When the wraps were taken off the first X5 (E53) in 1999, it was clear that BMW had injected its sporty DNA into a not-so-sporty, SUV body style. It was built to be the sportiest SUV around ground-up. In addition, it was also the first among its contemporaries to use a sedan-like monocoque construction. The first-gen X5 proved to be fairly popular in India too, and was briefly the best-selling luxury SUV here. Now in its third generation, the all-new car (F15) promises to deliver the same DNA in a posher and more refined package.
But the headline news is that it is substantially cheaper too. BMW India has taken the route of locally assembling the new car rather than importing it all the way from its mother plant in Spartanburg, USA, and this has saved a lot of tax. The xDrive30d, which packs the straight-six diesel under the hood, is now available for a much more digestible Rs 70.9 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). Compared to the outgoing X5, that’s a cool Rs 9.5 lakh cheaper, spec-for-spec. Now for the sad news – the continent-crushing 4.4-litre V8 petrol has been dropped from the new X5 range. The truth is, there just aren’t enough petrol junkies with lots of money.
Looking at the new X5, the feeling you get is that it isn’t a quantum leap ahead of its predecessor; it looks more like a pumped-up version of the older car than an all-new one. The nose is now a lot more prominent, with headlights that stretch up to the grille. The signature kidney grille looks bolder too, which, coupled with the tougher-looking bumper and distinct shoulder line, make this new X5 now look more expensive. Walking around to the rear, you’ll notice that apart from the new tail-lamps, it’s hard to spot the differences from the older car.
While its exterior styling isn’t considerably different from before, BMW has focussed its efforts under the skin and in the cabin. Starting with the mechanicals, most noteworthy is the switch from the hydraulic steering to an electric one. Also, in an effort to improve economy and performance, the body has lost a fair bit of flab – 110kg to be exact. But despite being lighter, the new X5 is stiffer and stronger too, thanks to the generous use of ultra-high-tensile steel in the monocoque body shell. Other lighweight materials include an aluminium bonnet and thermoplastic side panels. But, tipping the scales at a hefty 2,070kg, the new X5 certainly won’t qualify as a bantamweight.
A luxurious cabin is pivotal for shoppers at this price point and the new car delivers quite well on that front. From the moment you get behind the wheel, the cabin feels elegantly put together with plenty of quality materials around. An unlacquered belt of wood runs across the facia and is neatly integrated around the gearlever and in the doorpads as well. Then there’s the crisp, high-definition 10.2-inch media interface that’s powered by the carmaker's iDrive system, which is still the most intuitive to use. What’s especially useful is that the screen can be split in two, letting you customise the content on display. So you can choose to have your music information and navigation displayed together, or even real-time power and torque figures, which are fun to look at. Also, the screen is quite non-reflective and has superb clarity, as does the rear-view camera.
The pampering continues with an onboard LTE/3G WiFi hotspot and in-car Facebook and Twitter apps. There’s internet radio too! Standard equipment includes a brilliant-sounding Harman Kardon audio setup, four-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity (which is very easy to pair with) and cruise control. The iDrive controller now gets a convenient scratchpad which lets you scribble alphabets or numbers with your finger, for easier access to your phonebook and playlists. If anything, it teaches you to write with your left hand!
The large front seats offer great all-round support and are very comfortable, regardless of your build. But shorter drivers may find the instrument binnacle a bit too high even with the seat jacked up. Moving to the middle row, the 40:20:20 splitting seats are nicely cushioned and can be sufficiently reclined, but the squab itself feels a size too small, leading to limited thigh support. Knee room, however, is good and the flat floor means the middle occupant sits in reasonable comfort. What’s disappointing, though, is the third row – utility is limited strictly to children. The seats are half-size and even after sliding the second row forward, adults will find getting in or out neither easy nor very dignified.
So while this may technically be a seven-seater, this SUV is best used as a five-seater with the last row folded down, which makes room for a very accommodating 650 litres of baggage. The split tailgate is carried over from before, with the top-half being electrically operated; the extent to which it opens is adjustable too.
The 3.0-litre diesel motor has fantastic grunt as ever, shoving you back in the seat from as little as 1700rpm. Flick the stubby gear selector to manual mode and the motor spins to an incredible petrol-like 5,500rpm redline and holds it there too. If you prefer taking full control of the reins, the quick-shifting ZF ’box isn’t shy to downshift even from higher revs when you tug at the paddle-shifters. The only grouse with this otherwise fantastic engine is a mild drone at moderate revs on the highway. And at idle, you can feel the vibes creeping in through the floorboard. This is not a particularly quiet diesel.
Ride & Handling
So while the carmaker has successfully focussed on making this new SUV more luxurious, the way it drives has always been the X5’s stock-in-trade. And the good news is that it’s a much better car to drive now. It still feels surefooted when pushed hard, belying its tall proportions. Apart from the lofty driving position, nothing gives away the fact that you’re driving a two-tonne SUV. The new electric steering is quick to respond and the car turns sharply into corners.
The tight body control means that body roll is well-controlled even by sedan standards. Since the xDrive system always sends a minimum of 60 percent power to the rear wheels (going up to 100 percent), it feels distinctly rear-driven. Adjustable dampers, a self-levelling rear suspension and electronic damper control are all standard and play no small part in enhancing its dynamic repertoire.
The weight savings has gained with lightweight materials have been offset with lavish use of sound-deadening materials that coat the front bulkhead and wheel housings. Further insulating the occupants from the road are the new 7-series-based seats that filter out disturbances, and a revised suspension that irons out smaller bumps better.
Our test car wore the optional but incredibly striking 21-inch wheels with wider and much lower 30-profile Pirelli P Zero rubber that, frankly, feel out of place over our roads. The ultra-thin sidewalls seriously corrupted the ride quality, which is very firm at best and pretty harsh under most situations. Sharp edges and broken roads would crash through, spoiling the ambience within the cabin even on the softest Comfort setting. Forget about the looks; just stick to the standard 18-inch wheels with chunkier 255/55 rubber which will significantly improve ride comfort.
For its size and the amount of performance available on tap, it is quite economical, especially when set in Eco Pro mode. In this mode, the gearbox upshifts at the earliest and the throttle map is altered for better economy. In our test, it managed a respectable 7.8kpl in the city and 11.5kpl on the highway, giving it a combined efficiency of a good 9.65kpl. With a big 85-litre tank, you can expect it to cover about 820km between fill-ups.
Despite the changes over the years and the increasing bulk of the current car, the new SUV is still the sweet-handling sporty SUV that it was back in 1999, and that’s really commendable. If you like to indulge in some spirited driving every now and then, few other cars of this size can match it for sheer balance, poise, grip and playful handling. Also outstanding is the 3.0 straight-six. It’s not the most refined of diesels around, but it is incredibly punchy, surprisingly linear and loves to be revved. And what also helps tremendously is the silky-smooth and quick eight-speed gearbox, which is the best in the business. They have also polished up the insides. The new cabin feels fresh and modern, and an overload of tech is also bound to please the geek in you. Yes, comfort levels on the important second row could have been better, the third row is only useful for children and the engine should have been a bit more refined. But that apart, we don’t think you can get a better luxury SUV for the money. It really is as simple as that.
Installation Front, longitudinal
Type 6 cyls, 2993cc, turbo-diesel
Compression ratio 16.5:1
Valve gear 4 valves per cyl, DOHC
Power 255bhp at 4000rpm
Torque 57.10kgm at 1500-3000rpm
Power to weight 123.18bhp per tonne
Torque to weight 27.58kgm per tonne
Type All-wheel drive
Gearbox 8-speed auto
Wheel base 2933mm
Chassis & Body
Construction Five-door SUV, monocoque
Tyres F - 285/35 R21/ R - 325/30 R21
Front Independent, double wishbone, anti-dive coil springs
Rear Independent, multi-link, anti-roll bar, air springs
Type Rack and pinion
Type of power assist Electric
Turning circle 12.7m
Front Ventilated discs
Rear Ventilated discs
Tank size 85 litres
Range at a glance - Engines
Diesel 255bhp, 3.0-litre diesel Rs. 70.9 lakh