2019 BMW X5 review

International first drive

The 2019 BMW X5 hits Australia in November, and has all the ingredients to stay atop the sales charts. It's the same, just better, in every way.

BMW may have built its reputation with honed performance cars, but SUVs are its driving force today. So it goes without saying the new X5 – arriving a few years earlier than expected – is one of the Bavarian brand’s most important offerings.

This is the fourth-generation (codenamed G05) in the X5 family tree since the original lobbed in 1999, and more than 2.2 million have found homes since. The competitor set back then was limited, but today there are a plethora of luxury rivals jostling against it.

These include the Mercedes-Benz GLE, which was recently revealed in its own new-generation form, as well as the Audi Q7, Range Rover Sport, Jaguar F-Pace, Volvo XC90, Lexus RX and Porsche Cayenne. There’s not a bad car in that list…

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This new X5 is 42mm longer between the wheels than the old one and 36mm longer overall. Additionally it’s 19mm taller and 66mm wider, taking it out to a commanding two-metres across. To give you some context, it’s about 250mm longer than the original 1999 model.

The design language is evolutionary, as the cliché goes. It’s unmistakable in profile, and as macho as ever. But it’s also a little cleaner and more contemporary, and has a distinctive crease running along the sides that kicks up at the rear. That double kidney grille is huger than ever.

“The fourth generation... sends out its most powerful message yet in terms of presence and modernity,” reckons BMW’s head designer Adrian van Hooydonk, a man with an unarguably great name.

But everything else is either significantly changed or just plain new. Not least of this is the adoption of BMW’s new modular ‘CLAR’ underpinnings largely shared with the G30 5 Series with some modifications, enabling that rapid turnaround and adoption of more tech.

The suspension combines a double-wishbone setup at the front and a five-link setup at the rear, and comes standard with a system called Dynamic Damper Control that uses the car’s electronic brain to change the stiffness of the car’s ride, from cushy to sporty.

Higher up the range, on more expensive grades you can have what’s called Adaptive M suspension made by those performance wizards at M GmbH, with active roll stabilisers (using trick swivel motors instead of mechanical bars). There’s also the option of air suspension on each axle that can raise or lower the car just a little bit, and make your ride quality more supple.

There’s also a rear wheel ‘Integral Active’ steering system that turns the back wheels the opposite direction at low speeds to tighten the turning circle, and the same direction at higher speeds to improve stability.

As ever, the X5 feels as stable and planted as a lower car with or without these systems, though the stabiliser system keeps you ridiculously flat in corners and the air suspension is helpful if you want to roll on low-profile tyres (21-inch wheels are on the options list, for deity’s sake), and has the bonus of dropping down to let you more easily throw stuff in the back.

All versions use BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive (AWD) system for now, though a base RWD grade with a smaller engine will probably arrive as a price-leader at some point in the life cycle.

The revised xDrive system is rear-biased as you’d expect, but is more adept than before at splitting drive torque between the axles as demand requires. It can also drive as a two-wheel drive if you’re just coasting along, to save fuel.

You can also get an electronically actuated rear diff lock as part of the M Sport and Off Road packages, the latter of which also gives you special displays and exterior view camera, separate pared-back throttle/gearbox/ESC mapping for slippery terrain, and underbody bash plates.

As if anybody takes their X5 off-roading… Still, we had a crack at a moderate 4x4 course and it cruised through mud, over rocks and up slippery slopes, with the camera helping your over-bonnet visibility. Is it a Range Rover? No, but it’s capable of some adventuring, limited mostly by its tyres more than anything else.

Under the ‘hood’ (we drove the X5 in the US, where it’s made, so we’ll use the vernacular) of the entry xDrive30d variant, which will be easily the top-seller, is a 3.0-litre turbo diesel-powered inline six making 195kW of peak power, and a meaty 620Nm of torque from 2000rpm. That’s up 5kW and a whopping 60Nm over the outgoing equivalent.

It’ll send the 2.2-tonne porker from 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds, and consume as little as 6L/100km of fuel. The sole gearbox is a reworked version of the familiar eight-speed Steptronic auto with a wider ratio spread, new torsion dampers, and different control electronics.

The thing that grabs you is how quiet the engine is. There’s a heap of firewall insulation, meaning that even under heavy throttle it’s no louder or rattlier than a petrol engine. The only ‘tell’ that it’s a diesel is the reduced redline on the tacho. It’s also rated to tow up to 2.7 tonnes.

The engine that really grabs us, though, is the new xDrive M50d. It’s still a 3.0-litre inline-six diesel, but rather than three turbos like the old model, it now has four, all using recirculated exhaust gases. Two of the blowers operate at high pressures and two at low (a flap opens at higher engine speeds), meaning there’s essentially no lag, which is a byproduct of spooling.

The quad-turbo - which one BMW engineer admitted costs a fortune to build - makes 294kW of power and 760Nm of torque, which is just silly. Moreover, 450Nm is on tap from only 1000rpm, translated as ‘idle point’. It’s not just electric cars with instant torque…

It’ll punch the X5 from 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds, but in judicious driving can use 6.8L/100km of fuel. More impressive is the rolling response. Just breathing on the throttle sends you surging forward like a rollercoaster at its denouement.

Down the track Australia will get a petrol offering, but given the sales demographics it’s not a priority. The Euro6d-TEMP-compliant xDrive40i uses a 3.0-litre inline-six making 250kW and 450Nm. It’s rev-happy ways lead BMW to claim a 0-100km/h time of 5.5 seconds.

China and the US get the xDrive50i with a 4.4-litre V8 with 340kW/650Nm (0-100km/h in 4.7sec), but we will not. Instead we will have to wait for the inevitable X5 M, which might just get below 4 seconds. A new plug-in (PHEV) hybrid model is also imminent, with an improved 80km pure EV range before the petrol engine kicks in.

As you'd expect, the new X5 gets a wider array of driver assistance features, using cameras and radars as its sensory system and processed by a more powerful onboard brain.

The active cruise control can pause the car at standstill for 30 seconds before automatically moving again, the speed limit recogniser can adjust the cruise control, it can drive autonomously in traffic jams, steering through moderate corners by reading road lines, and change lanes by itself when you indicate, checking your blind-spot before it does so. It'll also park itself.

The interior layout is dominated by two 12.-3 inch screens, one mounted on the centre fascia and the other replacing the traditional driver's instruments behind the steering wheel. These can be augmented by an enormous head-up display projecting onto the windscreen if you're willing to pay.

The centre display runs off the familiar iDrive rotary dial flanked by shortcut buttons, but can also be interfaced with through voice control or, to a limited degree, hand gestures in mid-air. It's running the latest BMW operating system, version 7.0, with cool tech like wireless Apple CarPlay and a cleaner new user interface.

There's also a new digital key that employs Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to allow the vehicle to be locked and unlocked from your smartphone. All the driver has to do to open the vehicle is hold their smartphone up to the door handle.

Once inside, the engine can be started as soon as the phone has been placed in the Qi wireless charging smartphone tray. The driver can share it with up to five other people, too.

Other notable features include the cluster of flush buttons surround the iDrive dial controlling things like driving modes, air suspension height, off-road settings and more. We're not sure about that garish Volvo-style glass gearstick, though. It might tick boxes in China, but the standard leather version seems more to our taste!

Material quality throughout is typically pretty excellent, everything is covered in soft leather, cold steel or decent-grade plastics, with the exception of some glossy black bits that act as dust and smudge magnets. The front seats are properly sumptuous and can be had with a massage function. One mode is called 'pelvic activation'. Oh my...

The ambient cabin lighting is also slick, particularly the royal blue piping. It adds a certain theatre at night.

As before the X5 isn't quite as practical as its Audi or Volvo adversaries, though the seven-seat option enters production in December and will hit Australia next year to sell alongside the stretched X7. Rear legroom in the five seaters is merely adequate, though headroom is good despite the massive sunroof. The back seats don't recline back or slide.

Further back, we're delighted that BMW has retained the signature two-piece electric tailgate, with the bottom section able to remain in place, or to drop and make a table/bench. It's space-saving, and flexible, and an increasingly rare offering.

The new X5 arrives locally from November, in xDrive 30d and xDrive M50d forms. Pricing should go close to the current versions ($112,990 and $144,990 before on-road costs, respectively), though don't be shocked to see a small jump. Ditto when the xDrive45e PHEV arrives.

We'd like to see a cheaper, sub-$100k base offering (like the outgoing $93,990 sDrive25d) just to bolster the options list. Moreover, if your priority is vast cabin space, the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 probably do it better than the Bimmer, though the BMW X7 coming soon will change this dynamic once again.

In the other areas that count though, this new X5 ticks all the same boxes as its predecessor, and given it's long been the top-seller in its class, it's clear than BMW knows what people want.

The new engines are quieter and punchier, yet more frugal, the interior has higher quality surfaces and new infotainment technology/interfaces, the balance between ride comfort and 'sportiness' is more honed, the design more macho and adventurous, and the partially autonomous driving aids more advanced.

There are no big surprises, but in this instance that's what repeat buyers will expect.

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