BMW X5 SUV (2012 - ) review
The first BMW X5 was the original sporty SUV, and wasn't just big, practical and comfy, but great to drive, too. We test the latest version in the UK.
- Sharp handling
- Seven-seat practicality
- Powerful, efficient engines
- Not the most refined SUV
- Rivals are better off-road
- Firm ride on standard springs
At a glance
Large SUV buyers want their cars to look imposing and stylish in equal measure, and the X5 certainly ticks the first of those boxes with aplomb. Its sheer size lends it an enviable on-road presence, but its generic styling is a little anonymous when compared with, for example, a Volvo XC90 or even a Range Rover Sport. Base versions underline the conservative design, but do come generously equipped, with 18-inch wheels, xenon headlights, LED fog lights, twin exhausts, metallic paint and black roof rails all included. As with other models in the BMW range, M Sport versions pump up the bodywork with aggressive bumpers front and rear, plus a set of larger alloy wheels, and a chrome finish for the large grille. Range-topping M50d and X5M cars look even more aggressive, but only extrovert owners need apply.
The BMW X5's cabin may not quite have the wow factor of the Audi Q7, or the simplicity of the Volvo XC90, but there is very little to find fault with inside. The high driving position gives the driver fantastic visibility in all directions, and there is a huge range of adjustment, although the fiddly plastic levers for tweaking the backrest are a tad sharp to the touch. M Sport models get electric adjustment as standard, which remedies this problem nicely, if you can afford one. Fit and finish is solid, and the materials look and feel of good, if not remarkable, quality. The controls are logically laid out, though, and the iDrive infotainment system remains one of the best of its kind. The menus are a doddle, and it's easy to find what you're looking for without taking your eyes off the road - it's far superior to the touch-screen alternatives in its rivals.
As standard, the X5 comes with just five seats, but there is the option to add a third row of seats, which pop up from the boot and are designed for occasional use. If you regularly carry a lot of children, the extra versatility these provide make them well worth having, although both the Volvo XC90 and Land Rover Discovery do offer more room right at the back. Elsewhere, though, the X5 scores highly, with a standard powered tailgate, plenty of space to stretch out in the front and middle rows, and a very large boot. The split tailgate is another really handy feature, and in its five-seat configuration the X5 will carry an impressive 650 litres of cargo. Folding the back seats down is simple, and the 40:20:40 split means you can still fit three or four passengers on board when carrying bulkier items. Essentially the X5 sits slap bang in the middle of the large 4x4 class when it comes to practicality, so while it's much roomier than, say, a Porsche Cayenne, other competitors do provide even more space for similar money.
Ride and handling
Like almost all big, plush 4x4s, the X5 is available with a wide variety of suspension set-ups, some with standard springs, and some with adaptive (and therefore adjustable) systems. On cars with the adaptive 'comfort' suspension, the ride is nicely cushioned, and the BMW does a good job of isolating you from any imperfections in the road. The adaptive 'M Sport' set-up is much less forgiving, and introduces an unpleasant fidget through the chassis around town. Even so, the X5 handles brilliantly, with composed, secure cornering, minimal body lean and tenacious grip. The steering is a little bit strangely weighted, and can occasionally feel inconsistent, but for on-road performance, only a Porsche Cayenne feels more agile. There are several different driving modes, too, and unlike in some cars, switching between these settings can have a real impact on how the car behaves. Some buyers will want to take their 4x4 off-roading, and while the BMW is competent in this area, it'll come unstuck in really rough terrain, where you'll be better off in a Range Rover Sport, or a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
BMW has been building superb diesel engines for years now, and the X5 features some of the company's very best. Even the entry-level X5 25d four-cylinder feels relatively swift, and picks up nicely from low down in the rev range. The six-cylinder diesels are even more potent, with the smooth 30d and 40d models offering serious straight-line performance, and 0-62mph times of 6.8- and 5.9 seconds respectively. These units are great for overtaking, and work brilliantly with the quick, smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is standard. These diesels are not the most refined, though, and all of them sound a bit gruff and rumbly when cold and under stress, while also sending some noticeable vibration through the controls. The plug-in hybrid X5 40e pairs a four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with an electric motor, and should on paper be able to keep up with the straight-six diesels, but we've yet to drive it.
Big SUVs are notoriously inefficient, but the X5 is cleaner than most. The entry-level rear-wheel drive model, for example, returns over 50mpg in the official tests, while the xDrive 30d still manages a competitive 47.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 156g/km. BMW, like Volvo and Audi, is launching a plug-in hybrid version that will drastically slash the average emissions for the range. Running costs for any large 4x4 will be quite high, so the price of servicing, insurance and replacement parts will be on the high side. However, the X5 has traditionally strong residual values, so you'll get a good chunk of your money back when the time comes to sell it on. The entry-price is also refreshingly low when compared to most of its rivals, although the Lexus RX 450h will be a cheaper option for company car drivers thanks to its hybrid powertrain, and comes with a much more generous equipment list.
The latest X5 shares much of its mechanical DNA with the previous model. You might think that means the company has had plenty of time to iron out any production kinks, but the old car's poor reliability record should be a cause for concern. It fared poorly in both the JD Power customer satisfaction survey and the Warranty Direct reliability index, with owners reporting a high number of faults, and costly repairs. Even more worryingly, a high number of these issues were either electrical or problems with the axles or suspension. Hopefully BMW has improved things for this iteration of the car, and it does provide an unlimited-mileage warranty for the first three years of ownership - unlike Audi and Porsche, who limit you to 60,000 miles. It's worth noting, in the interest of fairness, that most of BMW's premium rivals have an equally poor reputation.
As with any modern car, the X5 comes with several traction and stability systems that'll keep you on the straight and narrow in tricky conditions, and brake individual wheels if required. It has front-, side-, and window airbags that deploy in the event of a collision, but those in the (optional) third row miss out on side 'bags. Standard cars have cruise control with a brake function, and a trailer assistant that adds extra stability when you're hitched up to a trailer or caravan. The options list has a whole host of technology to assist the driver, with a head-up display, night vision camera and 360 degree camera system all available. The X5 is yet to be crash tested by Euro NCAP, but we'd expect it to perform well, although both the Volvo XC90 and Lexus RX 450h are even better equipped to cope in the event of an accident.
Standard SE models are comprehensively equipped, with a long list that includes cruise control, sat-nav, all-round parking sensors, leather upholstery, Bluetooth and DAB radio. If you spend a little extra on an M Sport X5 then you're treated to electrically adjustable front seats, and sportier styling inside and out. All versions get a powered tailgate as standard, and automatic lights and wipers, but if you have cash burning a hole in your pocket, then BMW will still happily part you with it for a few choice upgrades. We'd recommend getting the third row of seats, inclusive servicing package and adaptive comfort suspension, along with the cold weather pack, and the excellent Harman Kardon stereo. Most of the other luxuries, such as the rear entertainment package, different trim materials and sunroof, you can easily do without.
The best SUVs need to be comfortable, practical and good to drive, and the X5 does well when measured by those benchmarks. It's better to drive than most lumbering 4x4s, comes with a wide range of punchy engines, and is efficient, too. It's not as comfortable, refined or practical as the best cars in this class, though. A fine alternative choice, but no pace-setter.