NOT FOR AM­A­TEURS

The BMW X5 has upped its game, says Neil Lyn­don

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

It may have taken more than 13 years but now, at last, the BMW X5 is fully grown up and ready to give the Range Rover a run for its money. The orig­i­nal X5 – launched in 1999 – didn’t seem to have any dis­tinct pur­pose or iden­tity. Un­kindly dubbed “the 5-series on stilts”, that lux­ury SUV (sport util­ity ve­hi­cle) with limited four­wheel drive ca­pa­bil­ity was pri­mar­ily the out­come of cold-blooded com­mer­cial cal­cu­la­tions. At the head­quar­ters of Mercedes, Lexus and BMW, teams of nerds and their at­ten­dant com­put­ers had pored over mar­ket re­search find­ings and had put their fin­gers on a gap in the mar­ket. Cus­tomers had al­ready proved how much they liked com­pact SUVs like Toy­ota’s RAV4. It was well es­tab­lished that many peo­ple would pay a pre­mium price for a saloon with a snooty pedi­gree. What would come out if you put these two el­e­ments to­gether and pro­duced a big­ger, more lux­u­ri­ous SUV? In quick suc­ces­sion at the end of the Nineties, the an­swer came in the form of the Mercedes M-Class, the Lexus RX300 and, lastly, the BMW X5. The nerds and their com­put­ers proved to have been bang on the money. All over the de­vel­oped world, well-off peo­ple went for those cars as if they were the very thing they had al­ways longed for. It didn’t mat­ter that these pre­mium SUVs drove on the road as ac­cu­rately as a hog me­an­der­ing to mar­ket nor that they shared that same crea­ture’s pow­ers and agility off-road. Since 1999, more than 2.25mil­lion X5s have been sold world­wide, most man­u­fac­tured at the BMW plant in South Carolina. This suc­cess has given BMW plenty of time to im­prove the X5. The com­pany’s short-lived mar­riage with Land Rover brought a dowry of off-road tech­nol­ogy in­clud­ing hill de­scent con­trol. The X5 was also an early ben­e­fi­ciary of BMW’s own four-wheel drive sys­tem named xDrive, which varies the power to the front and rear axles ac­cord­ing to the con­di­tions that the car is en­coun­ter­ing. At the same time, the X5 grew in size and ca­pac­ity. A third row of seats was added as an op­tion in the mid Noughties and the body has pro­gres­sively ex­panded to the point where the new X5 – the third gen­er­a­tion – is nearly a foot longer than the orig­i­nal. Alan John­son’s de­sign em­pha­sises tough­ness with a res­o­lute, up­right stance, strong swage lines on the sides and wide hor­i­zon­tal lines on the rear. BMW’s trade­mark dou­ble kid­ney grille has also been ex­panded to leave no un­cer­tainty about the brand iden­tity of this car. In­side, the 10.5in Pro­fes­sional Mul­ti­me­dia screen is ac­tu­ally wider and deeper than the tele­vi­sions on which the na­tion watched the Queen’s coronation 60 years ago. As with the “Pro­fes­sional Adap­tive Sus­pen­sion” on this car, you might find the ques­tion form­ing in your mind, “What about us sim­ple am­a­teurs?”. But the new X5 is not mess­ing with am­a­teurs. You can tell how se­ri­ously it takes its du­ties if you re­verse this car onto grass and look at the screen. There you will see an image syn­the­sised from five cam­eras around the car and pro­cessed to look like grass that has been driven upon. Brave new world. On the road, the three-litre M50d ver­sion I drove was both quicker and nim­bler than an equiv­a­lent Range Rover and, with three tur­bos all spin­ning up to­gether, put out a lusty bel­low­ing from its black quadri­lat­eral ex­haust tail pipes when its eight­speed au­to­matic gear­box was be­ing worked hard. On an of­froad course lit­tle more de­mand­ing than the track to my house in the Scot­tish hills, it per­formed as com­pe­tently as our post­man’s van. It was in the price depart­ment, how­ever, that this X5 most ob­vi­ously made its in­ten­tions clear. The ba­sic price of £63,715 goes up by nearly £13,000 – the price of a small fam­ily car – with all the ex­tras BMW had added. That’s Range Rover ter­ri­tory and no mis­take.

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