The third-generation X5 is a great improvement on BMW's original SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) formula
Greater X-cellence PHOTO: TORQUE

In 1999, BMW introduced its E53 X5 and marketed it as a SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle), so as to differentiate it further from the hordes of SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles), especially in the X5's key market, USA. With the Munich automaker owning Land Rover at the time, the first X5 was developed with some help from the British 4x4 experts.

The follow-up model, the E70, was made larger (mainly to satisfy the "super-sized" Americans) and it dropped the manual transmission altogether. The enlarged body accommodates the option of third-row seats, strengthening the car's appeal to family men. The second-gen X5
was also given the M treatment, becoming the monstrous 555bhp
X5M. By the end of the E70's life cycle, BMW had sold over 1.3
million X5s worldwide, making it one of its all-time best-sellers.

The latest X5, codenamed F15, is more ornate than its predecessor, with brighter bling and sharper curves. At fi rst sight, it looks similar to the old number, but every line is different and every window has been reshaped. Its styling brings to mind an overgrown 3 Series Touring. In terms of dimensions, the X5 is about 30mm longer and 13mm lower than before, and its wheelbase is a tiny 2mm shorter. This vehicle still weighs on the wrong side of two tonnes, but there’s been a token 15kg weight saving.

More impressive is the aerodynamics, with the newcomer (xDrive30d variant) registering a drag coeffi cient of 0.31, which is not only better than the old X5 (which has a Cd of 0.33) but comparable to some sports saloons. This is the first BMW X model to have Air Curtains, a set of
vertical apertures that guide the in-flowing air around the wheel arches and create a curtain of laminar air over the wheels, before it exits through the Air Breathers in the side panels. The X5 is also the first Bimmer with Aero Blades - black aero elements integrated with the roof spoiler that sits over the tailgate.

Automatic operation of the tailgate is now standard, and it can be done with the key fob. The boot is usefully bigger, with a capacity of 650 litres expandable to 1,870 litres (versus 620-1,750 litres previously). Like the earlier X5, third-row seating can be specifi ed, and there’s more space for
everyone on board. They'll be sitting on plush, generously sized seats.

The interior architecture is largely unchanged, but the details are very different. There are more details, too, and they lend the impression of depth. The driving position has been raised, and the driving environment is more ergonomic and more comfortable than before. State-of-the-art assistance systems are available for the X5, such as a full-colour head-up display, BMW Night Vision (with detection of humans and animals), Lane Change/Departure Warning, Active Cruise Control, 360-degree Surround View, automated parking, Internet access… the list is long.

Much shorter is the time it takes the X5 xDrive50i to go from a standstill to 100km/h - 5 seconds fl at, which is half a second quicker than the defunct X5 50i. The new car's 10.5 per cent more power and eight per cent more torque have paid off, yet the average fuel consumption has
been cut by over 16 per cent and there's 50g-lower carbon emission per kilometre.

Due credit goes to the V8 engine's twin-scroll turbocharger technology,
more precise direct fuel injection and Valvetronic air/fuel intake control, but the new ZF 8HP 8-speed automatic transmission deserves a lot of the credit, too. Its widely spread gear ratios allow the shift patterns to be optimised for overall mechanical effi ciency, without compromising the speediness and smoothness of the gearbox.

Smooth, too, is the ride, which is greatly improved over that of the old X5. The new one glides over broken tarmac like a (tall) limo, especially when equipped with the optional air suspension for the rear axle.

Switch the Dynamic Damper Control to Sport+ if you wish to "bring back" the firm ride of the old model. Despite the added comfort, there's no penalty in the handling department, with sharp steering responses for such a heavy machine. The electrically assisted wheel is on the light side, but it's positive and direct.

Full-time intelligent all-wheel-drive, or xDrive in BMW lingo, underpins the X5, managing its power-split between the front and rear wheels so as to apply maximum possible power to the ground, regardless of conditions. Compared to the earlier "xDrivetrain", the latest version is 1.4kg lighter and more efficient.

The X5 buyer has three primary suspension packages to choose from: Comfort Adaptive, Dynamic Adaptive or Professional Adaptive. Optionally available for the latter two packages is Dynamic Performance Control (DPC), which adds active roll stabilisation to the two-mode damping. It works like Porsche's PDCC, reducing body roll in corners and decoupling the anti-roll bars on straight roads for greater comfort. DPC also varies the torque-split between the two rear wheels for better grip when powering out of a turn.

The centre console's Driving Experience Control lets the driver match the suspension mode to the motoring requirement – Comfort, Sport, Sport+ or Eco Pro (what each mode does is fairly self-explanatory).

In my "experience", the X5 is still an interesting drive even in the "dull"
Eco Pro mode, and it’s best to leave the car in Comfort or Sport for optimum driveability in every situation, short of racing on a track or climbing up the Himalayas. As for the hardcore Sport+ mode, I can see the need if it were in a Z4, but in a behemoth like the X5, it's not really a "plus" point.

In its current third generation, the X5 has become more mainstream
than ever before. It strikes the right balance between "sports" and "utility", unlike its forebears that emphasise the sporty part of the sports-utility formula at the expense of everyday driving comfort. Yet, the new-generation X5 is still an excellent drive, offering enough sportiness without any of the rough edges. The big Bimmer will come to Singapore in January next year.

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This article first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Torque.

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