There is this ongoing debate between BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover over who created the world’s first luxury SUV. They all seem to lay claim to the title, yet at the same time ignore the other’s assertions. It’s an interesting strategy.
To be fair to the BMW X5, it has been the most successful of the proper luxury SUVs – not just globally, but also here in Australia, where it has found more than 55,000 buyers since the first generation launched back in 2001. It has been the best-selling car in its class for over a decade, too.
Interestingly enough, back then the passenger car market (3 Series, 5 Series) was significantly larger than the SUV market. That has all changed now though, with the German brand’s 'X' cars outselling its passenger cars comfortably. It's a trend that is unlikely to flip any time soon.
All of which brings us to the 2019 BMW X5, the fourth generation of the best-selling luxury SUV in Australia.
Unlike the previous X5, this one is actually properly new. We are talking an almost entirely new platform – one which it shares with the upcoming BMW X7 – which is host to a great deal of technological evolutions and, frankly, revolutions.
The new model will be offered with a choice of two diesel variants and one petrol option, before the new X5 M model arrives sometime in the future.
The cheapest and historically most popular variant is the X5 30d, which starts proceedings at a cool $112,990 plus on roads. That is identical to the starting price of the previous model 30d, but the fourth generation is blessed with significantly more features for the same money. Actually, to be perfectly honest, it was the first time we’ve been surprised by the level of standard kit on a BMW, rather than making a sly remark about having to tick a thousand option boxes, including one for the steering wheel.
The 30d is powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo Diesel engine that puts out a very healthy 195kW of power and 620Nm of torque. That will give it an acceleration time of around 6.5 seconds to 100km/h, and the company claims a fuel economy figure of 7.2L/100km (annoyingly just a tad above the larger luxury car tax threshold of 7L).
This is the variant we spent most of our time with at its launch in Launceston this week, given its popularity and sensibility. The range of standard features is enormous, but to name a few notable ones: comfort access, travel and comfort package, LED headlights, sunroof, parking assistant, sports seats and most importantly all safety systems are standard. That means all the active passive systems plus interesting new features like the reverse assistant system that can basically mimic the last 50 metres of how you came into a car park, but backwards. Think about that for a second, and if it doesn’t make sense watch our video of it on our facebook page.
If you can wait a little longer, you can opt for the 3.0-litre twin-scroll turbo X5 40i petrol, which starts production around December. That sees a power bump to 250kW but torque drops down to 450Nm. It’ll do the 0-100km/h dash in a stupidly fast 5.5 seconds while using a fair bit of fuel on average, at 9.2L/100km.
You’ll need to pay an extra $3000 for the privilege of not having a diesel (no additional equipment), but if you’re worried about potential resale issues with diesel SUVs in the 3-5 year timeline and happy to pay for the extra fuel costs, it’s not a bad upgrade. Though, in saying that, Australia is so far behind the rest of the world on its dislike of diesels in suburbia that it will likely be the next generation of the X5 for which this advice would be most applicable.
Before the X5 M arrives (a car that really should be called M X5, but Mazda may raise an eyebrow), the current hero of the line-up is the insanely complicated quad-turbo X5 M50d. Yes, it has four turbos for six cylinders. It’s a little on the crazy side and a case in point of German engineers having far too much time on their hands. Interestingly, this engine is the same one as the M30d, but with two more turbos.
Unlike the previous M50d, which (only) had three turbos, the new monster has two small and two large turbochargers and they can all work independently of each other, taking care of separate parts of the rev range. We watched a few videos and got a technical explanation of how the engine works and, as Facebook’s famous relationship status used to say, ‘it’s complicated’.
It’ll set you back $150,000 and for that you get a bunch of additional equipment, better suspension, rear-locking differential with rear-wheel steering as well as an uprated steering system upfront. Will you notice it? Definitely the grunt, but if you’re buying this to take the kids to school, save your money and buy the 30d – it's already so much faster than you’ll ever need.
However, if you love the idea of telling your friends in their new V8 Ferraris or McLarens that you have two more turbos than their ‘sports’ car and incidentally the same number as a Bugatti Veyron (make sure you mention that), then the M50d is for you.
Power spikes to a ridiculous (for a diesel) 294kW while torque is up to 760Nm, which is surely enough to tow an Airbus if you’re ever in the mood. It’ll go from 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds whilst using just 7.5L/100km if you drive it sedately.
Can we just reiterate, that you don’t need to buy an M50d. It’s hard to get this point across because usually the more power and torque, the better, but the 30d is so good that it genuinely feels like a complete waste of money to step into a pricier diesel, unless you just have to have the best. And sometimes, it's the best or nothing...
Technical details aside, the best thing about the new X5 is the interior. While you can certainly see the subtle changes on the outside, with an even bigger grille and those nice ultra ‘3D’ rear tail lights, the inside is where the main improvements have come.
For years, we've criticised BMW for having bland interiors compared to the ultra-modern (but arguably quick-to-date) finishes of Mercedes and Audi, but it seems that BMW has finally found the ideal balance between modern technologically advanced interiors as well as keeping its heritage alive.
In every new X5, there are two giant 12.3-inch screens that form the instrument cluster as well as the infotainment system. The car runs the latest version of iDrive and it’s so damn good it makes Apple CarPlay (which, ironically, is now standard) a little superfluous.
Even the air-conditioning display is now digital, but besides that everything actually feels incredibly nice to touch. The door surfaces, the switch gear (especially if you option up the crystal package for the gear selector and iDrive controller. Trust me, you’ll love the look and feel), the seats and the steering wheel. There is no fake leather in this car. It’s easily the best interior of any modern BMW, including that of the 7 Series.
What we really came to appreciate was the interior LED lighting system that is not just for show, and although it lacks the sophistication of the Mercedes system that seems to allow an infinite number of light colours (the BMW only has six) it does bring about some useful features. For example, if you happen to not properly close a door, the interior LED lighting system in that door will change to a different colour than the other doors, or, if the vehicle is running in a semi-autonomous mode, such as when its reversing out by itself or parking, the lights around the steering wheel will go green. Little touches, but good ones.
The new X5 measures 19mm higher, 36mm longer in length and 66mm wider, and nearly all of that additional space has gone into the cabin rather than the boot (which measures the same at 650L/1870L with the seats folded flat). That means there is an absolute ton of space in the two rows. As someone that measures 180cm (ok, so maybe 179cm), my seating position front and rear behind myself left me with a ton of leg, head and knee room, so it would be fair to say that you’ll get three adults in this car without a hitch.
If you’ve optioned the (should be mandatory) $4000 M Sport package, you’ll get the better suspension system which, for the first time in living memory, is now comfortable to live with on large wheels.
You can go up to 22-inch rims and you really should, not just to fit in at the school car park, but because the bigger rims don’t use run flats, which is ideal if you don’t have a good chiropractor on standby. But even the smaller wheels (21 and 20s a no cost option, but please don’t tick the 20s, it will look ridiculous) that do use run flats provide a very subtle ride thanks to the new standard electronically controlled damper system on the car's suspension. BMW has finally managed to make the X5 very comfortable, even on country roads that haven’t been resurfaced for years.
You may think, then, that this has come at the cost of dynamic competency, but this is not the case. Actually, when we drove our first example of the new X5, it was an M50d with comfort seats ticked as an option and it felt rather strange, because those seats provide very little side bolstering, making it feel like you’re sitting on the car, rather than in it. This momentarily tricked us into thinking less of the vehicle, but once we swapped into something with the standard sports seats, we really got to explore the dynamic limits of the new X5, and they are very, very high.
Around bends, the X5 responds with a level of finesse that we feel will be hard to beat in this segment. The steering is a significant improvement over the previous generation and the level of feedback and communication throughout the car is superb. It’s unlikely any owner will ever push it hard enough to know where the (metaphorical) cliff is, but rest assured it has set a very high ceiling for cars in its class when it comes to driving performance. Made even more impressive by the fact that it now provides a comfortable ride to go with it.
Although BMW is sticking with its 3-year warranty, it does provide a five-year servicing package that takes care of everything (up to 80,000km) for $2000. It’s definitely a price worth paying, as that is likely five services (12m/25,000km intervals, however the car will tell you if you need a service earlier so buying this package is worthwhile) that will individually cost over the price point.
I can't say, definitively, if this is the best car in its class until we have its competitors lined up for a methodical test, but first impressions are very positive – so much so that I would rate this as they best luxury SUV I've so far tested.