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In its 25th year, is BMW’s original SUV back to its very best?

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Since the BMW X5 was launched in 1999, it has been referred to by BMW not as a ‘sports utility vehicle’, but as a ‘sports activity vehicle’.

Semantics? Undoubtedly. And yet four generations, 2.2 million sales and an amazing rise to prominence suggest the Munich firm’s marketing department knew what it was doing.

Now, just as it is for the Porsche 911 or Volkswagen Golf GTI, such success is why the new G05-generation X5 has so little margin for error. In fact, the class-leading expectations placed on this new iteration far outweigh those of its great-grandparent, whose brand cachet, practicality and handling prowess made it a winner.

The game has moved on, and BMW has identified comfort as a core dynamic attribute for the car in 2018. Consequently, this new X5 uses acoustic glass for the windscreen and, optionally, the side windows; the suspension is now pneumatic; there is electronic roll stabilisation on some models; and passengers can enjoy four-zone climate control and an enlarged panoramic glass roof.

Naturally, BMW promises a more involving driving experience than ever and we’ll shortly discover whether its engineers continue to defy the laws of physics in this respect.

In 2023, the X5 and its coupé-roofed X6 sibling were given quite an extensive facelift so they could continue to keep up in this very competitive segment. 'Life cycle impulses' – BMW speak for facelifts – are usually quite mild, but the X5 got quite a heavily updated front, an entirely new dashboard and a round of technical updates. The plug-in hybrid in particular received a big bump in power and range.

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BMW X5 range at a glance

With the facelift, the X5 range was slimmed down to just four versions. The 3.0-litre diesel xDrive30d remains and is the only one available in the more understated xLine trim. The xDrive40d, which uses a more powerful version of the same engine, is always an M Sport, as is the plug-in hybrid 50e, which will be the company car darling on account of its long electric range. There are no pure-petrol options in the mainstream X5 range because the UK is denied both the xDrive40i and M60i, but you can still go for the V8-powered X5 M. The hugely complex BMW X5 M50d with its quad-turbo diesel, was axed a few years ago.

Version Power
xDrive 30d xLine 282bhp
xDrive 40d M Sport

347bhp

xDrive 50e M Sport 483bhp
BMW X5 M Competition

617bhp

Transmission: 8-spd automatic

DESIGN & STYLING

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02 BMW X5 xDrive50e review 2024 front splash

When we first reviewed this generation of X5, codenamed G05, we remarked that the kidney grille had “grown to near-comical proportions” but that only turned out to be the start for enormous grilles. For this updated car, it hasn’t actually grown and looks almost normally proportioned in the front fascia of this large SUV. The front design has generally been cleaned up somewhat with slimmer headlights and less elaborate grilles. Concepts like the Neue Klasse do indicate that BMW is going back to more restrained styling.

You’ll certainly notice the shadow that is cast by this car. The X5 has never been small but equally never has it gobbled up quite so much road space. Compared with the previous-gen X5, the wheelbase has grown by 42mm, the overall length by 36mm and the width by 66mm. If that’s still too diminutive for you, there is also the BMW X7. All that metal means the X5 troubles the scale at 2220kg in 30d form and 2420kg as a 50e with hybrid batteries on board.

The rather large kidney grilles are chrome as standard but become gloss black with the M Sport Pro pack.

BMW has made quite a few mechanical changes to the facelifted X5. All engines are now at least mild hybrids, where a 48V electric motor lives in the eight-speed automatic gearbox to give the engine a boost now and then and enable a coasting function. The updated 3.0-litre diesel straight six (available with 282bhp in the 30d or 347bhp in the 40d) swaps its aluminium pistons for steel items, allowing a higher compression ratio and upping efficiency as well as power.

The plug-in hybrid gets an even bigger upgrade, enough that BMW saw fit to change its name from xDrive45e to xDrive50e. The capacity of the battery under the boot floor grows from a usable 20.9kWh (24.0kWh total) to 25.7kWh (29.5kWh total), which means it’s rated for 58 miles of electric range. The electric motor is much stronger too, with 194bhp instead of the 45e’s 111bhp. Even the petrol engine has had a round of changes. The ‘B58’ turbocharged straight six adopts the Miller cycle for better efficiency, and although the version in the 50e is still detuned compared with non-hybrid applications, its output has been raised from 282bhp to 308bhp, for a total system output of 483bhp.

On all versions, the engine and electric motor drive through the ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox and xDrive four-wheel drive system, which uses a multi-plate clutch to vary the torque split. On cars with the Offroad option pack, the rear axle also gains a limited-slip differential.

New to this generation of X5 is two-axle air suspension, which is optional on the 30d and 40d but standard on the 50e. And if you want to throw even more chassis technology at the X5, you can option active anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering, although neither was fitted to our test cars.

INTERIOR

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09 BMW X5 xDrive50e review 2024 dashboard

Previous generations of the X5 may have tried to keep up the ‘sports SUV’ pretense by sitting the driver fairly low, but the new one has firmly gone for a commanding driving position. You don’t tower over other cars quite as much as in a Range Rover Sport, but the X5 immediately and resolutely feels like an SUV.

When we originally road tested the G05 X5, we said that its interior was “a luxury cabin of greater ambition than we’re used to from a big BMW” thanks to its electroplated chrome garnishes, its neatly corralled button consoles, its visually appealing trim and its imaginatively shaped features.

All X5s come with a strip of clear plastic across the passenger-side dashboard. It reads 'X5' and lights up. That it pulses blue when the car is charging is a neat effect, but overall it looks a bit garish and cheap.

Much if not all of that remains true for the facelifted cars, which get an extensively redesigned dashboard that certainly looks fresh and more modern, but take a noticeable step back in perceived quality and usability. The old faired-in gauge cluster and multimedia screen annex have been replaced with a large curved display on top of the dash. It’s composed of a 12.3in driver display and a 14.9in multimedia screen and has swallowed up the row of physical climate control buttons at the same time. The line of configurable shortcut buttons has gone as well.

There are other signs of cheapening to be found: the redesigned air vents feel less substantial, the crystal gear selector has been replaced with a plasticky-feeling toggle and across the dash now runs a strip of clear plastic. This is still a convincing luxury car cabin, but one that is slightly less impressive and more gimmicky than before.

The transformation certainly hasn’t made this car any easier to use. The temperature controls are permanently on screen, but the heated seats require more than one prod. The idea is that they are adaptive and know when to heat up and cool down, but the system doesn’t always get it right, prompting more fiddling.

The gauge cluster has similar style-over-substance problems, prioritising flashy graphics over presenting the information you want in an easily glanceable layout. There’s not much in the way of configurability, and even scrolling between different screens is more complicated than it needs to be. It also insists on showing you a power gauge rather than a tachometer unless you’re in Sport mode.

Space in the rear is competitive with rivals, but not overly generous when compared with similarly sized EVs. In our test car, rear passengers enjoyed most of the luxuries of those in front, with heated seats and more USB ports than we cared to count. There are only the two usual Isofix points, rather than three like in the Audi Q7. A seven-seat cabin layout is available on the diesel at extra cost (the extra two seats take up the same space the hybrid’s battery pack might otherwise occupy).

The diesel model has 650 litres of boot capacity – fairly big, but not quite as big as in some of its SUV rivals (the Land Rover Discovery, Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 all offer more carrying space). In the case of the 50e, that shrinks to 500 litres due to the battery. It’s better integrated than on some Mercedes plug-in hybrids, however, retaining a flat floor and even a small underfloor compartment.

A split tailgate has been a feature on X5s since the beginning – a useful feature BMW borrowed from the Range Rover. It doesn’t just create a bench when down, but also makes it easier to open the boot in tight spots. We found that the hands-free opening function worked with unusual accuracy.

Multimedia system – 3.5 stars

BMWs used to get an almost automatic five stars here for their logical iDrive interface with both a touchscreen and a rotary controller. The iDrive 8 operating system that features on the facelifted X5, however, has been a source of frustration in several recent models such as the BMW i5. It looks great, but its interface no longer seems designed with the rotary selector in mind, and settings are divided between a number of different ‘apps’ that sit in a loosely organised ‘app drawer’ with every other function. There are too many submenus too, making specific information hard to find. Unlike the cheaper BMW X1, the X5 does retain the rotary controller and a few shortcuts for the map, media, home, etc. While they have a less central role than before, they are what keeps this system usable.

With all that said, the built-in navigation is excellent, with clear instructions, up-to-date traffic information, easy access to alternative routes and a search function that seems to find most points of interest and misspelt addresses. Wireless phone mirroring is integrated well. We found the My BMW smartphone app very useful for preheating the cabin, scheduling charging and sending navigation destinations to the car.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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19 BMW X5 xDrive50e review 2024 performance

When we road tested the X5 in 2019, we drove the xDrive 30d. More recently, we’ve run the numbers on the xDrive 50e plug-in hybrid.

BMW X5 xDrive 30d

Can’t say I was expecting to find a launch control function here. It’s unquestionably effective, but I’d love to know how many X5 drivers know it’s even there.

About the 30d, we noted that its entry-level positioning suggests a modesty about the quantity and quality of this car’s performance that’s a bit misleading.

The inclusion of a launch control function seems frivolous on a car like this, but nevertheless it enabled this 2279kg entry-level diesel SUV to sprint from a standstill to 60mph in a fairly fleet-footed 6.6sec two-way average. Not only is that on a par with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, but it’s also 0.3sec quicker than the Audi Q8 50 TDI we road tested in 2018. Proof that BMW still doesn’t do ‘ordinary’ when it comes to its six-cylinder diesel engines.

The manner in which that acceleration is delivered is smooth and contained yet strong and seamless, that initial surge of torque as you come off the brake pedal possessing something of a tidal feel, and propelling the X5 forward with no shortage of conviction. That conviction begins to wane a little as you approach the upper rev range, but only enough to remind you that it’s a diesel you’re driving; while the bassy rumble that initially permeates the cabin morphs into a more overtly diesel-derived engine note.

The updated 30d has gained mild-hybrid assistance, which allows the car to coast with the engine idling for extended periods under a trailing throttle. In combination with a few internal changes, that ups the power from 261bhp to 282bhp. When we drove the updated car at its launch, we noted sharper throttle response and greater flexibility to the delivery.

If your X5 will be a heavy-duty tow vehicle, you’ll want to stick with the diesels and their 3500kg capacity. That said, the plug-in hybrid’s 2700kg rating is hardly shabby.

BMW X5 xDrive 50e

If your X5 will be a company car tasked mainly with the daily grind, then the plug-in hybrid will be almost impossible to ignore thanks to its 64 miles of electric range and accordingly low company car tax bill. It’s a good thing, then, that this is possibly the most impressive plug-in hybrid system we’ve experienced.

We managed 51 miles in near-freezing temperatures before the engine was forced to kick in. That means most owners could easily do their daily miles purely on electric power. With the old 45e, that would leave you with a 2.4-tonne SUV with 111bhp – hardly the effortless experience you expect from a luxury car. The 50e’s 194bhp makes it much more pleasant to drive in electric mode, with a 0-62mph time of around 10sec. It’s no performance car in EV mode, but even merging onto a busy motorway doesn’t present any problems.

Mind you, to drive around with a straight six effectively as dead weight feels somehow wasteful. Hybrid mode doesn’t really stop that sensation, because it prioritises electric running and the engine will rarely kick in during normal use. Even when it does, a lot of the time you’ll only notice it because the electric range readout on the driver display turns from blue to white. The handover is rarely anything other than smooth.

That the X5 50e has a combined output of 483bhp is almost an accidental by-product of giving the X5 enough electric power to make it a passable EV, and then supplementing it with a sufficiently smooth and grunty engine. But make no mistake: when both power sources combine forces, they create an exceptionally rapid SUV. We measured 4.7sec to 62mph on a cold, slightly slippery surface. That’s only a few tenths behind what the previous-generation X5 M recorded in 2015. The hybrid actually beats the old X5 M in the 30-70mph in fourth gear flexibility test: 4.8sec versus 5.3sec.

At higher revs, the 3.0-litre straight six sounds slightly more strained and gravelly than it does in unhybridised applications, but we’re still talking about one of the most sonorous engines on the market, one that the 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the Mercedes GLE 400e can’t begin to match.

As with all plug-in hybrids, performance and smoothness do degrade when the battery is empty or in Battery Hold mode (which maintains the state of charge), but in the X5, the ill effects of losing a lot of the electric assistance remain limited. The eight-speed automatic doesn’t shift quite as seamlessly as it normally does and the engine becomes slightly more vocal. One might argue the latter is not even a bad thing.

The car’s software tries its hardest to avoid running out of electric power. If you put your destination into the navigation system, the car will strategically use the engine to make sure of that, while still using up as much battery as possible by the end of the journey, or reserving charge for city driving.

Braking is mostly impressive too. The brake pedal is easy to modulate, and big discs with four-piston calipers reliably bring this 2.4-tonne car to a halt. One point of criticism is the regenerative braking. The car uses its sensors and navigation data to determine the strength of the regen when you lift off the accelerator. This adaptive regen function is very impressive and gets it right most of the time, but the odd occasion where it doesn’t can be very frustrating, and there is no way to turn it off.

RIDE & HANDLING

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22 BMW X5 xDrive50e review 2024 front cornering

BMW owes it to its reputation to inject its cars with at least a little bit of sporting intent. On a big luxury SUV, however, that could all too easily compromise the comfort, which is arguably more important in this type of car. Thankfully, BMW has nailed the balance here.

On air suspension, the X5 isn’t quite as pillowy soft over big undulations as a Range Rover, but then it controls its body much more tightly, avoiding that feeling of looseness that can afflict some overtly comfortable cars. Equally, ride isolation over ridges and potholes is up there with the best, despite our test cars both sporting the 21in wheels with run-flat tyres.

I’d heartily recommend the air suspension and I wouldn’t warn you off integral active steering if you park regularly in tight spots. BMW’s four-wheel steering system is quite a subtle execution.

The X5 gives away only very little in ride comfort but gains quite lot when it comes to handling. Set the suspension to Sport mode and while you’re always aware of the X5’s size and weight, it can be quite enjoyable on a twisty road. Though the steering doesn’t give much feedback, it is reassuringly weighted, accurate and intuitively geared. This big, heavy car stays quite level in corners and changes direction with more enthusiasm than you might expect. In the dry, it stays neutral when you power out, while wet roads bring out the subtle rear bias of the drivetrain.

Given the X5 strikes a near-perfect blend of ride and handling, we were unimpressed by the 50e’s noise refinement. In our original road test of a 30d, we recorded 64dBA at 70mph, which is very quiet indeed. Despite running on ostensibly the same wheel and tyre combination, our 50e test car seemed subjectively noisier at a cruise and let in some very unpleasant resonance on the concrete sections of the M25. The sound meter confirmed the reduction in refinement, with a reading of 68dBA at 70mph.

Assisted driving notes – 4 stars

Our test car came with the full gamut of assisted driving technology, and most of it worked very well. It didn’t yet have a speed warning and the lane keep assist is mostly unintrusive but relatively easy to disable once you’ve configured a shortcut. The adaptive cruise control is well tuned but still caused some frustration among testers. BMW has deleted the steering wheel button that adjusts the following distance. The idea is that it is no longer necessary because of the adaptive mode.

The latter does work quite well, but not flawlessly, and changing the following distance manually requires a deep dive into the touchscreen, making it impossible to do on the move. It feels strange and unnecessary that 'the ultimate driving machine' is taking control away from the driver in this manner. BMWs used to let you switch to standard cruise control by holding down the button to reduce the following distance. This has now moved to the touchscreen as well.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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01 BMW X5 xDrive50e review 2024 lead front cornering

Prices for the facelifted X5 start at £69,560, which gets you an xDrive 30d in xLine trim. The 50e costs at least £80,835. Although entry-level BMWs no longer come on steel wheels and without a radio, there is still plenty of opportunity to get lost in the options list. You get leatherette as standard, and leather upholstery is a £1950 option – well, £3250 actually, because that requires the Comfort package. Blue paint? That’ll be £1890, please. And if you’re tempted by the head-up display and Harman Kardon stereo, you’ll want the £2000 Technology package. With most (but by no means all) option boxes, our test car came in at a only whisker under £100,000.

When we road tested the xDrive 30d, it returned 35.0mpg overall, and 43.1mpg on a gentle motorway run. It’s safe to assume that the updated version would do very slightly better.

Being a plug-in hybrid, the story is more complicated in the 50e. It is rated for an electric range of 64 miles, which puts it in the 8% company car tax bracket. That’s on a par with the Mercedes-Benz GLE 400e, but can’t match the Range Rover Sport P460e’s 76 miles and 5% company car tax. In near-freezing conditions, the X5 returned 51 miles.

The official fuel consumption figure is 313.9mpg, which will be very hard to match in real-world usage, but not impossible if you do the vast majority of your mileage on electric power. It is worth keeping in mind that, like most plug-in hybrids, the X5 isn’t as efficient in electric mode as an equivalent EV. At a steady 70mph in our touring economy test, it returned 2.0mpkWh, whereas we tested a BMW iX at 2.6mpkWh in similar conditions. With a flat battery, it will do 30.5mpg in the same test. That’s quite impressive and not far off the three-cylinder Range Rover Evoque.

What’s slightly disappointing are the X5 50e’s charging capabilities. Regardless of whether you use single-phase or three-phase power, this tops out a 7.4kW and a full charge will take at least 4.5 hours. This means that a quick top-up on a 22kW public charger isn’t possible. Some plug-in hybrids, including the Mercedes GLE 400e, even offer DC rapid charging, though the high cost of such chargers make this less useful than it sounds.

VERDICT

25 BMW X5 xDrive50e review 2024 front static

The BMW X5 is now 25 years and several generations old, and the most remarkable thing about the model may well be that, in spite of all of the ways that it has adapted as the market that it helped to create has changed, it retains the key selling point with which the original forged its reputation back in 1999.

This is the luxury SUV half-breed that gives people as much space, convenience and utility as they need, and a driving experience that doesn’t make any of those things feel like it’s come at a compromise. The X5 remains a better-handing SUV.

The 2023 facelift has made the plug-in hybrid a truly compelling option too: tax-friendly, and offering a polished driving experience whether in EV or petrol mode. Diesel engines remain available too, and are just as good as they always have been.

The X5 would benefit from some faster charging and the facelift tweaks haven’t done the usability any favours by removing buttons and introducing a fussier multimedia system. You do get used to these quirks and, once you do, there really is very little to complain about with the X5. It provides a truly soothing and luxurious experience, but one that can be very economical to run and even quite engaging. It really is an astoundingly rounded package.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

BMW X5 First drives