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Lucire 2012
Freude am Fahren The BMW X5 Xdrive40d: very competently so.

Power ranger

Great for the school run and full of practicality? The X5 may well be those things, but, as Jack Yan discovers, BMW has given this turbodiesel SUV a welcome surprise
PHOTOGRAPHED BY THE AUTHOR

 


 

WHEN BMW LAUNCHED the original X5, it was lauded as an SUV that could still be a pleasure to drive. It was a vehicle that, to all intents and purposes, deserved the BMW label of ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’.

After sampling the grunty X6 a few years ago, complete with a twin-turbo V8 under the bonnet, Lucire’s experience of BMW’s large SUV platform was very promising. The X6, with its Tonka-toy-like looks, imposing size and head-turning ability, was a big SUV we actually loved, despite having had reservations about the concept.

The X6’s critics, however, point to the lack of logic behind it. Why, they cried, must it be an impractical coupé shape mixed with the sheer bulk of an SUV? How many concepts can the human mind cross-over in a crossover?

The X5, then, answers the criticisms. While it was launched first, we experienced the vehicles in reverse, and the X5 that BMW loaned to us was a very different beast: the Xdrive40d, a three-litre turbodiesel six. This was the sensible solution, on paper, to the excesses of the twin-turbo V8 X6: it had a normal shape with an upright tailgate, and a diesel engine giving a claimed 7·5 l/100 km (38 mpg); we averaged 9·6 l/100 km (29·4 mpg), for reasons we’ll go in to.

While everything in the cabin is immediately familiar after being in the X6, the drama had disappeared. While the X5 still imposed through its size again—it is taller, though less lengthy, than the X6—there was a feeling that one had opted to blend in. With SUVs a common currency these days, the X5 didn’t make you feel flash-Harry special as its brother does.

Probably because it’s not supposed to. X6 is designed as a special vehicle for the town poser, something to drive along slowly along urban boulevards and have one up on the me-too, same-again Porsche owner. With second-hand Cayennes dropping to ridiculously low prices and 911s failing to elicit much excitement to observers (though we’re excited about the next-generation Typ 991), X6 is a vehicle that raises you up a notch.

X5, then, is the one that gets about its business quietly, without fuss, being dutiful and practical. No more hassles about having a small rear window that is difficult to see out of. And yes, you can fill up the boot with plenty of gear should the occasion demand. The lower part of the tailgate folds down, making loading more convenient.

In fact, Lucire even tested the X5 on a school run, queuing up with soccer Moms and their minivans and lesser Ford Territorys, where it fitted in to place shape-wise. Only when the BMW badge came into sight and our test subject hopped in did she feel suitably impressed.

Our test X5 was well appointed, inside and out, and we never had the sense that BMW had skimped on the extras. (Our earlier experience in the X1 was less comfortable.) There were no hard plastics in the cabin on the pretext that a workhorse SUV must have easy-to-wash surfaces—a convenient excuse for some companies to put in less-than-stellar materials and charge a premium for utility—and it was a comfortable way to undertake long drives.

We took the X5 off-road as well, gently so, to trails in the Wairarapa that would pose little problem in a Range Rover. It handled those metal roads well, the four-wheel drive giving a far more confident experience than the times we had tackled the same road in a front-wheel-drive saloon. Width was the one issue, but at 1,933 mm it is comparable to the likes of the Volvo XC90 (1,898 mm) and the Volkswagen Touareg (1,940 mm). (We would have had a Touareg for comparison but it had a fault; its owner tells me that in two years, it has been off-road—and not in the sense you might be thinking—for nine months.)

So it’s all very practical, then.

But, one might ask, what is it doing in a magazine that goes on regularly about style, that undefinable quality that cars in Lucire tend to possess? For the simple fact that it has plenty.

True, the X6 might be more imposing, but we love vehicles that have an X factor (no pun intended). The X5 may indeed be very practical, suited to off-road use as well as the school run, but it packs something very surprising indeed.

Three hundred and six Pfederstärken under the bonnet, which it sends to the four wheels with amazingly strong grip. It may be a very pleasant diesel on the outside but it acquitted itself over the Rimutakas just as an X6 would. The X5 is a Q-car, and we do not mean the Ingolstadt type.

On one of our final days with the vehicle, we spied a Porsche 996 coming up behind us, just as we were leaving Featherston for Wellington. Autobahn practice would dictate that we let the 996 pass at the first passing-lane opportunity. So we did. And what a mistake that was.

Mr Middle-Aged 996, blonde passenger riding shotgun after a day in the wine country, kept getting in our way.

We’ve driven the 997 and assuming the limits were just a little less stratospheric in its predecessor, we expected better.

But the X5 kept firmly on his tail, the big vehicle never being anything but sure-footed as it tackled the notorious hill.

The Porsche might have had us on the straights but its owner could never take the corners that well, despite the Swabians’ best traction control and electronics correcting for the 911’s weight issues.

At the end of the journey, we could say that the X5 has something special. It’s the SUV that you buy if you want to blend in a little. And, if you ever need to, surprise the heck out of any poser in a Porsche who is wondering about the kidney grille quickly looming in his rear-view mirror. •

 


Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.

The X6 might be more imposing, but we love vehicles that have an X factor (no pun intended). The X5 may indeed be very practical, suited to off-road use as well as the school run, but it packs something very surprising indeed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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