BMW X5 Review
The BMW X5 has become so embedded in the automotive landscape that it’s hard to remember a time before it existed. One of the first luxury SUVs to compete with the Range Rover, it showed us cars could be capable off-road without sacrificing on-road performance. Over the years, the X5 has grown and evolved, developing this modern (and occasionally divisive) image, but the basic recipe has remained the same. If it ain’t broke...
Select's rating score* - 4.1 / 5
At a Glance
When the Range Rover first came out, it was a 4x4 with a bit of luxury; a workhorse in a tuxedo. Now, though, luxury SUVs tend to be road cars that can do a bit of off-roading, and that’s the case with the X5. Yes, it’s more than capable of dealing with a bit of snow or with some muddy fields, but it’s most at home on the road, where the fabulous six- and eight-cylinder engines can shine alongside the impressive ride and handling characteristics. But whatever the surface, it’s still easy to appreciate the quality, space and luxury on display. Even entry-level xLine models are rammed with kit, and though the sportier M Sport and high-performance versions offer slightly more thrills, the standard X5s are more than enough for most people, particularly once you’ve added a few options.
Perhaps the X5’s biggest selling point is space, and the seven-seat option will appeal to plenty of prospective customers. But because the car is so vast, it’s a “true” seven-seater, fitting seven fully-grown adults in relative comfort. And if you don’t need the seating space, you’ll free up an enormous amount of space in the boot.
Beyond that, it’s the details that count. The way the infotainment screen can be controlled through touch, gestures or via a control wheel means it’ll suit anyone, then there’s the attention to detail in the high-end versions’ climate control. Not only can you have four ‘zones’ so passengers can set the temperature in their own part of the car, but you can even heat or cool the cupholders to keep your coffee warm or your McFlurry cold.
BMW is known for making great engines, and the X5 comes with a choice of six brilliant engines. At the foot of the range, you can choose between petrol or diesel power, with the brilliant 3.0-litre ‘30d’ engine marking the entry-level offering. Despite propping up the rest of the line-up, it still comes with fuel-saving mild-hybrid technology and 286hp.
If that isn’t enough, you could always choose the more powerful 40d diesel engine. Peel back the badges and it’s identical to the 30d engine, but it offers an extra 54hp, taking the total to 340hp. Alternatively, you could choose the 40i petrol engine, which is also a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder mild hybrid. Like the 30d and 40d engines, it’s silky smooth, and it comes with a substantial 333hp.
It isn’t as substantial, however, as the M50i engine – a 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine that churns out a massive 530hp. But don’t go thinking that’s the be-all and end-all. That engine has been tuned even more significantly to create the X5 M Competition, which comes with 625hp and a faintly ridiculous 0-62mph time of 3.8 seconds.
BMW has also supplemented this seemingly power-crazed line-up with an economy-focussed plug-in hybrid version. That combines a 3.0-litre petrol engine with battery power to offer the same 286hp output as the 30d diesel engine. Despite that, though, the 30d engine is probably the sweet spot in the X5 range. Despite being the least powerful version, it can still drag the X5 from 0-62mph in around six seconds, making it just as fast as a Volkswagen Golf GTI. Add in the economy and the uncanny smoothness of BMW’s 3.0-litre diesel engines and you’ve got all the motor you’ll ever need.
In truth, though, it doesn’t really matter which engine you choose – the result is more or less the same. The 3.0-litre engines are particularly smooth, and the car feels very refined. It also has plenty of power in reserve, and that’s backed up by handling that doesn’t really compute with a kerb weight well in excess of two tonnes.
As with most BMWs, the steering is pretty much spot on, eliciting an instant and predictable response from the front wheels, and the suspension is great, too. Somehow, BMW has managed to keep the X5’s huge body in check through the corners despite offering a very supple ride. Those two qualities don’t always go hand-in-hand.
The only downside, then, is the sheer bulk of the beast. The X5 is more than two metres wide with the mirrors folded in, but when you’re on the road you’re talking about a 2.2-metre-wide car. And that can suddenly feel very, very big on a narrow country lane.
BMW has been very careful to improve the X5’s environmental credentials, fitting all but the 4.4-litre V8 engines with mild-hybrid technology. That means the car can harvest energy normally lost when braking or coasting to a halt, before redeploying it to help the internal combustion engine out. As a result, the 30d versions of the X5 will do about 40mpg on the official economy test. That sinks to around 37mpg for the 40d and 30mpg for the 40i, while the M50i does about 24mpg. And the X5 M Competition? Probably best not to ask.
The plug-in hybrid 45e model, meanwhile, can be much more confident in its fuel-sipping abilities. According to BMW, it will manage more than 50 miles on electrical power alone, providing you set out with a full battery. The official economy figures don’t usually mean much for plug-in hybrids, but the X5 45e managed more than 200mpg – not too shabby, and achievable if you have a very particular lifestyle. Those lucky enough to consider the X5 as a company car will probably want to head straight for the plug-in hybrid range. The 45e emits carbon dioxide at a rate of between 27g/km and 32g/km on the official test, so the taxman won’t want too much of your hard-earned cash. To be fair, the diesels manage to keep their CO2 output relatively low, but they’re still pumping out around 200 g/km. Probably best to stick with the plug-in car if you want to keep your emissions down.
The X5 is, when all is said and done, a BMW, so don’t come here expecting the last word in originality. The design is much the same as any other car in the BMW stable, but that’s a first-world problem if ever there was one. Put the aesthetics to one side, and everything else about it is first-rate. The build quality is exemplary, with every switch, panel and button feeling solid and precise. The same goes for the material quality, with soft leather, cool chrome and tactile plastics everywhere you look. The seats are very comfortable, too – even in the sportier X5 M Competiition – and the driving position is excellent.
Perhaps more importantly, though, everything is laid out logically, with buttons in sensible places and everything in easy reach. You could get into one of these having never driven a BMW, yet you’d still know where 90% of the switchgear was within a few minutes. It’s that intuitive. Which means you can forgive a slight lack of imagination on the designers’ part. Sure, the X5, X3 and X2 all have quite similar cabins, but they’re all stylish in their own, Germanic way.
Every version of the X5 gets the same basic infotainment system, which mixes a 12.3-inch touchscreen with a 12.3-inch digital instrument display. The infotainment system is particularly good, mixing touchscreen control with a control wheel arrangement that means, once you’ve learned your way around the system, you barely need to take your eyes off the road. We tend to glorify touchscreens a bit these days, but the BMW system is better.
Alongside the screens, you get a decent sound system, but audiophiles might want to upgrade to the impressive Harman/Kardon or Bowers & Wilkins systems. And the technology doesn’t end there, with wireless phone charging standard across the range, USB sockets to plug into and wifi hotspot preparation. Play with the options list and you can team all that with a crystal-clear head-up display, rear-seat entertainment screens and massage seats.
When a car is almost five metres long and more than two metres wide, you’re going to expect plenty of interior space. And the X5 delivers. Not only is there more than enough room in the front and rear, but there’s an enormous 650-litre boot. It’s so vast, in fact, that BMW can slip a whole new row of seats in there without you really noticing. Okay, if you put people in those seats, you are going to lose most of the luggage space, but leave them folded down and you’ll still have way more than 500 litres to play with. Fold the second row down and that swells by about another 1,200 litres. It’s cavernous.
If you do want to add and use the third row of seats, though, don’t worry too much about who you’re going to put in them. Admittedly, access to seats six and seven is a pain for those who aren’t as agile as they once were, but once you’re in, only the tallest passengers will struggle for room. You can even fit three grown-ups across the bench seat in the second row.
The X5 earned itself an impressive five-star Euro NCAP crash test score when it was tested in 2018, with solid scores in every department. Perhaps most importantly, though, it scored well for child occupant protection, thanks in part to the standard Isofix seat That said, that’s pretty much what you’d expect from a big 4x4, which shouldn’t come off worst in too many accidents. But BMW is rather hoping things won’t get that far, choosing to fit the X5 with a plethora of safety gadgets designed to prevent accidents.
As standard, you get autonomous emergency braking that can automatically hit the brakes if it detects an impending crash, and that’s teamed with a whole fleet of sensors. There are systems to keep the car in its lane, systems to stop you cutting up another driver and even systems to more or less park the car for you. Okay, the X5’s safety tech isn’t particularly ground-breaking – other cars in this class have much the same stuff – but the BMW is every bit as good.
The X5 range more or less boils down to two main models, plus a couple of outliers. Across the body of the line-up, you get to choose between the xLine and M Sport versions, which are available with the 30d, 40d and 40i engines, as well as the 45e plug-in hybrid.
The xLine kicks things off, but like the 30d engine, it doesn’t feel like an entry-level vehicle. The model is marked out by its 19-inch wheels and silver roof rails, while the cabin gets heated sports seats, leather upholstery and the BMW Live Cockpit Professional system, which incorporates a 12.3-inch central touchscreen and a digital instrument cluster. Add in automatic lights and wipers, a power-operated tailgate and wireless phone charging, and you’ve got everything you really need.
You can, however, upgrade to the more aggressive-looking M Sport, which gets you sportier bumpers and bigger, 20-inch alloys. You get black roof rails, too, as well as blue brake callipers and glossy black trim around the windows. Inside, meanwhile, the M Sport gets its own steering wheel and pedals, as well as dark roof lining.
If, however, you opt for the M50i version, you get an altogether different specification. The V8 model is marked out by grey trim on the grille and door mirror caps, as well as the huge 22-inch alloy wheels and red brake callipers. Inside, it gets special M Sport seat belts and a Harman/Kardon sound system, while the whole thing rides on special M Sport suspension.
Finally, the X5 M Competition changes things once more, with 21-inch alloys at the front and larger 22-inch rims at the rear. It gets four-zone climate control, too, and a fleet of assistance features, while the suspension is a model-specific M Suspension Professional set-up.
Among the most desirable options are the gorgeous BMW Individual Tanzanite Blue Metallic paintwork, while the Technology Pack is also likely to appeal. The package combines a head-up display, gesture control for the touchscreen and an upgraded sound system. As standard, the package comes with a Harman/Kardon system, but you can upgrade to a Bowers & Wilkins set-up if you so wish.
The Comfort Pack is also one of the more alluring features of the options list, adding keyless entry, a heated steering wheel and heated armrests, as well as heated rear seats and “comfort” front seats. The pack even includes cupholders that can be heated or cooled to suit your beverage. Perhaps the most important option of them all, however, is the optional third row of seats, which turns the car into a seven-seat family bus.
Like all BMWs, some of the X5’s stiffest competition comes from its native Germany. The Mercedes-Benz GLE has been modernised significantly, putting it back among the class leaders, while the Audi Q7 has always been a stylish, solid alternative. Then there’s the Porsche Cayenne – the keen driver’s choice – and the Volkswagen Touareg, which has upped its game to provide serious competition for the established premium models.
Then there’s competition from elsewhere in the world, with the Americans putting forward the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s a car that has never been especially successful in the UK, but it’s worthy of consideration. Japan, meanwhile, has the funky-looking, hybrid-powered Lexus RX L, while South Korea has the Kia Sorento. Like the Touareg, it’s much more luxurious than the badge suggests.
But it’s the British who produce two of the X5’s strongest and most popular adversaries. The Land Rover Discovery offers a slightly more utilitarian and off-road-orientated alternative to the X5, while the Range Rover Sport is closer to the X5 in terms of its road manners. Both offer equal amounts of luxury to the BMW, but both are just as good, if not better, off-road.
With impressive performance, solidity and road manners, as well as bags of space and off-road capability, it’s easy to see why the police like the X5 so much. It really does suit every occasion, whether it’s terrorising lane-hoggers on the M4, towing a horsebox to a gymkhana or pulling up outside an embassy in central London, the X5 is right at home. And it does all that while still being every inch a luxury car. All of which means the BMW is a very rare thing indeed – a car that’s more or less flawless.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the BMW X5
**Correct as of 30/11/2020. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £5,183.89 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.