BMW does things a little differently in a contemporary context compared to how the brand used to be.
SUVs – the X5 range plays a major role in the company's operations. Wind the clock back 20 or 25 years and they were barely a blip on the radar.
Back then, BMW built fine-handling sport sedans and coupes for discerning enthusiasts. At least that’s what it was best known for amongst a wider range of vehicles. Today’s BMW isn’t all that different, at least not with the 2020 X5 M50i.
Recognisable on the outside as a member of the wider X5 range, but with a soul and spirit somewhat more restrained than the wild-child X5 M, could the X5 M50i be the Ultimate Driving Machine for today?
I won’t make you read through to the end. The answer is an emphatic yes – though perhaps not for the reasons you might think.
With a laid-back and syrupy-smooth V8 churning away under the bonnet, enough acreage inside to give the whole family some space, and a spot of weekend adventure excitement when you ask for it, the X5 M50i epitomises a new type of driving joy.
|Colour||Black Sapphire metallic|
|Options as tested||$2,600|
|Warranty||3 years, unlimited kilometres|
Priced from $155,900 before on-road costs, the X5 M50i is one of the last V8s of its type. Full-bore Mercedes-AMG, Audi RS and BMW’s own M divisions still stick with eight pots for now.
Step one rung down, where the M50i lives, and six-cylinder engines are increasingly common. For traditionalists that V8 grunt is irreplaceable, and BMW certainly delivers.
With 390kW at 6000rpm and 750Nm of torque from 1800–4600rpm, the engine is far and away this car’s showpiece.
Acceleration to 100km/h takes just 4.3 seconds, making the X5 M50i only 0.2 seconds slower than the just-superseded M3. Worth noting, too, the V8 SUV generates 200Nm more torque than the M3 – which surely helps, even in the face of its 690kg handicap.
Full-time all-wheel drive helps get that grunt to the tarmac, and BMW’s long-service torque converter eight-speed automatic, built by ZF, does the shiftwork.
|Engine configuration||V8 twin-turbo petrol|
|Power||390kW @ 6000rpm|
|Torque||750Nm @ 1800-4600rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||173kW/tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle)||11.5L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||83L|
As for the results, they are truly delightful.
In developmental terms, the X5 is a little older than some of its competitors, so instead of mild-hybrid electric assist, the V8 is quelled only by a start-stop system that kicks in at a standstill.
That means performance is crisp, clean and easily accessible. For low-speed suburban running, there’s plenty of torque to tap into, no delay from standstill, and a nice linear scalability to power as revs rise.
The auto transmission has no shuddering or hesitation, it just hooks up and goes. These seem like obvious details, but as rivals dither off restart times, or squabble between electric assistance and downsized engines building boost, the X5 shines.
At 4.4 litres, the V8 isn't small, so while it is turbocharged, the engine is able to make a decent go of getting mass moving before boost builds. The soundtrack is meaty, too. Not overbearing, but deep and assertive. Precisely what you buy a V8 for.
Honestly, though, with BMW claiming 11.5L/100km fuel consumption and an on-test 15.5L/100km showing after a decent mix of urban and twisty-road driving, the X5 does look a little left behind by some of its more consumption-conscious rivals.
As imposing as that all sounds, the X5 M50i also rides with a surprisingly light-footed feel. It’s not cushiony-soft over bumps and divots, but still rides out most road faults well. There’s a firm edge, but nothing too jarring.
The dampers are adaptive, and if you do venture out of town onto more inviting roads, there’s as much joy in firming them up and letting the chassis find its groove as you might get in a smaller, lighter, more dedicated performance car.
Adaptive anti-roll bars fight the laws of inertia, transforming what should be an otherwise high-roll-centre vehicle into a much flatter and more stable drive.
BMW’s performance division, M, has laid its hands on the brakes, rear differential control, sports exhaust and suspension, so there’s a suitable performance-enhanced feel (or sound) to it all. There are also some visual enhancements to the body styling, 22-inch alloy wheels, and interior treatments, too – which might be the more obvious giveaway.
A heavy-handed right foot will soon meet a playful rear end, but with plenty of grip at each corner of the car, and a nicely buttoned down handling balance, there’s much to explore.
Steering goes from light and easy at parking speeds to confidently weighted at highway velocity, and the settle-in for long-haul stints feels natural – enough electronic smarts to do the heavy lifting, but no twitchy, nervy, or jittery ride, steering or assist traits to sour the journey.
With that in mind, the X5 runs a fairly comprehensive suite of systems.
Front and rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-keep assist with side-collision warning, steering and lane assist, lane-change assist, parking assist with front and rear sensors and 360-degree cameras, speed limiter linked to traffic sign recognition, and more, help take some of the load off driving and keep a watchful eye out where distraction might set in.
Those systems seem to work well, too. No niggling interventions from the steering-assist systems, although if you watch the surrounding traffic in the instrument cluster display, you can see the X5 isn’t always sure if what’s alongside might be a car, truck or bike.
That’s not to spoil the good work of the support systems, but it’s a good reminder that all decisions rest with the human driver. The car can’t interpret the world around it as clearly and effortlessly as it might appear.
Other equipment inclusions cover things like keyless entry and start, a powered rear tailgate (both upper and lower sections), four-zone climate control, soft-close doors, leather seat trim, electrically adjustable front sport seats with heating, heated and cooled front cupholders, a panoramic sunroof, selective-beam auto-dimming Laserlight headlights, head-up display, wireless phone charging and more.
The interior itself is spacious and comfortable. Once again, BMW treads that fine line between sporty and practical without overstepping the former for the sake of it.
The interior of our test car, in black on black, isn’t going to stir too much excitement. There’s a grounded restraint in the styling, but lovely wing-backed front sport seats offer decent lateral grip without complicating entry or egress.
BMW’s smartly hidden charge pad and cupholders vanish from view under a cover, leaving the interior uncluttered but still providing plenty of storage as needed.
By far the centrepiece is the OS7.0 iDrive infotainment system with a 12.3-inch central screen and a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display. The main system offers plenty of information, access to online services, AM/FM and DAB+ radio, wireless Apple CarPlay, and inbuilt navigation.
Online services are available for access to news, weather, remote connectivity, and more. Access to the system as a whole is via voice, touch or a console wheel, and for the most part is simple to access, though digging into those online systems can be a test of patience.
The instrument cluster is less likeable. Unlike Benz or Audi, who provide multiple screen layouts to make the most of the pixels ahead, BMW locks you to a single format and overlays info so that nothing really stands out clearly. Best to check the vitals via the head-up display.
|Boot volume (min/max)||650L min / 1870L max|
|Wheels/tyres||22-inch alloy – 275/35 R22 front, 315/30 R22 rear|
Second-row seats are generous. There’s good space in every direction, plenty of knee room, enough width for three across, and head room preserved for even the tallest of travellers. The rear-seat angle can feel a little upright, though it didn't upset passengers at all.
A third row is available as an option, though really unless it was something you absolutely had to have a few times per year, real three-row comfort is better served by the longer X7 range.
At the rear there’s 630 litres of cargo space. Loading into the boot requires a decent lift thanks to a high floor, but the lower boot section at least protects the bumper from strikes. BMW’s powered cargo cover not only deploys and retracts at the touch of a button, but also stows itself away automatically, in what could be either needless over-engineering or brilliant hands-full simplicity.
In an effort to shake off some off the stigma of high-priced maintenance costs, BMW offers pre-paid servicing at a manageable $2150 for the first three years or 40,000km, with intervals to be determined by the vehicle’s onboard diagnostics.
Warranty is a disappointingly short three years with no kilometre limit. Slowly but surely, prestige brands are moving to five-year terms, which smacks of BMW taking advantage of the number of first-owner three-year lease terms.
While from the outside, the X5 may not entice and appeal the way a muscular new 8 Series might, there’s a genuinely passionate automobile lurking within that conservative shell.
With some of the best bits of an X5 M’s pointed handling and evocative soundtrack, but the less appealing stratospheric price and punishing ride dialled out, the X5 M50i is a high-performance SUV you can actually enjoy.
Not just for its grin-inducing speed and handling, but also for its ability to behave like a mild-mannered family car. Truly the mark of any ultimate driving machine.