You could take this off-roader into the jungle, but at $361,000, with COE, why would you?
BMW X5 is no mud-slinger, but luxury isn't a dirty word More sports car than off-roader, the best thing that can be said of the X5 is that it handles like a BMW -- PHOTO: BIG FISH PUBLISHING

THE last time I drove a BMW X5 was in the United States on the roads of Atlanta, Georgia, where most of the people talk like Dolly Parton.

To show off what the X5 can do, BMW closed off some muddy farmland, but also took the trouble to book the Road Atlanta circuit. That really says a lot about the car.

The X5 is surely the only off-roader in the world that handles well enough for its maker to want to show it off on a racetrack.

The highest praise I can think of for the X5 is to say that it handles like a BMW.

To get an idea of what driving one feels like, pile some telephone books onto the driver's seat of a 5 Series estate.

The X5 has crisp steering and very precise handling, with absolutely none of the lumbering body roll around corners that you would expect from something so tall and ungainly-looking.

In fact, equipped with BMW's muscular 4.4-litre V8, the X5 is more sports car than off-roader.

With a 0 to 100 kmh time of 7.5 seconds, it will outrun most things on the road, including most of its BMW siblings.

Lots of off-roaders have trouble outrunning their own shadows, and none of them come close to being a match for the X5's road manners.

But then again, it might be wrong to compare the X5 to other off-roaders.

Even though it looks the part, BMW considers it a vehicle for any kind of road, rather than one that will bash its own highway through the jungle.

Nevertheless, despite a lack of ground clearance, it is surprisingly capable off-road.

The monstrously-powerful engine hauls it effortlessly uphill, while electronic traction control replaces the function of locking differentials.

This diverts all the engine's torque to one wheel if the rest are slipping.

Still, only a certifiable nut would wander too far off the tarmac with his X5, especially when you consider the fact that, at $361,000 apiece (with COE), the BMW is just too precious for that sort of treatment.

Taking an X5 into the bushes is like hitting a Casio G-Shock with a hockey stick.

Nobody actually does it, but one likes knowing it can be done.

But even if the X5 falls short of being a true-blue mud-slinger like a Land Rover Discovery, or a Suzuki Jimny for that matter, it manages to feel like one in the city.

In the US, it actually felt pretty small, but here, it has all of the attributes that make off-roaders so popular.

It towers over traffic, and its bulky body cuts an imposing figure on the streets, its mean face warning people against cutting into your lane while its elevated rear-end discourages tailgaters.

You get a commanding view of the traffic ahead from the driver's seat, too.

There are other reasons why the X5 is highly recommended.

Build quality is immaculate, and the equipment list is lengthy, with 10 airbags, superb five-speed automatic gearbox with manual shifting, a glass sunroof, electric seats, climate control and other luxuries all standard with the car.

What is important is that it also comes with parking sensors to make reversing into that parallel parking spot a snap.

If you really must take an X5 off-road, at least it features Hill Descent Control. The clever system uses the car's anti-lock brakes to let it crawl down slopes at a steady pace with no skill needed from the driver.

BMW may have stolen the technology from Land Rover (which it once owned), but having HDC sure beats trying to control 2,170 kg of X5 down a steep, slippery slope by yourself.

The only obstacle the X5 would be unable to help you with is its steep, steep price.

At that sort of money, it is likely to remain a very exclusive model. But unless you intend to go off into the jungle to squash wild pigs once in a while, the X5 is all the off-roader anyone would need.

Among all off-roaders, it is King Of The Road.

SPECS

BMW X5 4.4i

Price: $361,000 with COE

Engine: 4,398 cc 32-valve DOHC V8

Gearbox: Five-speed auto with manual selection

Max power: 286 bhp at 5,400 rpm

Max torque: 440 Nm at 3,600 rpm

0 - 100 kmh: 7.5 seconds

Top speed: 207 kmh (limited), 230 kmh (limited, with Sportpack tyres)

For enquiries: Contact Performance Motors on 474-7800