In the world of luxury SUVs, or SAVs as BMW calls them, the X5 is known as both a pioneer and a benchmark. It was the first of its kind - an SUV that drove like a BMW - and it showed the world what could be possible with the right kind of motivation.
But like every car manufacturer, BMW is tasked with improving their models with every generation; the only problem is that improvement can mean very different things depending on who you ask. One person may seek more aggressive, responsive handling, while another may want better comfort for the day to day.
And then there are those who believe that the X5, and its luxury SUV brethren, should be able to handle the toughest of conditions when heading into the wilderness. It's a valid ask, given that the SUV body form should be used for more than just aesthetics.
Juggling all of these requirements for two decades has been tough, even with the advancements in engineering and technology that have helped to broaden the appeal and operating abilities of the X5. This latest generation sees some of the largest steps forward in X5 history - and it's a model that has recently been previewed here ahead of its official launch.
From quite nearly the beginning of our time testing the all-new BMW X5 in Atlanta, we had everyone from engineers to PR staff telling us how amazing the two-axle air suspension was - a revolution so to speak. It was just one of many technologies implemented that aimed at widening the range of characteristics of the X5 to meet the expectations of a broader audience.
In tandem with active roll bars and integral active steering (rear wheel steering), this latest generation was poised to be quite the weapon when slinging it along some back roads. It was made clear that BMW, after all this time, still has great pride in the handling ability of one of their largest models. Suffice to say, other manufacturers have noticed and followed their trend, and in this day and age a luxury SUV is no longer dogged by sub-par dynamics.
The First Impression
It may be easy to poke fun at BMW for making their kidney grilles larger with every passing generation, but this serves a subtle - yet important - purpose with the overall styling. You don't realize why until you first see the X5 up close and in person, for it is an incredibly large car that would dwarf the first generation model. As is the case with visual trickery, the large 20-inch wheels and massive grille help to hide the heft, making the X5 a little more socially acceptable.
The styling has remained true to BMW, with no sudden moves that would disrupt the X5 lineage or make it stick out like a sore thumb. Where we see a larger shift is the interior, which has managed to blend the driver-centric orientation of BMWs from decades past with the bells and whistles of today, lending some much needed dimensionality to an otherwise flat surface. As far as luxury car interiors go, it hits the mark.
The Practical Bits
This generation of X5 has an optional (usable) third row of seats, as well as an optional split electric tailgate. Headroom and legroom are offered in ample measures, and the hip-point is just about right for sliding in and out of the car with little effort. Ergonomics are an often overlooked and underappreciated aspect of vehicle design, and so it's important to make note of when a manufacturer gets it right.
The excellent infotainment system - now in its seventh generation - boasts a wealth of connectivity and flexibility for the future, allowing for over the air software updates and voice control among other things. The full-screen instrument cluster with its infuriating reversed tachometer has also made it, though we are slowly warming up to the aesthetics of it, and the layout does allow for more flexibility in terms of displaying information for the driver.
The Driving Experience
The trunk roads surrounding Atlanta's more built up city played host to our tests. The car in question was an X5 xDrive40i, powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-6 engine that produces 335 hp and 450 Nm of torque, channelled to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic gearbox. Modern turbocharged engines offer great tractability and this is no different, with a huge amount of low down torque that allows you to spurt out of corners with surprising litheness for a two-tonne car.
We could wax lyrical about how the X5 had precise steering, predictable dynamics, and a progressive nature as you approach the limit - but these are things that are par for the course for a BMW. The air suspension and adaptive damping functioned as they do, keeping the car plush and pliant across rough tarmac while sharpening up when pitching the behemoth into a corner. What turned out to be far more exciting was the second half of our testing, which involved bumping around a massive estate in X5s equipped with the first-of-its-kind xOffroad package.
What the M Sport package is to the road, the xOffroad package is to everything off the road. Body cladding and additional protection are expected, but a full selection of off-road modes as well as some cool optional all-terrain tyres - a first for a BMW model. The off-road modes are reminiscent of Land Rover's systems which is terrain based and adjusts parameters like the ride height and powertrain response to suit the situation.
Perhaps most special of all was the surround view camera - a system which has advanced by such a great deal that it is simply staggering in function. Having a birds-eye view of a car has fast become normal across the market, allowing for somewhat easier parking, but BMW's system goes further to even render a view from the outside of the vehicle looking at the wheels and bumpers - with ultrasonic sensors to detect and display proximity to obstacles. It is such a fantastic tool for offroading that it quite nearly does away with an external spotter.
There's only one problem. All of the aforementioned packages are optional, as part of a number of different ways you can specify your particular X5. For buyers in Europe or the United States this isn't an issue as they have the ability to pick and choose what they want to a surprising level of detail.
But for us over in Malaysia, we don't quite enjoy that liberty. BMW hasn't specified exactly what boxes they will tick for the X5 during its preview, but judging by the shifter surround we won't be getting the two-axle air suspension that was raved about, nor many of the trick features that make the all-new X5 such a joy to fling around - a driver's SUV so to speak.
And honestly, that's perfectly fine. Over time, the proportion of customers seeking the Ultimate Driving Machine in the X5 has become far outnumbered by those looking for a comfortable SUV with enough luxury and class to match their lifestyle, while being practical enough to pick the kids up from football practice. Let's not even get into the fact that X5 owners here will almost never leave a paved road with their vehicle.
The X5 has served its purpose across the previous three generations. It has proven to automotive journalists and the world that BMW knew what they were doing when it came to sheer driving pleasure and developing the dynamics and handling of a car; it just isn't something that they need to pursue with the current crop of customers.
Even without the trick features, we wouldn't expect BMW engineers to leave us hanging out to dry. The new X5 is both more comfortable and more dynamic than before, as is the nature of progress. If you enjoyed the previous generations of X5, you will enjoy this generation as well. If you are looking for one of the most dynamic SUVs in class, you won't go wrong with the X5.
As the market careens towards SUVs and crossovers, it is the X range of models that thrives while other product offerings dwindle and fade from existence. While Ferry Porsche may have said that the last car built on earth will surely be a sports car, we're more inclined to think that the last car built will probably be a sport utility vehicle.
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