Power that sticks
THE X5 was first introduced in 1999, a year after the Mercedes M-series and became the first sports activity vehicle or SAV.
This branding was used rather than sports utility vehicle or SUV, to emphasise the car’s on-road ability, despite its size. The X5 also heralded the arrival of the crossover from light, truck-based body-on-frame SUVs to a unibody chassis, which the X5 shares with the BMW 5-Series.
The second-generation X5 arrived in 2006 and had a torque-split X-Drive mated to an auto transmission. In 2009, the X5M performance model joined the range and was launched in 2010. The current model is the third generation, introduced in 2013. The vehicle is due for an upgrade next year but, since its introduction in 1999, it has been a bestseller and in South Africa — the SAV to beat.
To date some 169 000 X5s have been sold internationally, of which about 55 000 have been sold in the USA and we thank Alan Neave at SMG for lending us a test model.
The South African market is one driven by badge status and design, and the third-generation X5 meets these criteria.
At the front, the car is butch with its typical BMW split kidney grille flanked by wrap-around headlight pods and two fog lights positioned lower down, with further lower grille and side grilles below the number plate.
The X5 is a great deal more svelte than the previous model, with a smooth design profile and side ribbing at door handle level, which underlines its design profile.
The rear split tailgate allows for easy loading and is automatically operated, while the wrap-around tail lights contain two high-performance LED elements, which add to the distinctive nature of the rear end, as well as promoting safety.
The vehicle is finished off with light alloy V-spoke wheels with serious 20-inch rubber.
Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, once said that “… eventually everything will be electric”.
That is certainly true of the X5 interior. Just about everything is electrically adjustable — the seats, steering, air conditioning, external mirrors, audio and communications system, as well as connected drive.
The only thing left to the driver is to raise the two rear seats, which turns this luxurious limousine into a seven seater.
Should you have a little money left over after paying for the X5, you can add television screens for rear-seat passengers to watch in case they get bored with your conversation.
The interior quality is superb and the feeling of spaciousness and comfort projected by the soft leather and wood finishes integrated in terms of excellent design into a quite remarkable technical package, reminded me once again why this car is still the benchmark in its class.
The dash is intelligently designed and easily useable, with digital speed dial and rev counter. On command the rev counter becomes the operational base for a range of technical aspects of the vehicle’s connectivity base.
This gives you Internet access, Bluetooth Office and the ability to create your own radio programme. Of course, the driving experience is also comfortable and enjoyable, as well as being adjustable to your needs.
The rear seats can be folded in 40:20:40 fashion and when folded down you have 1 870 litres of packing space. If this is insufficient, the chromed roof rails will take a specially designed box for the remainder of your family’s holiday clobber.
Safety and security
The X5 has all of the basic safety requirements, like a five-star Euro NCap rating and a great deal more besides. The usual ABS with EBD is combined with the likes of park assist, surround-view rear-view camera, lane departure warning, camerabased approach warning and lane change warning.
Additions like dynamic stability control, hill descent control and the connected drive system provides a range of active protection for the driver and passengers. Adaptive headlights are also very useful in the Hilton mist and for night driving on poor road surfaces. It goes almost without saying that the car has central locking and an alarm.
Performance and handling
The best foundation for superior driving dynamics is an outstanding suspension and the X5, with its intelligent xDrive four-wheel drive system, adapts to the nature of road conditions and causes the steering to do likewise. The adaptive suspension packages, available as an optional extra also assist in assuring maximum ground contact at all times, as well as the required traction, directional stability and safety, with typical BMW agility.
The three-litre, six-cylinder, Twin Power, in-line diesel engine provides 190 kWs/560 Nm of torque and will take the car from zero to 100 km/h in around 6,8 seconds.
Power is expressed on road by an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which takes the car to its top speed of 230 km/h without any trouble. While fuel consumption is difficult to estimate on a vehicle like this, expect around 6,8 litres to the 100 km in the combined cycle.
We drove the car on the Hesketh Race Track courtesy of the track manager and placed it in the capable hands of Sibonelo Myeni, presenter of Ukozi’s Vuka motoring programme. After several laps, he emerged ecstatic about the X5’s handling qualities. It is a sobering thought that this splendid car will mostly be used to transport the kids and collect the groceries.
Costs and competition
The X5 xDrive 30 litre will cost you around R1,1 million and the list of extras is long.
The car comes with the extendable five-year/100 000 km BMW motor plan and a manufacturer’s guarantee. Also look at the Audi Q7, Mercedes GLE, Lexus RX, Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport.