Tech cranked up as SUV goes big­ger

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE -

BMW timed the launch of the orig­i­nal X5 to per­fec­tion. The mar­ket was ripe for an SUV-like ve­hi­cle with­out the off-road­ing para­pher­na­lia that most SUVs own­ers didn’t re­ally use any­way. BMW’s re­ward was 617,000 units in world­wide sales.

Gen­er­a­tion two and three were even more suc­cess­ful. X5 sales to­tal more than 2.1-mil­lion units world­wide. But the time has come for ver­sion 3 to bow out, which is why I found my­self in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia, US to sam­ple, first-hand the new fourth­gen­er­a­tion X5.

The new model is im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able as the lead mem­ber of the X fam­ily (that is un­til the larger X7 ar­rives in 2019). It is 36mm longer, 66mm wider and 19mm taller than its pre­de­ces­sor. An ex­tra 42mm has been added to the wheel­base.

The shape re­tains pro­por­tions that go back to the pro­gen­i­tor of the fam­ily. The most in­ter­est­ing fea­ture to grace the side view is a ris­ing belt line that forms an “S” on the rear door and ter­mi­nates in the tail lamps. The rear lights are slim, three di­men­sional and stretch quite far into the rear door em­pha­sis­ing the width of the car. The over­all ap­pear­ance is fresh and clean but clearly fa­mil­ial.

Inside, the new­comer is also fresh and neat. Two colour dis­play screens han­dle ve­hi­cle in­for­ma­tion and in­fo­tain­ment du­ties. The lat­ter has been re­designed and fea­tures BMW’s lat­est 7.0 op­er­at­ing sys­tem. New soft­ware al­lows for more cus­tomi­sa­tion. The raft of op­tional elec­tronic sys­tems range from pas­sive and ac­tive safety sys­tems to a light form of au­ton­o­mous driv­ing (only avail­able in the US and China) to BMW’s Con­nected Drive func­tion­al­ity.

A newly de­signed cen­tre con­sole has flat-sur­faced, high­gloss but­tons. Pre­mium ma­te­ri­als abound and own­ers can op­tion ev­ery­thing from open­pore wood to me­tal for the trim. The wheel­base ex­ten­sion does cre­ate more rear legroom. BMW claims boot vol­ume of 650l, ex­pand­able with the 40:20:40split rear seats stowed. An ad­di­tional pair of seats can be added.

When the model is launched in Novem­ber only two de­riv­a­tives will be avail­able: X30d and X50d, at R1,194,296 and R1,502,582, re­spec­tively. Both vari­ants fea­ture turbo diesel en­gines that dis­place 3.0l. The 30d pro­duces 195kW with 620Nm torque while the quad­turbo 50d punches out 294kW and 760Nm. Power is de­liv­ered to all four wheels via an eight­speed auto trans­mis­sion.

We drove the X30d to our mid­way point. With more than 600Nm the mo­tor is a peach. Speed lim­its in this part of the world are quite low so the punchy mo­tor was hardly do­ing much work as max torque is de­liv­ered at just 2,000r/min.

A new ad­di­tion for the fourth-gen­er­a­tion X5 is the op­tion of an off-road pack­age. This in­cludes an ac­tive rear dif­fer­en­tial (the same one as in an M-sport pack­age) with four modes with pre­set al­go­rithms for as­pects such as the trans­mis­sion, ride height and dy­namic sta­bil­ity con­trol. Through the wooded coun­try­side we got to utilise the lim­ited slip dif­fer­en­tial, ad­justable ride height and hill-de­scent con­trol.

Even muddy slopes were han­dled with ease, on road tyres, thanks to the vari­able all­wheel drive torque split. At times we even had to call on the ac­tive rear-wheel steer­ing to ne­go­ti­ate ob­sta­cles. I sus­pect few own­ers will ever ven­ture far off the tar.

We swapped over to the 50d for the re­turn jour­ney, which con­sisted of a cir­cuitous route and a va­ri­ety of roads through “Mid­dle Amer­ica”. The 50d feels might­ily quick. De­spite weigh­ing more than two tonnes the 760Nm ver­sion feels hot-hatch quick in a straight line. It can tackle cor­ners with verve. With ac­tive rear steer­ing and the lim­ited slip dif­fer­en­tial the X50d can be hus­tled along through twistier turns. The power de­liv­ery is so strong you of­ten find your­self in a higher gear than ex­pected.

BMW has man­aged to at­tain its con­flict­ing aims of mak­ing the fourth-gen­er­a­tion X5 more com­fort­able and more ca­pa­ble. These im­prove­ments, with the tech-heavy mod-cons, do come at a price.

A ris­ing belt line forms an ‘S’ on the rear door and ter­mi­nates in the tail lamps. Left: The in­fo­tain­ment has been re­designed and fea­tures BMW’s lat­est op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

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