Johannesburg - You know the saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
It would seem that this was the bread-and-butter design brief given to the creative boys who sit in Munich, and who were tasked with the armour of Beemer’s all-new, third-generation X5.
With cars like Volkswagen’s Beetle and Porsche’s 911, sure, I can fully understand the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” thinking. But it’s like BMW accidentally fired off the “I am an icon” Mini design brief to the X5 team, and voilà, not much has changed.
As a result, few people recognised our X5 M50d test vehicle as the latest X5. But little telltale signs which X5 aficionados can look out for include a more upright and aggressive kidney grille, curvier L-shaped tail lights, and BMW’s new air curtains – which are drag-reducing apertures on the wheel arches.
If anything, the X5 looks boxier than ever, with the vertical nose and raised body offering a rather steely glance, reminiscent to me of a diesel locomotive.
PULLS LIKE A LOCOMOTIVE
Being the range-topping (for now) M50d, making 280kW and 740Nm, means it pulls like a diesel locomotive too. It’s an engine we’re familiar with from the previous range.
It’s not your average 3-litre straight-six turbodiesel, but packs no less than three turbochargers to make for simply relentless power delivery.
This multi-ton behemoth rocked our Vbox testing equipment at our test facility up on the Reef, with a 5.6-second 0-100km/h sprint before scorching the quarter-mile in a hair’s breadth over 14 seconds. There’s a launch control display which lights up when you left-foot brake this locomotive (with the gearbox and driver modes all in their hardest core settings), and it will happily rev up to about three thou before all hell breaks loose.
Power delivery on a daily basis is a superb example of three turbos singing off an eight-speed “box” song sheet. Acceleration at any point in any rev range is visceral, thanks largely to a gearbox capable of finding the right cog at exactly the right moment (which also helps when you consider the shorter rev range of diesel engines).
All this means that you have to train your right foot to deliver subtle inputs – this Sports Activity Vehicle is a bully, and demands road space to play. It has some interesting mapping, too, in that under full shunt it changes gears at different points in the rev range, dependent on the gear you’re in.
Unlike other Beemers where I’ve complained about the Eco mode, all this power means that even this “Greenpeace” setting allows for reasonable pace, and may even be preferred by some for a civil driving experience.
Our test car averaged 12l/100km (BMW claims 6.7), which I reckon was still acceptable considering the vehicle’s size and the hooliganism we subjected it to.
I liked the steering feel too. Even though it’s electric it hardens up nicely in the sportier driving settings, and offers meaty feedback. The X5 also manages to mask all its bulk with aplomb, and particularly in the corners where its handling is assisted by 20-inch wheels and low-profile rubber, together with traction-enhancing electronic wizardry. It’s big though, commanding every last square centimetre of a road lane, and demanding a large parking bay, which is why I was glad our test vehicle was equipped with the optional aerial view camera parking system.
The interior is typical BMW fit and finish, and it’s actually sad that Beemers look pretty much the same, with the same dials and switchgear across the ranges. I miss the old days when a Seven and a Three had their very own interior flavours.
As you’d expect, the X5 has grown in cabin and boot space (there’s 1 870 litres on offer with rear seats collapsed), and as before there’s the option of two additional seats in the boot area.
Little interior highlights included the large-display, discreet mood lighting, quite a fancy key fob, and a new little button between the air vents that is an ingenious shortcut button to the car’s many active safety systems (like lane-change and rear-end-collision warning systems) – if it’s orange it’s as per the safety systems you’ve manually activated, but if you press it again and it goes green, it’s Defcon 1 mode with everything primed.
I also liked the power displays (with a torque monitor measuring up to 800Nm), the panoramic roof and the night vision tech, which on various occasions threw up figures in yellow that I had simply not seen. This included the possible smash and grabber hiding next to a tree at a quiet intersection.
Families will love the split two-part tailgate which besides the top section being electric, can be opened and closed from the key fob or from the driver’s seat. It also warned me via a message on the central display when my little one hadn’t closed the bottom section properly, and thus wouldn’t allow the top half to descend.
If it’s outright performance and handling you’re after, it probably makes more sense to wait for the X5 M – which will be as quick and track-biased as the badge suggests. The problem with the R1 060 000 M50d (R1 230 648 with the bevy of options we had) is that as fast as it is, it’s clinical in its execution and lacks a sense of emotion.
A direct competitor like the Range Rover Sport SDV8 HSE (R1 236 983 with outputs of 250kW/700Nm) is easier to bond with, is there or thereabouts in roadholding terms, and will leave an X5 for dead off the beaten path.
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BMW X5 M50d
Engine: 3-litre, six-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Power: 280kW @ 4000-4400rpm
Torque: 740Nm @ 2000-3000rpm
0-100km/h (tested): 5.6 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 250km/h
Consumption (claimed): 6.7 l/100km
Consumption (tested): 12.0 l/100km*
Price: R1 060 000
Maintenance plan: Five-year/100 000km
*Some hooliganism was involved
Audi Q7 4.2 TDI quattro (250kW/760Nm) - R959 500
Porsche Cayenne S diesel (281kW/850Nm) - R1 098 000
Range Rover Sport SDV8 (250kW/700Nm) - R1 236 983