well ahead of time.
I’ve seen the new X5 in pictures and I thought it looked reasonably well, but photos really don’t do it justice. When we arrived they had a couple of brand-new X5s all lined up, and I have to say, they look mighty imposing. It’s an excellent evolution of the old X5. They’ve managed to keep the car’s character and essence, despite the fact it’s an all-new platform not just a minor facelift. It is based on the Cluster Architecture (CLAR), so it shares a lot of components with other BMW models.
The X5 was never the prettiest SUV, and that’s probably true even today. There are other more beautiful SUVs in its segment, but almost none exude as much aggressiveness as the X5 does. There’s just something about its sharp design which turns heads everywhere it goes. My main concern was that the front grille would be too large and mismatched with the rest of the car’s proportions. On pictures it can look ridiculously large from certain angles, but that’s definitely not the case in person
Perhaps the biggest change can be found round the back. The X5 now sports a set of new redesigned taillights which are longer than before and are much more closely matched to the front units. Manufacturers these days have a tendency to make their entire lineup look scarcely similar. BMW has taken a slightly different path and although this is instantly recognizable as a BMW, it doesn’t share a lot of design cues with, say, the 3-Series or the 5-Series. It’s a unique model in its own right, and I really like that about it.
The cabin is a massive leap forward from the last model. BMW has been often criticized for having a slightly conservative outlook when it comes to cabin design, but they’ve managed to prove sceptics wrong with the new one. The interior feels fresh and modern, sharing a lot of materials and patterns with the new 5 and 8-Series. The quality of the materials is up there with the best from Merc and Audi, but I actually think they’ve managed to trump both when it comes to technology.
The infotainment screen measures 12.3 inches and is neatly instrumented with the instrument cluster which is, to no one’s surprise, also digital. The infotainment system has gesture control as well as support from a central mouse. This entire tech is standard on every new X5, making you wonder what else is optional if you get practically everything as standard.
It also comes with a leg gesturing system for the boot door, voice controls for the vehicle system (including A/C and audio controls), Park Assistant, Reverse Assistant, auto lights and wipers, and a lot more features too lengthy to list in a single sentence. You get the basic idea. It’s full of technology many of us will never use to its full potential, but it’s nice to know it’s there.
Engine and Performance
The most powerful X5 xDrive50i comes with a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 producing 462 horsepower and 650Nm of torque, but we drove the base xDrive40i with the twin-turbo 3.0-liter straight six. It makes 340 horsepower and 450Nm of torque from as low as 1,500 rpm. The V8-powered X5 is faster, but actually, I think the smaller xDrive40i is just as good if not better. What it lacks in torque it makes up for in incredibly smooth power delivery. That inherent balance of a straight-six is immediately obvious as soon as you start the engine. It feels silky-smooth, it’s almost difficult to put into words.
Both engines send power to all four wheels via an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. It’s the reliable ZF 8HP we’ve come to know and love from various other BMW applications, and once again it can’t be faulted in the new X5. It’s the perfect partner for the twin-turbo straight-six. The X5 pulls effortlessly in any gear, from any rpms.
The BMW’s true merits start to show once you begin to push it a little bit. Instead of falling apart like most SUVs do when confronted with a corner, the X5 absolutely shines. It’s the top-level athlete of the SUV world, there are no two ways about it. The way it controls body roll and how eager it is to change direction is comparable to a fast performance car. Forget about other SUVs, the X5 is now so good we’re going to have to start putting it up against sedans and wagons.
They’ve gone and done it again. A new record hit from BMW. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing the new X5 everywhere. At this point, they probably won’t be able to keep up with demand.