The second-generation BMW X5 will be bigger, with more performance, comfort and versatility. The US-built 4x4 isn’t due to head into UK showrooms until the end of 2006, but in a world first Autocar has already caught the new seven-seater, with thinly-disguised production bodywork, testing near BMW’s headquarters in Germany. Our computer-generated cover image strips off the disguise worn by the early X5 prototype to reveal how the new model will look when it arrives in 18 months to do battle with the Land Rover’s Discovery 3, Merc’s new M-class and, as it moves upmarket, the Range Rover. BMW’s design team, headed by Dutchman Adrian van Hooydonk, don’t seem to have strayed too far from today’s X5: the shots appear to show a car less radical than the smaller X3 with which it shares a large percentage of its mechanical package. And the shape of the glasshouse and sloping split tailgate are highly reminiscent of today’s X5. Longer, wider and higher than today’s model, and with an extended rear overhang, the new X5 puts more distance between itself and the X3 than today’s model. This is expected to allow BMW to command higher prices. Nothing is official at this early stage, but increases of around £4000 are expected, taking the price of the entry level X5 3.0i close to £40,000 – almost £8000 more than the X3 3.0i.
Inside, the new X5 promises luxury on a level comparable to the 5-series. After receiving harsh criticism over the quantities and quality of the plastic inside the X3, BMW is taking measures to ensure the new X5’s interior is as good as the original’s. The big news, however, is the added space. Recognising the runaway success of seven-seat 4x4s, BMW has applied new packaging solutions to the X5 that look set to extend its versatility enormously. It will come as standard with five seats in a conventional 2+3 configuration, like today’s X5. However, buyers will be offered two additional seats as optional equipment to provide seating for up to seven in a 2+3+2 set-up similar to that adopted by the Volvo XC90, Land Rover Discovery and US-only Cadillac SRX. The two rear most seats have been made possible by a longer rear overhang that’s clearly evident in these photographs, as well as a total rethink of the X5’s interior packaging. When not in use the third row of seats fold away to increase luggage capacity, which grows from 465 litres to over 500 litres. Beneath its new bodywork and versatile interior, the X5 uses a new monococque platform that, Munich insiders suggest, is significantly more advanced than today’s structure whose origins can be traced back to the previous-generation 5-series. Related to the X3’s underpinnings, it supports new suspension using MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear to ensure the X5 retains its renowned car-like handling. Conventional steel springs will be used on lower-end models with air springs set to be fitted on upmarket versions, along with an automatic self-levelling feature to keep the ride height constant when towing. BMW will apply its Active Steering system to the new X5, a system particularly suited to a 4x4 as it helps prevent high-speed roll-over accidents, as well as improving manoeuvrability around town and, more crucially, high-speed stability, especially during lane changes.