The result is a car that, though no longer head and shoulders above the competition, can still set the standard most of them must aspire to.
BMW doesn’t actually like the term ‘SUV’ with its clunky connotations and has always marketed this car as an ‘SAV’ or ‘Sports Activity Vehicle’, though the tag never really caught on. As you’d expect, this third generation version moves the game on a little further again, offering what, on paper at least, BMW claims to be the best combination of performance and efficiency in its class. But the competition’s tougher than ever before, with rivals claiming better driving dynamics, extra practicality and greater luxury. With all that in mind, is this still the most complete car in its segment?
The X5 might have developed over its three generations but there's been one constant. It's always driven well. To be frank, the original MK1 model left us all a bit dumbfounded. How could something so big and high corner like a sporty saloon? Back at the turn of the century, we couldn’t quite understand it and not much has changed since. As a result, you now approach this BMW expecting it to be good to drive. To dilute that talent would be to lose the point of the car.
Let's consider for a moment what makes this such a good car to drive. Primarily, it’s got its priorities right, developed for tarmac use first and foremost, with BMW cheerfully emphasising the xDrive 4x4 system’s priority in maximising on-road traction at the expense of off-road capability. They’ll happily explain how, instead of mounting the engine and gearbox up high to be clear of water (as you’d get in any serious-minded SUV), they’ve mounted them low and as far back as possible for an aggressive centre of gravity to help spirited cornering. The result is a machine that on a twisting country road, really doesn’t feel very SUV-like at all – which is why the Bavarians call it an ‘SAV’ or ‘Sports Activity Vehicle’ instead.
BMW calls the look of this car 'deliberately evolutionary’, which I think means that it’s been styled so as not to alienate existing buyers. It probably won’t. After all, a whole range of familiar X5 design cues are here present and correct, so you get short front overhangs, a long wheelbase, upright A-pillars and the familiar BMW kidney grille set between twin circular headlamps that stretch well into the side panels. It’s certainly distinctive and still classy.
There are some nice detail touches, notably what BMW calls ‘Air Curtains’, drag-reducing vertical apertures that guide inflowing air around the wheel arches to create a curtain of air over the wheels that then makes a controlled escape through ‘Air Breathers’ on the side panels. From the upper edge of these Breathers extends a character line that combines with a familiar BMW side profile crease that rises from the headlamp units through the door pulls and on to the rear lights.
Also the so-called ‘Aero Blades’ channel air around the roof spoiler, while horizontal lines across the tailgate and around the rear apron are there to try and emphasise the width and robust stance of the car. Plus there are thin, three-dimensional LED light strips in the two-section L-shaped rear lamps that create a striking night time.
The more time you spend with the X5, the more you wonder whether any other competitor really is better suited to the relentless kind of life that cars of this kind actually lead. It’s very special inside, you can have it with seven seats if necessary, it’s as good as it needs to be on the mud and it’s still a rewarding tarmac tool if specified properly.
Still imposing and classy. Safer too and more relevant, not only in terms of its lower running costs but also its hi-tech infotainment ConnectedDrive cleverness. And all of this on top of a range of virtues that more than ever, offer as much motoring flexibility as you could ever need. A car with economy pretty close to that of an ordinary family estate, yet one that potentially can keep up with a hot hatch, scale the lower slopes of Ben Nevis and take seven folk to the theatre when all is done. It is, by any measure, a very complete vehicle - and now perhaps the most accomplished all-round choice in a very talented segment when all is said and done. A benchmark then. Just as X5s have always been.