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The BMW X5 remains Australia’s top-selling large luxury SUV despite facing ever more competition from European rivals. Therefore, its importance to the Bavarian manufacturer is hard to overstate. In fact, it’s probably priority number-one.
This fourth-generation model stays true to the winning formula, but there are improvements throughout that’ll tempt existing owners to upgrade, and should lure new buyers away from the Audi Q7, imminent new Mercedes-Benz GLE, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport and Volvo XC90.
The range kicks off with the X5 30d and 40i petrol and diesel models, which offer all the prestige SUV that anyone really needs. But, of course, some people only want the biggest and the best, which is where the X5 M50d tested here comes in.
In lieu of a full-on X5 M for now (that’s coming, soon enough), this variant serves as the flagship of the range. At $149,900 before on-road costs, it lines up neatly against the Audi SQ7, another potent diesel-fired offering in the segment.
It would be hard to argue that the new X5 doesn’t look the part. The silhouette is unmistakable, as is the squat stance that taps into BMW’s heritage. There’s more body sculpting going on along the side, culminating in a swept-up curvature above each rear wheel. And that front kidney grille with an opening/closing air flap behind? Massive.
Standard on the M50d is the latest-generation BMW Laser headlight, which portrays a brilliant blue light in ‘X’ pattern; a modern interpretation of the traditional lighting array. Moving to the rear, a three-dimensional, full LED lighting structure is evident and accentuates the strong character lines of the all-new BMW X5. Trapezoidal exhaust finishers further strengthen the rear design.
This new X5 is 42mm longer between the wheels than the old one and 36mm longer overall. Additionally, it is 19mm taller and 66mm wider, taking it out to a commanding 2m across. To give you some context, it’s about 250mm longer than the original 1999 model.
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.
While BMW cabins have conventionally been quite austere, the new X5 has a fair dose of glamour. The layout is dominated by two 12.0-inch screens, one mounted on the centre fascia and the other replacing the traditional driver's instruments, though it's not as configurable as the Audi's Virtual Cockpit (who cares?). Plus, there’s a simply enormous head-up display projecting onto the windscreen.
You can control things by touch, gesture (bit of a novelty), the iDrive controller or voice. It's running the latest BMW operating system, version 7.0, with a new user interface. Shortcut buttons control things like your engine, adjustable suspension and gearbox modes, and the 360 camera.
Standard equipment includes 22-inch wheels, soft-close doors, a 16-speaker sound system by Harman Kardon, wireless Apple CarPlay, a highly effective 3D 360 camera, four-zone climate control, and Level 2 active safety tech like active cruise control, steering and lane-centring assist, traffic jam assist, automatic parking aid, and evasion aid. See how safely it crashes here.
There's also the full range of services from BMW ConnectedDrive such as in-car internet, Intelligent Emergency Call, concierge services, real-time traffic updates, and a system that sends car data to your workshop ahead of your service.
One nifty piece of tech expanding on this theme, which is rolling out region by region, is 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 put their phone 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.
Oddly, it lacks a Mercedes-style lane-changing assistant, which changes lanes when you tap the indicator after it has checked the blind spot. BMW doesn't believe there's sufficient merit to installing such a system, it seems. The fact you've got to pay $900 for a wireless phone charger when it's standard on certain Hyundai i30s is also a bit rubbish.
The real showpiece is the new Panorama glass sunroof fitted as standard across the range. It has 30 per cent more glass area than the predecessor, allowing more light into the cabin. Our test car's $1600 ‘Sky Lounge’ incorporates LED lighting graphics that match the light piping used on the dash and the doors.
The layout is pretty flash, and feels typically well-made and ergonomic. Yes, our test car's Merino leather in 'Coffee' brown and woodgrain dash inserts look pretty polarising, but you can configure your car as you please. I'd also ditch the gauche glass crystal gear shifter.
Check out CarAdvice's own BMW X5 'configurator challenge' here for some ideas.
Our tester was a five-seater, and though you can option a third seating row from the factory, we'd suggest waiting on the BMW X7, or getting a Volvo XC70 or Audi Q7 if you need such an arrangement.
The back seats don't have adjustability, but they're comfortable and supportive as they are. I'm 193cm and fit easily enough, even factoring in that sunroof. You also get rear USB-C points, vents, LED lights, a centre padded armrest and little areas to clip in tablet holders, which age far more gracefully than clunky integrated screens will.
The tailgate can be opened by a simple kicking motion under the bumper, or conventional button. And unlike some rivals, this hands-free system seems free of bugs. Luggage capacity is 645L and expands to 1860L with the second-row seats folded flat. There’s also a neat centre ski port.
As ever, the rear tailgate splits into two sections, with each segment electronically actuated for the first time. The lower portion can either stay in place to hold in your paraphernalia, or come down and act as a makeshift bench. It's an elegant solution.
The pull-out cargo cover is also a work of genius, with the fixed beam simply sliding into place and clipping in/out. It's one of those 'why didn't every brand think of this?' set-ups, like Honda's Magic Seats and Skoda's plastic anti-door-scuff bumpers.
Back to the engine. As with the old M50d, it’s still a 3.0-litre inline-six diesel, but rather than having a poxy three turbos as before, it now has four of them. There are two high-pressure blowers now augmented by another pair that work at lower engine speeds, and linked to their twins by a bypass valve.
The quad-turbo donk makes a rather healthy 294kW of peak power and 760Nm of peak torque (up 14kW/20Nm). Showing tangibly how little lag you can expect, the torque graph shows that 450Nm of this (as much as a Toyota HiLux) is on tap from only 1000rpm, barely above idle.
Of course, in classic German style, the Audi SQ7’s V8 diesel outguns the Bimmer, with an even more ludicrous 320kW/900Nm. Instead of four turbos, the Q7 augments its blowers with an electric compressor, which doesn’t rely on exhaust gases to develop boost.
It’ll punch the 2.2-tonne 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. Then again, even the base 30d only takes 6.5 seconds to get to 100, so you’re hustling no matter what.
The standard gearbox on all X5s is an eight-speed automatic with torque converter, and all come with on-demand all-wheel drive – a good thing since the tyres are too wide for snow chains. The revised xDrive system is rear-biased, 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 also get an electronically actuated rear diff lock.
On a side note, 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. A new plug-in (PHEV) hybrid model is also imminent, with an improved 80km pure EV range before the petrol engine kicks in.
The big Bimmer certainly handles in a more performance-oriented fashion than a Range Rover Sport, though again that SQ7 and the Cayenne are pretty amazing nowadays. The M Sport brakes with blue callipers are superb, while the steering is light and easy to manoeuvre around town.
The suspension combines a double-wishbone set-up at the front and a five-link set-up at the rear. It also comes standard with a system 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 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.
That said, this set-up in tandem with the 22-inch wheels and low-profile tyres means the ride does get a little stiff and jittery over corrugations and potholes, graded on a curve. I'd suggest you look into the no-cost adjustable air suspension, since comfort surely outweighs sport here?
Although BMW is sticking with its three-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 (12-month/25,000km intervals, however the car will tell you if you need a service earlier, so buying this package is worthwhile).
And so we have arrived at the verdict. To be frank, I would recommend most buyers get the X5 30d or 40i models and save $35,000. However, acknowledging that for some it's all about bragging rights and having the 'best', the M50d at least brings sufficient drama and prestige to justify its excess. That is, unless you want to wait for the X5 M...
Existing owners should feel no compunction upgrading, while people new to the segment should compare this with a Cayenne and an SQ7 to find the best proposition. The BMW makes some solid arguments, and it's not hard to see why it is the top-seller. As my colleague Alborz said, "there are no big surprises, but in this instance that's what repeat buyers will expect".