What's it about
It's amazing how much SUVs are hated but the demand for these vehicles continues to surge at full throttle. And the SUV arms race among premium carmakers is heating up even more with Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche all members of this exclusive crowd.
However, one of the big SUV boys is, of course, BMW's X5. Launched in 1999, the Munich carmaker has sold more than 600 000 units until now.
This model even proved to be popular at the end of its first lifecycle despite fresher offerings from rivals such as Porsche, Mercedes and Land Rover.
Therefore the second generation X5 is a vital product for BMW as it is keen to build on the success of the original model. That's perhaps also why BMW didn't mess with the X5's overall styling too much.
Yes, for some the newcomer might appear like a mere facelift, but it is a much improved vehicle too. BMW is also blunt about the fact that the X5 is still a road-biased vehicle and that's why they've labeled it a Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV). The X5 is designed for tarmac, and that's where it outperforms its rivals.
The latest X5 appears fresh but perhaps slightly less aggressive than before. It has also grown in size in every aspect with rear passengers benefiting the most with an extra 40mm of legroom.
It comes with BMW's xDrive permanent all-wheel-drive and the range-topping model gets a potent V8 engine.
BMW also claims that its new X5 is again a vehicle offering a list of firsts. Not only is it the first vehicle in its class to offer Active Steering and an active suspension setup, but it is the first with Heads-up Display.
A more controversial "first" is that the X5 now comes with run-flat tyres.
The new X5 scores big on interior space and it can accommodate four adults with ease.
There is also the option for a third row of seats, but of course these are more suitable for children. These seats are easy to pop up and equally painless to fold away.
The interior layout follows BMW's simplistic design trend and it appears stylish and clean. It is well-packaged with overall craftsmanship being top-notch.
The most distinctive interior feature is the new pistol grip-like gear lever, which is functional and straight-forward to use. It could take some getting used to, but once you are, it works well.
Four interior colour options, six equipment and trim colours and five different versions of trim strips, combined with no less than nine exterior colours, provide a wide range of options for customising the vehicle.
And galvanised trim strips in Pearl Gloss Chrome feature as standard, blending perfectly with the trim panels to add an extra touch of style, value and elegance.
All the usual comfort goodies are there and of course BMW has equipped the X5 with a revised version of the infamous iDrive controller.
There is a vast list of options though and features such as electric seats are not standard.
Under the skin
The flagship's new 4.8-litre thrusts out an impressive 261 kW at 6 300 r/min and a healthy 475 Nm of torque. Paired with a new quick-shifting six-speed automatic, BMW claims the V8 should reach 100km/h in 6.5 seconds.
The X5's road holding abilities are still compliments of BMW's xDrive four-wheel drive system that transfers power between the front and rear wheels depending on available grip for optimum handling. It can now be specified with 'Adaptive Drive' and 'Active Steering'.
Adaptive Drive, which is a R27 500 extra, uses active hydraulic anti-roll bars to counteract the cornering forces of the car to keep the body from leaning too heavily and unsettling the occupants.
In addition to this, Adaptive Drive incorporates an Electronic Damper Control system that uses sensors to continuously adjust the shock absorber settings for optimum comfort.
Basically Adaptive Drive means that relevant components communicate with each other more effectively. This not only results in better interaction between anti-roll bars and adjustable dampers, but also monitors speed, acceleration, ride height and the steering angle.
Active Steering, which makes a lot of sense in a big vehicle such as the X5, uses an electronically-operated planetary gear intersecting the steering shaft at low speeds to make parking effortless.
When driving at speed the opposite occurs and the steering weights up for a smoother, more composed ride.
Like other new BMW models the X5 now comes with run-flat tyres too. A space-saver spare wheel is available too if owners want it.
Not only is the new X5 bigger, it is also quicker than its predecessor and BMW claims it is more economical too. It is only 10kg heavier than the old model thanks to some clever weight saving methods.
BMW has achieved this through the use of aluminium for come body parts and components while advanced lightweight steel is also used.
Typically BMW, the X5 comes with an excellent suspension setup that boosts the vehicle's dynamics. The blend of ride and handling is, like before, almost faultless and at pace the X5 displays awesome stability too.
For a car that is this heavy (more than 2 200kg), the X5 is quick. BMW claims a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 6.5 seconds for the V8 model. In-gear acceleration is impressive and the X5 shows a nimbleness that is on par with some sport sedans.
BMW is also blunt about the X5's capabilities and says it is a "car" for tarmac. If you want something more versatile with off-road capabilities, then that's tough luck - go and buy something else.
And one has to admire this honest approach since you always know where you stand with the X5.
The 4.8-litre engine is fine unit too and has what it takes to get the X5 going. However, it is thirsty too with a claimed average fuel consumption of 12.5 litres/100 km.
When the new twin-turbo diesel model arrives next year it will probably be the engine of choice for the X5.
Despite tough competition form other luxury SUV makers, the new X5 is destined to be another hit for BMW. It is a vehicle with amazing on-road authority with handling as good as any other BMW.
It is a showcase of excellent engineering and advanced technologies. In addition to this, good quality, imposing looks and excellent handling are part of the mix.
The new X5 again manages to impress, and is a worthy successor to the ground-breaking first generation.
But even as a premium vehicle the X5 doesn't come cheap and it is easy to inflate the base price by thousands.
Great driving dynamics