It's difficult to overstate the importance of the BMW X5 to the Munich car maker's success in Australia – the model makes up a whopping 16 per cent of its local sales tally.
However, with the imminent arrival of the first ever rear-wheel drive, four-cylinder BMW X5 (the 25d from $82,900, and all-wheel-drive 25d from $87,900), the latest generation 30d may struggle to maintain its star status among the 2014 X5 line-up.
While it will soon lose its entry-level billing, the X5 30d still has plenty to offer including more power, increased efficiency and added equipment over its successful predecessor.
Its turbocharged 3.0-litre twin-scroll turbo-diesel engine now makes 190kW (up 10kW) and maximum torque of 560Nm (up 20Nm). It’s enough to propel this family-size SUV from 0-100km/h in a class-leading 6.9 seconds (down 0.7sec compared with the previous model), while claiming 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle.
It’s easily the quickest and most frugal among like-for-like rival models that include the $101,900 190kW/620Nm Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTec (7.4 sec, 7.3L/100km), $101,100 180kW/550Nm Porsche Cayenne Diesel (7.8sec, 7.4L/100km) and $102,800 190kW/600Nm Range Rover Sport SE TDV6 (7.6sec/7.5L/100km). (Read our Luxury SUV Comparison for a detailed analysis of this quartet.)
While the more expensive X5 40d and tri-turbo X5 M50d offer considerably more poke, few are likely to be disappointed with the 30d’s solid blend of performance, fuel efficiency and a thoroughly non-diesel-like engine note above idle.
On top of the improved power and torque, the third-generation BMW X5 is also lighter than its predecessor, thanks to greater use of high-tensile steel.
This means when you give the 30d a boot-full from a standing start the aforementioned acceleration time feels every bit believable, and then some. And it doesn’t run out of puff either, until you’re well beyond the legal speed limit in Australia.
There’s a nice weight to all the pedals, too, especially the throttle, making it a delight when dispensing measured increments of power.
Credit also goes to the BMW X5’s sublime eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s standard equipment across all model variants and quickly adjusts to your driving style with silky-smooth shifts throughout the gear ratios.
The transmission includes what is called a Driving Experience Control, which enables adjustment of the drivetrain settings (EcoPro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+). Perhaps disappointingly, however, the X5 30d misses out on paddleshifters (standard on all variants above), which tends to deprive the driver of an even more satisfying experience behind the wheel of the 30d.
That said, the ‘greener’ settings on offer are a little too eager to engage higher gears with their prejudice towards fuel efficiency. Sport offers a good balance between throttle response and the smooth shifting of cogs.
At 2075kg and with considerable dimensions, the X5 30d is still a monster-size SUV, but even without BMW’s adaptive suspension it’s able to resist pronounced body roll. It’s not in the same league as the sports car-like Porsche Cayenne, but it’s certainly on par with the Range Rover Sport in this regard.
The steering is not to usual BMW standards, however. At speed in corners when loaded up it is very accurate, however on-centre it is completely vacant and in the first movements off it there’s a vagueness before lock is wound on.
The X5 30d gets just two suspension settings: Comfort and Sport. Around town there’s more than enough compliance to deal with patchwork roads, though rougher sections with broken tarmac can result in a slightly busy ride – even in the Comfort setting.
In the Sport mode there’s even less roll and pitch, but it’s far more suited to smoother surfaces. Pity there isn’t an all-purpose, or better still, default ‘Normal’ setting that sits smack bang in the middle of the two.
While we liked the overtly aggressive stance of the previous generation X5, the latest iteration is more conservative in its design; it’s more upright and slab-sided. However, BMW has also upped the standard specification on the latest X5 30d with an upgrade to 19-inch alloy wheels and the inclusion of two exterior design packages for a swag of silver and gloss accents that provide a more upmarket look compared with the old model.
Top-line features include bi-xenon headlamps, LED front headlights with auto high-beam, anti-glare exterior mirrors, front seat electric adjustment and an automatic tailgate.
Inside, BMW has lifted its game, with the X5 30d receiving a much more premium-feeling cabin than the model it replaced.
There’s soft-touch materials, full-leather trim, brushed aluminium accents and a blend of wood and black lacquer across the entire dashboard. Additionally, there’s a superb high-resolution 10.25-inch wide-screen display with satellite navigation and iDrive with voice control and Internet connectivity.
The standard audio unit for the X5 30d is a decent nine-speaker system, though true audiophiles will want the optional 16-speaker 600-watt Harman Kardon system fitted to the vehicle we tested for true studio-like clarity.
High-tech safety kit includes a head-up display that projects the speedometer on the windscreen, a rear-view camera with a wheel-guarding 360-degree surround-view system, and a Driving Assistant – which includes lane departure warning, and forward collision warning with a light city braking function.
BMW’s iDrive controller offers the most intuitive system in the business, and websites can be called up by entering the URL (using your mobile phone internet connection), but only while the car is stationary.
There’s a light and airy feeling about the X5’s cabin and there’s ample legroom and under-seat foot room for rear-seat passengers. Headroom isn’t bad either, though again, perhaps deceptively, it can’t match the Cayenne.
In isolation, the 650-litre boot appears impressive, and access is excellent thanks to a large aperture. It is, however, surprisingly less than all its rivals, in particular the Range Rover Sport’s 784-litre cargo bay capacity.
Armed with greater performance, better efficiency, more space and more luxury than its predecessor, there is no question the latest BMW X5 30d is a superior vehicle to the one it replaced.
And in the face of stiff competition, the 30d is still a better performer than most of its key rivals, only the Porsche Cayenne offers a sweeter package overall.