How does the latest version of BMW's big 4x4 fair as everyday family transport? June Neary reports.
Will It Suit Me?
There are less environmentally-friendly things that you can do than driving a high performance luxury 4x4 around a town centre but if the green lobby are to be believed, not many of them. Dropping the kids off at school in a flat-bed truck loaded with burning tyres would do it or you could take a chainsaw to a few hectares of Ecuadorian rainforest. Alternatively, why not try constructing a giant magnifying glass to focus the sun's rays on the arctic ice flow? Yes, posh SUVs have been saddled with a bit of a reputation and much of it is more than a little unfair. Ever one to champion the cause of the underdog, I couldn't wait to sample the latest version of BMW's X5. The luxury 4x4's status as environmental enemy number one had me a tad concerned about taking delivery of an X5 but I soon found that if you put the scaremongering and victimisation to one side, BMW's big SUV isn't the planet pulping monster some would have you believe it is and it actually makes a lot of sense as everyday transportation. The third generation models come with a seven seat option giving them something approaching MPV-style versatility. BMW's world-beating engine technology boosts efficiency while delivering strong performance and the general quality you expect from a BMW is thrown in. This isn't a vehicle you'd buy if you plan on regularly travelling offroad but on the tarmac, where most 4x4 spend most of their time anyway, it's hard to beat.
This X5 has a look that's evolved only slightly over the previous generation model and, as with that car, manages to incorporate up to three rows of seats. Even with all three rows occupied, there's still a reasonable amount of boot space. In a more conventional five-seat configuration, the X5's boot measures 650-litres, up 30-litres on its predecessor. The folding backrest in the middle row is now split 40:20:40 as standard for greater versatility. The interior features a layered front panel with a horizontal structure and 3D surfacing. The high-quality materials include accent strips on the front and rear door panels and Oxide Silver dark matt, Poplar Grain fine wood or Aluminium Hexagon elements on top of a high-gloss black surface with a Pearl Grey Chrome underline. There's a 10.2 inch free-standing Control Display screen linked to the revised iDrive Touch Controller operating system. The climate control and ventilation displays feature black-panel technology. The X5 comes with the key features that have made 4x4s so popular as family transportation. You get that commanding driving position up above other cars that makes entries and exits more of a step than a clamber. You can also lean inside to help the kids with their seatbelts or fit that baby seat far more easily because of the vehicle's extra height. If you decide to specify that rearmost row of seats, be warned that it's really only big enough for children and that the X5 can't offer the kind of flexibility you get with a proper MPV.
Behind the Wheel
As a BMW you'd expect the X5 to display that trademark fine balance and handling finesse. Such expectations are tempered somewhat when you clap eyes on the thing and appreciate how big it actually is but get behind the wheel and the X5 appears to shrink around you feeling nimble and composed even when hurried along. Big SUVs just don't get any better than this to drive. The big thing that you'll need to come to terms with is the concept of a front-wheel drive BMW X5. That's right, the range opens with the 218PS BMW X5 sDrive25d, powered by a four-cylinder diesel. You can also buy this engine in a 'proper' four-wheel drive form, although I expect the front-wheel drive model's set to chalk up quite a few sales. Those looking for more in the way of grunt will want the 258PS 3.0-litre six-cylinder xDrive30d. More power and a drop in weight means this model now accelerates from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds - seven-tenths quicker than before. The 313PS X5 xDrive40d is where things start getting really serious and then there's the M-badged M50d with 381bhp and 740Nm, resulting in a sprint to 62mph of 5.3 seconds. Your petrol-powered options are slim but strong, with the xDrive50i. With 449PS, 650Nm of torque and the ability to crack five seconds to 62mph with a favourable wind, this is a minority interest model.
Value For Money
This much car doesn't come cheap and you're probably looking at paying somewhere in the £45,000 to £65,000 bracket for the X5 once you've factored in the cost of a few well chosen extras. And running costs? Well, alright, a big SUV like the X5 will be less economical than a compact hatchback and as a result, produces more CO2 and other harmful emissions. There's also extra weight from the 4x4 mechanicals that doesn't help matters but none of this means that cars like this BMW should be singled out as the cause of our global warming woes. The X5 Drive 25d, after all, returns 50.4mpg on the combined cycle with carbon dioxide emissions of just 149g/km. That's better than some far more conventional family cars can manage. The luxury 4x4's problem is that it's a convenient handle for the green lobby to grab hold of, their gripes sometimes underpinned by a jealousy or general dislike for the kind of people who can afford a luxury 4x4.
Could I Live With One?
The X5 feels a highly polished product that's perfectly suited to the on-road 4x4 role. The only serious criticism is its lack of ultimate offroad ability but it will handle a muddy track with the best of them and then outperform the best of them when it gets back on home turf - i.e. tarmac. The interior is simple in design and constructed to the highest standards while the seven-seat option brings an added dimension in versatility. Running the X5 over an extended period will make it easy to see why large 4x4s are so popular with families. The advanced 4x4 system might be a white elephant most of the time but it does bring extra security in damp or snowy conditions and otherwise the X5 manages to do a lot of what an MPV does without looking like an MPV. It's supremely comfortable on the motorway and offers levels of composure on poorly surfaced B-roads that belie its size. Once again, it's hard not to be impressed with BMW's engineering know-how and even if some environmentalists aren't, you can drive your X5 safe in the knowledge that they're barking up the wrong tree.