NOT FOR AMATEURS
The BMW X5 has upped its game, says Neil Lyndon
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.