The new BMW X5 is a strong contender for the (fictional) best-of-all-worlds award – apart from the monstrous gearstick. Charles Rangeley-Wilson took one out for a spin.
The formerly inimitable BMW X5 is now in its fourth generation and nudging onto a much more crowded grid than its great-great-grandfather occupied 20-odd years ago. The first X5 was the prototype handles-like-a-car SUV, bursting solitarily and revolutionarily onto our screens as it careened down an Alpine pass and straight over the head of a very surprised luge pilot.
Now, the Porsche Cayenne, the Range Rover Sport and the Audi Q8 are alongside it on the front row, together with the ‘standard’ Range Rover, the Discovery, the Volvo V90, the Mercedes GLE and the Audi Q7, which are less overtly sporty, but convincingly comfortable alternatives. At the de-restricted end of the grid, we have Bentley’s Bentayga, Rolls’s Cullinan and Lamborghini’s Urus. The new X5 has its work cut out, in other words, to regain pole position when there are now so many quick-footed, luxurious and accomplished iterations of the same idea all over the car park.
This luxury bus-as-car thing is the gravity-defying trick that shaped the first X5. Twenty years later, it’s still all about the latest best answer to the same conundrum: how to get a big thing to behave like a little thing. Not least because the big things keep getting bigger. In chasing that ineffable sense of imperious luxury, the first law-of thermodynamics appears to be inflation. The new X5 is far bigger than the first – the current X3 is really the X5 of old – and still appreciably longer and wider than the last.
‘A smorgasbord of off-road camera wizardry’
As this makes it roomier and plushier, it is hard to fault the sense of cosseted, classy luxury imparted by all that space and BMW’s knack with plastics and leather: the seats are great, there’s plenty of space and the boot is cavernous. There’s a pleasing sense of solidity to everything, too, glossed with much digital razzmatazz in the form of info-screens, virtual cockpits and ambient lighting that glows and glitters like Versailles at dusk.
Hard, but not quite impossible. What in the name of all that is holy is that thing in the middle? Sure, dials and switches are so yesterday and we’re looking for new ways to do old things, but that gearstick looks like something Mystic Meg would hang in her window to align the chakras.
Happily, the big Beemer drives as brilliantly as you’d expect and soon you’ve forgotten all about the plastic Koh-i-Noor with which you engaged D. The Bavarian magicians have crafted a magic-carpet rocket-ship. The M50d’s three-litre straight-six, bedecked with not one, two or even three, but four turbochargers, imparted storm surges of torque when I so much as thought about the throttle. It gripped like a spider, bolted like a scalded cat and felt not even slightly like the 2.2-ton behemoth it is. Yet still it sipped its diesel like a puritan teetotaller. How does BMW do it?
The M50d, being the sportiest incarnation, is screwed down with steel springs and was as ‘solid’ underfoot as you’d expect. The change of most interest to readers and, indeed, the most defining change of all, is the adaptive air-suspension fitted as standard on the ‘humbler’ models – the 40i and 30d – a change that has squared the circle of heft versus handling. With air suspension, the X5 corners hunkered close to the tarmac at speed, lifts its skirts to ford rivers, self-levels with difficult loads and can even kneel to let arthritic mothers-in-law climb aboard. With a smorgasbord of off-road camera wizardry, the X5 is a genuine contender for the Country Life best-of-all-worlds award (which I’ve just made up).
Only let’s leave Mystic Meg’s chakra-blaster on the chimneypiece, shall we? The chimneypiece of someone we don’t like.
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