The most involving SUV on sale just got a stonking new powerplant. What's not to like?
- 2010 BMW X5 xDrive50i Sport Innovations; 4.4-litre, twin-turbo, V8 petrol; eight speed automatic; five-door SUV: $143,300
- Aluminium running board $700; Seat heating for front passenger and driver $900; Lane Departure Warning $1,400; Active cruise control with Stop & Go function $4,700; Extended connectivity of music player in the mobile phone $220; 6 Disc DVD changer $1,300
Engine, gearbox, driving involvement, grunt, HUD, an awesome family sleeper, plenty of equipment
Ride can be a little jiggly, running boards redundant
If ever there was a car that redefined the luxury SUV segment, it's the BMW X5. Month after month, it's consistently at the top of the sales charts for the segment; hardly anything seems to be able to knock the BMW X5 off its perch.
There's a good reason for that. No other SUV involves the driver as much, while still maintaining the virtues of good road-holding, a quality interior, and plenty of space. Of course, if you're heading to your local BMW dealer with those features in mind, the X5 xDrive30d will cover those bases, for a not-unreasonable $88,500, plus you get a brilliant 3-litre turbo-diesel motor which is smooth, quiet and very economical.
So, why on earth would anyone stump up an additional $55,000 and beyond, for the 4.4-litre, twin-turbo V8 powered xDrive50i? Surely, it's not just a bigger engine you're paying for.
Thankfully, no. There's a whole heap of included equipment which separates the xDrive50i from the base model. While the engine itself is certainly worth some of the extra moolah, what you're also getting is things like self-levelling rear suspension, 20-inch wheels with massive 275mm fronts and 315mm rears, reversing camera with top-view function (handy for not kerbing those massive wheels), adaptive bi-xenon headlamps for high and low beam with high-beam assist (more on that later), walnut trim, four-zone climate control, electric front seats with a myriad of comfort adjustments, sports steering wheel, high-res widescreen satnav, voice control for iDrive (the car's central command controller) and bluetooth.
Our test car also received the Innovations Package, which includes metallic paint, automatic tailgate, Head Up Display, comfort access (which unlocks the car when you walk up and pull on the door handle), alarm system and panoramic sunroof. As you can see, there's a world of difference between this and the diesel-powered xDrive30d.
BMW Australia went even further and loaded the test car with the options at the top of this page. Of them, the aluminium running boards were probably something you could do without.
They aren't really wide enough to use as a step (the car isn't that high off the ground), particularly because where they're mounted, the bodywork angles inwards, but egress is hindered by them, as you have to put out your leg further to avoid them; they jut out just far enough to be a pain.
Once in, though, you discover how practical the X5 is. There's a cavernous boot, excellent legroom and headroom front and rear, extremely comfortable seating for both rows, plenty of storage options and cupholders (it is built in the U.S.A. remember), and even the glovebox is a decent size. Child booster and baby seats are fitted with ease, and it will take three people across the back seat with no issues. The automatic tailgate is handy when shopping, too (it opens from your keyfob, and closes via a button on the tailgate) when your arms are restrained by bags of groceries, and the elastic straps in the boot are extremely useful for preventing items from rolling around. Comfort-wise, it scores a big tick.
The Head Up Display (HUD) is absolutely brilliant as it keeps your eyes directly on the road ahead, taking away the need to look down at your speedometer.
Then there's the beautiful screen which sits in the centre of the dash displaying sat-nav, audio, climate, telephone info and (if optioned) TV all in high definition. It can all be controlled using a button on the steering wheel which activates voice commands. The system works a treat, and responds with alacrity and accuracy to each voice prompt, almost making the rotary controller redundant for the driver, though it's handy for the front seat passenger.
But it's the driver's seat that you really want to be in. BMW is legendary for its driver involvement, especially its faithful and communicative steering (original Z4 with electric system excepted), and this X5 is no different. For a 2.2-tonne SUV to feel this good on the road is nothing short of miraculous. It turns in with a sharpness and heft that belies its weight, and with Cornering Brake Control (CBC) which brakes individual wheels harder to limit oversteer in tight cornering, its limits are right up there with the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG and X5 M.
The 20-inch wheels and tyres help here, although combined with the sports suspension they do make the ride a little jiggly. It could be worse, they could be runflats, but they're not, and you do get a spare wheel, albeit a space saver. Oh, and shop around for the best prices on replacements. We were quoted $990 per rear tyre. Gulp.
We also inadvertently tested the X5's suspension compliance at high speed. Travelling along a highway at around 90km/h, a ute lost a 4-inch square and 2m long piece of timber a couple of cars ahead. There was no warning, because the cars in front went straight over the top of it. We did the same. There was a huge thud and we fully expected to either have burst or deflating tyres as well as a nasty steering wobble from the bent rims. Nothing. Not even a twitch. It was like it had never happened. For sports suspension to soak up a 100mm high hit across all four wheels and not even flinch, it was pretty impressive.
As was the high-beam assist. Unlike Mercedes-Benz's version, which requires pitch-blackness otherwise even the glow of a city in the distance won't allow high beam to activate by itself, the BMW's system detects cars approaching and switches to low beam. Once the cars have passed and there are no cars in the approaching half-a-kilometre or so (either toward or away from you), it'll switch the high beam back on. Of course, you can override it by pushing the indicator stalk forward twice, instead of the usual once, but it's almost foolproof.
Then there's that engine. How does 300kW and 600Nm sound? How about 0-100km/h in just 5.5 seconds? And, on test, a staggering 9.9-litres/100km for fuel consumption. Around town. For a such a large SUV with a petrol V8, these figures are unheard of. On the country run, the xDrive50i managed to stay within the 8-litre/100km range. Unbelievable.
But it's not just about the power of the engine, as nice as that is. It's about the flexibility. Peak torque comes in at a diesel-like 1750rpm. The torque curve (if you can call it a curve) is as flat as a pancake from there right up until 4500rpm, and then peak power begins a 5500rpm and stays there until 6400rpm. What it means is effortless shove in any gear and at any time. And it's virtually lag free.
There are two turbochargers nestled in between the banks of the Vee of this eight-cylinder masterpiece, yet it feels like a much larger, naturally aspirated motor. The sound is more liveable than the boomy X5 M, which shares this engine, albeit in a much more highly tuned state. The xDrive50i's powerplant still has enough bass to let you know it's a V8, but as the revs rise, the deep, gutteral sound disappears and you're left with a metallic, mechanical beat, sounding like two boxer four-cylinders competing. Under load in high gears, with the revs down low is the best way to appreciate it.
But part of the experience of owning a V8, is to hear it accelerating, climbing through the entire rev range, bottom to top, and then - when it changes into the next gear - hearing that ascension all over again. You can do that with the xDrive50i, but only when you're in manual mode. Thanks to its uber-smooth eight-speed ZF Sachs automatic, the engine only ever seems to sit in middling to low revs. All in the name of reducing emissions and fuel consumption, mind you, but it'd be nice to hear the engine note rise and fall a bit more.
However, when you can drive around town in what the greenies would call a "gas-guzzling four-wheel-drive" but still return under 10 litres/100km, then BMW should be proud that it has again produced a classic driveline combination. You can always rely on the transmission's very intelligent sports mode, too, which downshifts early enough to make cornering a joy.
It seems weird to encourage prospective X5 owners to find their favourite piece of tarmac and point this car in its direction, but when you do, it all begins to make sense. Sure, it will do (some) off-roading and it even comes with a hill-descent button, but let's be honest - most owners of these cars will be sticking to the blacktop. And that's where the X5 shines.
It's a practical family jigger with the driver at heart, and even the base model is excellent. But if you've got the cash and the intent, the xDrive50i shines that little bit more.
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Click here for BMW X5 xDrive50i specifications
*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.