Thanks to the unseasonably warm end to autumn, the idea of getting away for a weekend to Port Stephens to go scuba diving with sharks was not as crazy as it initially sounded. I had the keys to the BMW X5 sDrive25d for the week, and a trip up the coast was also the perfect excuse to find out whether this first rear-wheel-drive version of the popular SUV sufficed without the normal AWD.
I scored an early mark on the Friday afternoon and headed home to load up the family. From the outside the X5 looks like a big, spacious SUV and it feels just as big on the inside. After commuting for a few days with a handbag, laptop bag and gym bag, I was confident of fitting all of our gear (which admittedly was far too much for two days away) into the boot. This included a dive tub, two suitcases, wet-bag, flippers and more. But there’s 650 litres of cargo space even with the rear-seats in play.
After a half-hearted attempt at calling shotgun on the front seat, my daughter set up her home away from home in the back, folding down the armrest to make a desk for her laptop and settled in for what was expected to be a three-hour drive. We had a jam-packed scuba diving and sightseeing weekend planned, though excitement levels waned briefly as the traffic crawled along out of the city.
The trip also presented an opportunity to test the X5’s claimed combined fuel economy of 5.7L/100km. It’s the most efficient version of the X5, powered by a 2.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel engine with an 8-speed auto transmission. The diesel engine is smooth, producing 160kW of power and 450Nm of torque. It’s not too noisy, either, even when idling and though you won’t get thrown back in your seat, the throttle is responsive.
As the new entry-level version of the X5, the $82,900 sDrive25d is lineball with the rival Mercedes-Benz ML250 BlueTec but makes access to BMW’s biggest SUV cheaper than Audi does with the Q7 ($90,500) or Land Rover does with the Range Rover Sport ($102,800).
As our trek out of Sydney continued, we hit a snag along the motorway. Two of three lanes were out of action, and traffic was stop start for well over 5km. After a good half hour rolling along at ridiculously low speeds, we decided to take a detour around the snarl.
Everyone else seemed to have the same idea, but at least we were moving at a decent pace. As we drove along, I wondered what effect the stop-start delay would have on the fuel economy test, but that’s just life. We never know when an accident up ahead will cause a flow-on traffic chaos effect, so I figured the end result of the fuel test stands as an accurate real-world representation.
I cruised along in Comfort mode most of the way, occasionally swapping to sport mode to feel the difference. The biggest issue for me was the steering on the highway. Compared with the previous generation, it feels looser though popping it into Sport mode seemed to firm the steering up. It’s a large car that feels like it’s taking up most of the lane, so it’s tendency to wander slightly required constant minor steering corrections.
Overall, any issues were overshadowed by the fantastic interior. I love the comfortable leather seats and the oversized 10.25-inch screen with satellite navigation. The suite of standard features is impressive, which include head-up display, voice control Bluetooth, phone and audio streaming and BMW’s iDrive touch-sensitive controller.
Though the iDrive system is one of the best when it comes to its range of applications, I don’t know it well yet and I had trouble finding my way through the menus to set the sat-nav. I found it distracting while driving so I pulled over to sort it out. That being said, it’s the same with any system I don’t know well and something you’d quickly get to know intimately if it was your car.
I also liked the surround view and reversing cameras, though surround view was an added option, as was the panoramic sunroof. Being a large car, the extra reassurance is appreciated. Other included features include electronically adjustable seats, fog lamps, dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, automated boot opening and closing, lane departure warning and pedestrian and traffic warning systems.
In urban environments the ride in the X5 is quite firm. It’s not jarring or offensively uncomfortable and it does improve on the open road, but it’s not to the standard of the previous model. My daughter suffers occasionally from carsickness, and after a few hours in the back seat she wasn’t feeling well by the time we arrived at our accommodation. But I think staring at the computer screen throughout the trip could have been a major contributing factor.
The indicators were frustrating to get used to. A slight nudge up or down and the right or left indicator flashes a few times then stops. The frustration compounds when the stick is bumped all the way in one direction in an effort to turn on continuous indication – they didn’t seem to want to flick off of their own accord. Pulling the stick back in the other direction often resulted in the opposite side indicators going off because I’d pushed it too far, or the temporary ones flashing briefly all over again (and our editor says he often has to get used to the indicator set-up every time he switches into a BMW). Again, this is something I think you’d get the hang of quickly as an owner
After unloading the car and getting set up for a weekend of fun in the sun, we settled in for an early night in preparation for an early morning. For those that have never been diving, it’s not as simple as wriggling into a dive suit, attaching the air tank and jumping in the water. It’s a risky recreational activity and preparation and safety checks take a lot of time.
After an hour or so, our group of divers were ready, and we loaded all the gear back into the BMW and headed to the marina to jump in a boat and head out to Broughton Island’s looking glass. The marine life is amazing. Schools of brightly coloured fish and dozens of grey nurse sharks swim effortlessly by.
The next morning I decide not to dive and instead head out and explore the region with my daughter and a few others. We drop my partner off at the marina, and head to Toboggan Hill Park. It’s a small theme park of sorts, with a synthetic ice-skating rink, indoor rock climbing, an outdoor maze and a bush toboggan run.
After all the adventures, we head back to the beach house to pack up the car and say goodbye. The X5 has fared well, considering the number of people climbing in and out, and the amount of diving gear that’s been dragged in and out of the boot. It takes just a few seconds to brush the sand off the seats, and the floor will need a quick vacuum when we get home but looking at the carpet and the floor design, it doesn’t look like it’ll be a tough job, either.
Heading home we scored a much smoother run traffic wise, and even the bumpy ride seemed softer and I was handling the wandering steering with greater ease. I had to wonder, do you get used to the quirks after spending days in a car? Or was I tired, relaxed, happy and simply not as picky?