Not only was the X5 BMW’s first SUV, it was also the progenitor of a range of cars they refer to as SAVs or Sports Activity Vehicles. To date over 2.1 million X5s have been sold.
Every car tends to become larger with each generation and the X5 is no exception. So in the intervening years BMW’s SAV range has expanded to fill the obvious gaps with the X3 and X1, and the more sporting SAV Coupe niches with the X6, X4 and X2 in that chronological order. Today’s X3 is the size of the original X5, while the all-new fourth generation X5 is 36mm longer overall on a 42mm longer wheelbase than its predecessor, as well as 66mm wider, and 19mm taller.
Where the third generation X5 (F15) was built on a developed version of the second-generation (E70) model’s chassis, the new X5 (G05) is built on the BMW’s latest CLAR modular platform, designed for two and four-wheel-drive vehicles. It thus shares some components with the 5, 7 and 8-Series models, as well as the next 3-Series.
As Anders Thogersen, the Lead Exterior Designer for the new X5 explained, “We wanted to increase the X5’s visual presence, so we made the front grille larger, and the bonnet line a bit higher to create a bolder, stronger nose. The two kidney grilles are now linked like on the 02 models from the early 1970s, which makes them look wider, and they have angled edges. At the rear, the Hofmeister kink on the D-pillar and split rear tailgate, which is now powered, are also clear X5 design features.”
Manufacturers often seem to have problems resolving the areas under the bumpers, but BMW’s designers have done a neat job here, layering the intake grilles and LED daytime running lights in such a way that they break up the visual mass of the large one-piece body-coloured nose section.
At the rear, the exhaust outlets are clearly defined by polished trapezoid surrounds flanking the underbody shield. This change of colour and shape again helps to reduce the visual height of the vehicle. Meanwhile the polished elements under the nose, side skirts and rear valance tie the design together and enhance the cars premium look.
Other big news is the move to aluminium for the major body panels and door handles to save weight and increase efficiency. It is harder to press crisp panel creases into aluminium compared to steel, but BMW have managed to incorporate this vital part of the design that gives the new X5 a sense of dynamic tension.
It is also hard to make a large one-box shape like this aerodynamically efficient, but the 0.31 Cd, unchanged from before despite the new cars physical size increase, is not at all bad for a vehicle of this type.
There are a lot of subtle aerodynamic details here, and BMW’s state-of-the-art wind tunnel helped the engineers hone aero friendly features like the sculpted recesses in the rear light clusters, and the airflow from the rooftop spoiler. On that note, BMW admitted that the vent behind the front wheels is a fake and does not contribute to an air curtain effect like on their smaller models.
The base X5 comes with 18-inch wheels, but we don’t see anything less than 20-inch looking reasonable on a car of this size. Optional wheels go up to 22-inch with 275/35ZR22 and 315/30ZR22 tyres. Our test cars wore 21-inch wheels shod with 275/40ZR21 and 315/30ZR21 tyres.
At launch the new X5 comes with straight-six petrol and diesel engines for all markets, with a V8 petrol model as well for the US and China. The forthcoming X5 M will use an M-tuned version of that V8.
The xDrive 40i we drove is powered by the familiar TwinPower turbo 3.0 litre motor, which makes 335hp and 447Nm of torque for a 0-100km/h time of 5.5 sec. The entry-level xDrive 30d diesel has 261hp and 620Nm of torque for a rapid 6.5 sec 0-100km/h sprint, with average consumption a miserly 6.0 L/100km.
Performance diesel fans will sit up and take notice of the xDrive 50d, which is boosted by four turbochargers for 395hp and 760Nm. This crazy fast oil burner will smoke many performance cars with its 5.2 sec 0-100km time, while fuel consumption is barely worse than the tamer 30d at just 6.8 L/100km.
As previously mentioned, the US and Chinese markets will also get the petrol V8, which has an output of 456hp and 650Nm, and busts the 100km/h mark in 4.7 sec. This motor will form the basis of the forthcoming X5 M, and BMW also spoke of a Hybrid model joining the range within 18 months.
What has changed slowly over time is the customer base for the X5. The original X5 was overtly sporty compared to the lumbering SUVs on sale in the late 1990s, and BMW rammed home this point with a racetrack session at Road Atlanta as part of their launch event.
However, the X car range has other models to do that job these days, not least the fastback X6 M, so the move into luxury sedan territory with the X5 taking the role of a more versatile substitute for say a 5 or 7-Series makes perfect sense.
Everything about the new X5 is thus more premium, with more focus on creature comforts than ever before. From its slightly softer styling, its more sumptuous cabin fittings, and just the way it goes down the road with a greater sense of refinement, the new X5 looks and feels more sophisticated. This befits its role as the last stepping-stone to the forthcoming X7 flagship SAV model.
If all that is expected and in line with BMW’s current philosophy, the really big design changes are to be found in the cabin. BMW pioneered the idea of tilting the console towards the driver back in the 1970s, and making their cabin driver centric was all part and parcel of their period “Ultimate Driving Machine” ethos.
Their use of clear and legible white markings on black dials for the instrument pack has more or less survived for nearly half a Century. So for better or worse a big sea change has finally arrived with the new X5, which takes BMW’s instrument pack design kicking and screaming into 2018. This new TFT display features the speedometer on the left and rev counter on the right, flanked by smaller fuel level and water temperature gauges.
Other data like navigation directions can be called up between these major instruments, although the optional Head Up display data projected onto the windscreen is less distracting. Meanwhile the 12.3-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen display is clear and easy to navigate.