It’s 20 years since the BMW X5 first arrived on the scene. It’s fair to say that it shook up the big SUV sector, then dominated by the Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery and Mercedes-Benz M-Class, with its blend of premium quality and driving dynamics.
With more than 2.2 million examples sold since 1999, the X5 has proved to be a winning formula, so now BMW has launched the fourth-generation car, and it’s bigger and better than ever.
And it’s just as well that it’s at the top of its game because it’s up against even more rivals including the Volvo XC90, Audi Q7 and Volkswagen Touareg.
The changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary. In fact, arguably it’s only the chunkier overall look with sharper creases, a bigger one-piece kidney grille and sculpted bonnet that give it away.
Wider, longer and taller than the outgoing model, perhaps the big takeaways are that the new X5 is now loaded with some serious tech and it’s more capable off-road.
At launch there are three 3.0-litre six-cylinder engines on offer – an entry-level twin-turbocharged 30d diesel developing 261bhp, a 335bhp 40i petrol and a quad-turbo 394bhp M50d.
All three are paired with an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox delivering power to all four wheels via BMW’s XDrive system.
The 30d is the most frugal of the trio. Despite the fact that it can hit 62mph from standstill in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 143mpg, it’s capable of 47.1mpg, while CO2 emissions are 158g/km.
The more powerful M50d is the fastest with a 0-62mph time of just 5.2 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. On paper is can also manage 41.5mpg with CO2 emissions of 179g/km.
The 40i isn’t far off with a 5.5 seconds 0-62mph time, topping out at 151mph, though fuel economy is down to 33.2mpg and CO2 emissions rise to 193g/km.
We tested the two impressive diesels and naturally the M50d feels faster and sounds the business, but the 30d is no slouch, also has a sporty exhaust note and is probably the best blend of performance and economy.
BMW’s gutsy diesel engines are hard to fault and these are no exception. The slick 8-speed auto box works well too, while there’s always the option to change manually via the steering wheel paddles.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the X5 is a big car and you are always aware of that fact, especially in town and on smaller country roads, but it’s also surprisingly agile.
Air suspension is standard (though the M50d gets adaptive steel suspension), delivering a smooth ride without feeling floaty, while the 50d is firmer and sportier. You can also switch between drive modes such as Sport and Eco Pro.
Despite its height, the X5 exhibits little body lean and feels composed, so it really is possible to push it on more challenging roads.
You can also specify an Off-Road package for the first time in a BMW X model. It includes extra underbody protection, plus four drive modes to cope with a variety of surfaces – sand, rock, gravel or snow. The settings adjust the vehicle’s ride height, accelerator response, gearbox and four-wheel power distribution, making the X5 more capable than ever.
We tried it in a variety of conditions, including thick mud, and it really is impressive – especially considering it was shod with standard road tyres. It won’t get you out of a serious trouble like a Land Rover, but it’s more than enough for most who may only experience a fraction of its ability during more extreme weather conditions.
The only gripe is that the door bottoms don’t wrap around the sills, so you can get mud on the back of your trousers when you’re getting in or out.
Inside, it would be an understatement to call the driving position commanding, while the cabin generally is spacious and bright. There’s loads of leg and headroom in the back where three can travel quite comfortably. The seven-seater version is optional and there wasn’t one available to test, so we can’t tell you how much of a squeeze (or not) the third row is.
There’s 645 litres of boot space, expanding to 1,860 litres with the back seats flipped, which is more than ample. Oh, and it’s good to see that BMW has stuck with the split tailgate.
Overall, the interior is crisp and beautifully finished, brimming with soft-touch surfaces and quality leather upholstery. Up front the dashboard is well designed with a centre console dominated by a 12.3-inch touchscreen, then ahead of the driver there’s another 12.3-inch digital screen replacing BMW’s traditional gauges.
The infotainment system features the latest BMW Operating System 7.0 which is worked via gestures, touch, speech and iDrive controls. We particularly liked the new customisable tile effect on the main touchscreen and the fact that the system can now be updated over-the-air. The only downer is that while there is Apple CarPlay compatibility, it’s only free for a year, plus Android Auto is still not available.
Optional extras include a classy “CraftedClarity” glass gear lever, a panoramic sunroof, a 1,500-watt Bowers & Wilkins stereo system with 20 speakers, plus ‘thermo cup-holders’ which can help keep your drinks warm or cool.
And a special mention for BMW’s clever Reversing Assistant which takes over the steering to drive your car back along a path recently negotiated forwards – useful on country lanes when you meet another car and have to reverse back.
Standard safety tech includes autonomous emergency braking, but we’d recommend optioning the Driving Assistant Professional Pack (£ 2,295) which includes Active Cruise Control (ACC), plus lane change warning, cross traffic alert and speed limit information.
The X5 is priced from £57,495 for the 30d to £58,885 for the 40i, while the flagship M50d starts at £71,475. There are two trim levels (xLine and M Sport) for the 30d and 40i. However, as ever, there’s a list of optional extras and various packs available as long as your arm, so choose carefully.
Verdict: The all-new BMW X5 is bigger, bolder and better than ever. Packed with the latest tech, it’s more capable off-road, more spacious and far more agile than you’d expect for such a large 4×4. A class act.