BMW's latest multi-seat all-terrain X5 is a massive, handsome beast which doles out heaps of sportiness, comfort and utility
BMW X5 extraordinaire The BMW X5 is now bigger all round, resulting in a more roomy interior. PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER TAN, PETER LIM

Test-drives, whether done here or overseas, cover no more than 500km. Most do not cross 300km. Still, they offer a glimpse into what makes a car tick, a peek at its strong points as well as its weaknesses.

A 1,800km drive, however, allows you to get to know a car pretty well - warts and all.

Hence, BMW must have been quite confident of its new X5 to agree to a test drive which included a hop to Penang and back - plus a couple of towns in between.

And it had good reason to be, although that became apparent only when the car was well on its way up north.

On roads which accommodate a much higher speed than ours here, the X5 astounds with its limousine-like comfort and stability. Which is nothing to write home about if your car is indeed a limousine. But if it is a huge and tall seven-seat sport utility vehicle (SUV), which is bigger than its already sizeable predecessor, mimicking a limousine is a laudable feat.

The body panels for one thing, are just too large not to reverberate at high speeds. I won't spell out specifics, but I will say the new X5 is the fastest SUV I have been in.

And as the speedometer points to that unpublishable number, the cabin remains calm, with wind and road noises kept to a level which does not interfere with music from the car's excellent Apple-compatible infotainment system.

The only thing which jars a little is the right wiper, which hits the top right-hand frame of the windscreen at high speeds.

The X5 on hand is an xDrive40i, powered by a familiar and supremely confident 3-litre inline-six. It is turbocharged to churn out a healthy 340hp of power and 450Nm of torque from 1,500rpm.

In the city, those numbers, while impressive, do not sing, by virtue of the car's inescapable heft which, incidentally, the designers have masked rather well.

But on an open highway, the engine conspires with BMW's swift and silky eight-speed autobox to dish out acceleration unattainable to many sporty coupes, much less a full-size SUV.

On the North-South, the X5 concedes to very few other cars. Indeed, only one comes to mind - an Audi R8 which must have been exceeding 200kmh.

The big BMW changes directions at higher velocities with a deftness commonly associated with smaller, lighter cars. Its adaptive air suspension is comfort-biased, but does an excellent job of controlling body roll, even when the car has to change lanes quickly to avoid trucks lumbering into its path at the last possible moment.

The X5's brakes, however, could have been calibrated for more light-touch efficacy and linearity. Currently, they are too grippy in the city and a tad soft on the highway.

On board, premium amenities abound. Second-row seats are motorised, so one's manicure is never at risk when one is accessing the last row. With a longer wheelbase and a dedicated air-conditioning vent, third-row accommodation is better than before, even if it is not as comfy as the first two rows.

Twin-tailgates make loading and unloading easier, as does a button to lower the suspension. This is the same system which lowers the car for better stability at high speed.

The cockpit is fully digital, with a huge infotainment touchscreen which is easy to toggle. The Apple CarPlay, however, does not always reconnect to the paired phone automatically.

The system is equipped with gesture control, as well as conversational voice command which can link you to a concierge should the robot fail to comprehend you.

A 360-degree camera makes parking the behemoth easy enough, but ticket-based parking systems make you wish the X5's windows were a little faster. This, of course, is not an issue in Singapore, where electronic parking is commonplace.

Less relevant, too, is the car's prodigious ability to dish out performance and comfort in equal measure.

All the same, it is good to know when push comes to shove, the BMW X5 can oblige. And possibly without breaking a sweat.