BMW X5 generation three has a sleeker appearance that works beautifully

BMW X5 generation three has a sleeker appearance that works beautifully

When you’re on a good thing, stick to it is an old saying and the all-new third-generation BMW X5 SUV shows the upmarket German marque has taken these words of wisdom on board.

BMW invited us, and around 1500 motoring journalists to Vancouver, Canada to engineering presentations and a substantial drive program. Unexpectedly, that program included some moderately tough off-road driving. Apparently BMW is tired of being told its X5 is only really intended for on-road work. More about the driving in a moment.

At first glance it almost looks as though the gen-three BMW X5 is unchanged from the model it will replace next year. That is until you see the old and the new side by side. The X5 has always had a tough appearance and still carries a bold no-nonsense stance. But this time around it looks sleeker and neater, that’s principally due to its longer bonnet and the way the grille and headlights integrate with one another.

The swage lines down the doors are similar, but perhaps more stylish, to those on the gen-two BMW X5, while the latest interpretation of the BMW ‘Hofmeister kink’ in the rearmost pillars is appealing and distinctive.

Inside, there are greater changes than on the body, with a smooth and elegant look that includes a neatly integrated central screen for the information and entertainment systems.

There are numerous combinations of trim colour and material, so many that we suggest a visit to the BMW website, or perhaps a visit to your local dealer to indicate an advance interest in the X5.
Using either an integrated smartphone or a built-in SIM card, BMW’s ConnectedDrive provides access to web-based services for travel and infotainment. The BMW Office functions allow emails, appointments, contact lists, calendar entries and notes to be shown on the control display. There is also a dictating function that converts voice into text, which can then be forwarded as SMS or email messages.

Further driver aids soon to be added to the X5 will work at speeds up to 40 km/h. The car controls the following distance from the vehicle in front and also keeps your car in the centre of its lane by providing active steering input.

Three engines are offered initially: a new generation of the V8 petrol engine producing up to 330 kW of power; a six-cylinder turbo-diesel unit putting out an impressive 190 kW; and a triple-turbo six-cylinder with a stunning 280 kW of power. Other engines will be added to the range later this year.

A considerable amount of engineering has gone into making the engines more frugal and cleaner.

BMW_X5_more_4All BMW X5 models have the latest design of eight-speed automatic transmission to maximise performance and minimise fuel consumption and therefore CO2 emissions.

All-wheel and rear-wheel drive will be available, though the two-wheel-drive will be restricted only to the lower power engine units that are yet to be introduced.

As well as excellent dynamics that will minimise the chances of having a crash, the new BMW X5 has the backup of a suite of electronic stability aids. There’s also a new BMW Driving Assistant safety package that includes Lane Departure Warning and a pedestrian and collision warning system. Visual and audible warnings are given when a hazard is detected and at the same time the brake system is primed in order to reduce stopping distance.

BMW has long been trying to persuade the public – and the motoring media – that the X5 is an SAV, not an SUV – the difference being that the ‘A’ stands for activity, whereas ‘U’ means Utility. They haven’t had a great deal of success. However, both on-road and off, we appreciate that this vehicle really is designed for various activities.

BMW_X5_more_2We visited Whistler, the scene of the Winter Olympics in 2010 to put the BMW X5 to some light to moderate dirt trail activity. There the X5 proved more capable than anticipated. Traction was seldom going to be a hassle thanks to numerous electronic aids that worked well. Ground clearance and ramp angles aren’t to 4WD standards, which is fair enough, but we were able to get through muddy, slushy dips and bumps with nothing more than a scoop of mud on the front spoiler.

Obviously the big BMW was more at home on sealed roads where it behaved more like a large sportscar than a family station wagon. The levels of grip are impressively high, as is the chassis balance and the feedback given through the steering and the seat of the pants.

BMW_X5_more_1We sampled all three engines currently on offer and liked the way turbo lag has been all but eliminated. Once they are into their operating ranges there is plenty of grunt and even the turbo-diesel is happy to rev to its, admittedly low, redline.

Transmissions are very smooth and don’t really demand the use of the sport mode to operate in a lively manner. However, being revheads, we did tend to move that lever across to the ‘S’ setting more often than not.

Despite the fact that these new-generation engines are cleaner and more economical than ever before they still retain the sort of driving pleasure demanded by BMW owners.

The upcoming new BMW X5 is more stylish than ever, yet has increased cabin and load space. Combine that with a smooth, quiet ride and it seems sure of gaining a high place in the short list of those seeking a prestigious German SUV. We’re not sure many owners will take them off sealed roads, but at least we now know the X5 is more competent than anticipated.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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