Just what the world needs, another huge off-roader.
That’s it, jump on the SUV-hate bandwagon. But before you do you might want to know that X5 II is safer, more efficient and even better to drive. Why? Because BMW has finally called time on its strut suspension, replaced it with a set of double wishbones which provide better-camber-control and reduce lateral forces giving the dampers a hard time. Will double wishbones come to a 3-series in the future? “Only when such technology is required to keep our distance from the opposition”. Arrogance? No, confidence.
But what if I don’t want to crawl underneath to admire the engineering?
You’ll still like the X5, particulalrly if you’ve got scores of kids to shift because there’s now a seven-seat option. BMW even enlisted a ‘kid’s panel’ in its focus group research, who apparently requested a grab-handle to ease access, lower side windows and a central arm rest. If you’re less than 1.7m tall, you’ll be fine, if rather hemmed in by the backs of tall (but comfortable and very spacious) sliding middle seats. But there’s more room in a Mercedes R-class, a vehicle that BMW denies it’s to rival with a future crossover model The X5’s seats fold individually flat into the enlarged boot, whose split tailgate remains; according to the German designer, ‘Americans like to sit on it and have trunk parties’.
Do I detect the handiwork of one Chris Bangle?
You do. But do I detect a liking for his latest exhibit? Thought so. The extra dimensions have been disguised well (would you guess, umpromted, that it’s a seven-seater?) and the extra surfacing and muscularity show intellectual application. The old X5 was the last non-Bangle BMW; think of this as that car with the bearded one’s signature. It’s a success, as is the superb interior. With tactility and quality an M-Class dreams of, it’s clever, too: there’s a head-up display, new passenger airbag that yields a unique-shape glovebox, while the much-derided iDrive continues to improve too, with eight ‘favourite’ buttons on the stereo panel. Touch-sensitive, a hovering finger flashes up what’s been programmed in on the iDrive display – sat nav, phone numbers, etc. Press it and it’s set. That’s smart.
What about when I drive? Will I like?
You’ll find the V8 (now 4.8, not 4.4) creamy, gorgeous and fast, but the 3.0d, while gruffer, is almost as smooth and sounds not unlike a slow-revving petrol six from BMW’s back catalogue. It’s 383lb/ft of torque is 33lb/ft more than the V8, and there from 2000-2750rpm. Its muscular feel (pressing heads into sculpted, bucket-style headrests) is addictive. More power (235bhp) and less weight add dynamism, too. Both engines, but the 3.0d in particular, benefit from a new six-speed gearbox that’s DSG-fast and slip-free. It’s brilliant, and the new shifter is as good to use as it is weird to look at. Dynamics? Wishbones bring dynamism and bite in corners, while optional Adaptive Drive yields a lack of roll and brilliantly fluid ride (standard cars can jostle and thud on 19”s). Even Active Steering, for once, works: mums’ll love the varying rack and, while both are over-light, the Active setup is very sharp and precise as compensation.
Any other tricks?
Where to start? With Adapative Drive (that’s electronic dampers and active anti-roll) comes data transfer via FlexRay – developed under BMW leadership, it’s a bit like Bluetooth for specific ECU systems, transmitting huge amounts of data in short spaces of time. This enables a colossal amount of changes per second to damper rates; we’re one step closer to true ‘active ride’. Elsewhere, you can have BMW Online web access, multi-channel rear DVD (“with monitor on the front seat centre cubby, not in the headrests, to avoid travel sickness”) and cruise control that detects bends in the road (via lateral acceleration sensors), slowing the car accordingly. Rear diode-rod tail lights and complete-module wrapover front wings are smart, and headlight ‘rings’ that serve as daytime running lights make, for once, you appreciative of EU legislation.
We're disappointed not to see a greater effort to cut weight and fuel consumption but have to admit the new X5 is one of the best SUVs in the business. Brits will have to wait patiently for their cars: UK deliveries are off til April while US demand is sated. You can order now though; £40,085 for the 3.0d, £49,945 for the V8 – though the latter does add rear air suspension, Xenons and leather. BMW predicts 600 will take the V8 in ’07, the other 5400 rightly fighting each other for diesel. And over 90 per cent of both will go for the ‘dynamic package’: sports seats and suspension, bigger wheels and black rooflining. Range Rover, watch out.