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The big BMW X5 SUV may be getting a little long in the tooth, but it’s still one of the best all-rounders in its class

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Since its launch in 2007, the second-generation BMW X5 has defined its segment in the same way that its predecessor did.

BMW’s big luxury SUV may have been knocked off the top spot in our top five list by the likes of the second-generation Porsche Cayenne, but it’s hard not to continually refer back to the X5 when looking for a benchmark against which to judge other vehicles of this type, such is the breadth and depth of its abilities. 

High seating position and thin A-pillars give the X5 excellent forward visibility

Prior to the arrival of the current Porsche Cayenne, the X5 was generally regarded as the best car in its class dynamically, and even now there’s not a great deal between the two.

As well as riding and handling in a sophisticated and capable manner, the X5 is refined and comfortable, relatively economical, roomy inside and, unlike its predecessor (and the Cayenne), offers buyers the option of seven seats, so it’s easy to see why it has been such a popular choice with families looking for a big premium 4x4. 

The Mk2 BMW X5 was given a subtle mid-life makeover in 2010, with some mild styling changes, minor chassis revisions, an extended list of options and an expanded range of engines, including a revolutionary triple-turbo diesel in the X5 M50d, a high-performance model that kicked off BMW’s new M Performance sub-brand in the UK (along with the BMW X6 M50d with the same powerplant).

Although BMW doesn’t offer any frugal four-cylinder engines in the X5 (as Mercedes does in the M-Class), the X5’s six-cylinder diesels are among the most efficient in the class, and all are linked to an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox.

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As well as the 381bhp tri-turbo powerplant in the M50d, two other 3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbodiesels are offered in the X5: a 241bhp version in the xDrive30d and a 302bhp twin-turbo version in the xDrive40d.

Petrol versions are now restricted to a 402bhp twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 in the xDrive50i and a modified version of the same unit that produces 547bhp in the bonkers range-topping BMW X5 M.

As always, there’s a choice of SE and M Sport trim levels on the xDrive30d, xDrive40d and xDrive50i, with the M Sport versions distinguished by a body kit that eliminates the black wheel arch surrounds, side sills and lower bumpers that come on SE variants. The M50d and X5 M get their own M-specific trim levels.

DESIGN & STYLING

BMW X5's xenon headlights

Given the popularity of the BMW X5 over the years, it’s no surprise that BMW has evolved the car’s styling gently and carefully during this current generation.

External revisions in the 2010 facelift were restricted to revised body-coloured bumpers and new LED headlamps and tail-lights. The biggest changes to the X5 in recent years, as we’ve already said, have been in the engine bay, with the introduction of new powerplants.

This bigger X5 weighs just 15kg more than the old one

With a kerb weight a little either side of 2.2 tonnes, depending on model, the X5 is usefully lighter than the equivalent Audi Q7 (by nearly 200kg) and the first-generation Range Rover Sport (by a good 300kg). It weighs roughly the same, model for model, as the current Mercedes-Benz M-class, but that still makes it at least 100kg heavier than the Porsche Cayenne, the sportiest of the X5’s rivals.

The X5’s competitive weight is thanks to the use of aluminium for the bonnet, instrument panel and suspension arms and thermoplastic for the front wings. 

With an overall length of 4.85 metres, the X5 now has room inside for an optional third row of seats, bringing its seating capacity in line with the longer-still Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GL.

The second-generation X5 features double wishbone front suspension, which is a significant part of the reason why it is regarded as one of the best driver’s cars in its class. For those who want to extend the X5’s on-road abilities, the X5 can be specified with adaptive anti-roll bars and active steering.

Drive is directed to all four wheels through BMW’s xDrive system, using an electronic clutch and DSC+ to alter the drive from the default 40/60 front/rear bias to 100 percent front or rear where necessary.

INTERIOR

BMW X5 interior

The obvious interior change for the second-generation BMW X5 was the addition of two extra pews. Less obvious is that these are not fitted as standard by BMW. For those who see the need, the cost is more than £1000 and the loss of a useful 90-litre underboot cavity.

When needed, the seats are assembled by pulling the back upright, although this is more easily done by reaching back from the side doors than leaning in from the boot.

If you want two extra seats, you'll lose useful boot space

To improve third-row access, the middle seats slide via a release lever conveniently placed on the outside shoulder back, and the mechanism is counterbalanced to make sliding the seats in either direction equally effortless. BMW recommends the rearmost seats are suitable for passengers up to 1.7 metres tall – about 5ft 7in – but in reality even this is a squeeze.

Boot space ranges from 200 litres to 1750 litres. The middle-row accommodation is adequate if not exceptional, although it can be spruced up with optional DVD screens and individual four-zone climate control.

The now familiar (and widely emulated) iDrive control wheel is accompanied by an equally modern piece of design: a gear selector that juts from the central tunnel like a shard of glass. This selector returns to its centre position after you’ve chosen the direction of travel (forwards for reverse, backwards for Drive), saving cabin space. We’ve no problem with the selector’s location, but to control such a large vehicle with such a delicate instrument seems unnatural.

The parking brake is electronic and operated by a toggle-style switch on the transmission tunnel. There’s also the option of a head-up display and a parking camera to supplement the standard-fit front and rear parking sensors.

Kit levels are generous, with standard models including air-con, cruise control, leather trim, parking sensors and automatic wipers and lights.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

BMW X5 has active steering

The vast majority of BMW X5s sold in the UK are powered by a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbodiesel. They're all automatic, too; there’s no longer a manual X5 transmission option. 

In 2010, new engines were launched for the xDrive30d, xDrive40d and xDrive50i, with the latter two models replacing the xDrive35d and xDrive48i respectively.

A manual gearbox option isn't offered in the X5 range

The entry-level xDrive30d was upgraded to produce 241bhp, up 10bhp on the previous xDrive30d, while 0-62mph acceleration was trimmed to a claimed 7.6sec. The unit was also made more frugal, putting combined cycle economy at 38.2mpg, equivalent to 195g/km of CO2.

At 241bhp, the entry-level engine in the X5 xDrive30d is one of the more powerful in its class, and it gives this SUV a healthy turn of speed. We recorded a 0-60mph time of 7.9sec, and there’s a broad spread of power throughout the rev range. Peak torque of 398lb ft is developed at 1750-3000rpm, so response from low revs is excellent, too.

The replacement of the xDrive35d with the xDrive40d also brought performance gains, with the 0-62mph time dropping from 7.0sec to 6.6sec, thanks to a power output boosted by almost 20bhp.

The twin-turbo diesel engine is a gutsy device, with a flexible delivery and excellent refinement – all of which makes it perfectly suited for duty in a big luxury 4x4. A prodigious 442lb ft of torque arrives early in the rev range to make light work of the xDrive40d's weight, endowing it with excellent step-off, solid in-gear shove and a good turn of speed.

The twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine in the xDrive50i (the same unit is also seen in the 7 Series) pumps out 402bhp and provides startling performance, reaching 62mph in just 5.5sec.

With a fat 443lb ft of torque from 1750rpm, the xDrive50i is as flexible as the best diesels but also wonderfully smooth and crisp. It sounds nice, too. When viewed on its own merits – ignoring consumption figures compared with the more frugal diesels in the range – this xDrive50i is quite magnificent.

If the xDrive50i's performance doesn't set your pants on fire, the only car for you will be the shockingly rapid X5 M, a leviathan designed to tempt buyers away from the Porsche Cayenne Turbo.

The BMW's 547bhp sounds impressive enough; more startling is the 502lb ft of torque, which is available from just 1500rpm right up to 5650rpm. That’s enough for the X5 to crack 0-62mph in 4.7sec and reach a limited top speed of 155mph.

Arguably of more interest to fans of performance SUVs is the X5 M50d’s 381bhp triple-turbo engine. Although we haven’t had a chance to test it in the X5, the tri-turbo lump gives the similar-sized X6 sledgehammer performance (the 0-62mph time is down by 1.2sec compared with the xDrive40d) thanks to its mighty 546lb ft of torque – 45lb ft more than that of the X5/X6 M’s twin-turbo V8. 

The X5’s brakes (ventilated discs all round) give good stopping power, and pedal feel is pretty good. The eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts smoothly and quickly.

RIDE & HANDLING

BMW X5 cornering

The BMW X5 has a suppleness and maturity to the way it goes down the road that’s every bit a match for a Range Rover Sport or Mercedes ML, even when fitted with optional sports suspension.

It corners better than both the Merc and the Range Rover, too. BMW says the X5 is “a driver’s car” – which is stretching the point a bit for a 2.2-tonne, 1.8m-tall vehicle – but after the Porsche Cayenne it is probably still the best car in this class to punt down a twisty road.

The X5 is surprisingly capable on track. It grips hard and goes well

The double wishbone front suspension is said to respond to road inputs more quickly than the struts of the first-generation model, and the X5 certainly has a confidence and ability that you’d need a Cayenne to better.

It steers accurately, responds well and keeps its body movements under tight control. Although this is still no sports car, the grip and traction it found on MIRA’s wet handling circuit were quite remarkable.

What the X5 won’t do is go as far off road as some of its rivals. BMW doesn’t hide the fact that this car has been developed for on-road use, but it still has a 25deg approach angle, a 24deg departure angle and a 19.7deg breakover angle as well as a wade depth of 500mm. Look beneath it and you’ll see a virtually flat underbody, too, with the exhaust hidden in a cavity.

There’s even hill descent control, but BMW admits its xDrive four-wheel drive system, which features an electronic central clutch allied to the DSC system, is tuned to maximise on-road traction at the expense of off-road capability.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

BMW X5

Whether it’s one of the diesels or the petrol V8s, the BMW X5 is priced exactly as you’d expect: slightly more than Audi asks for the Q7 and marginally less than Mercedes wants for an ML.

Like its rivals, leather upholstery is standard in all X5 models these days, as are parking sensors, metallic paint, automatic air conditioning and an MP3-compatible stereo. However, the third-row seats remain an option, even though they are standard on Audi’s Q7.

It's hard to look beyond the 30d in terms of pricing, power and torque

The choice of models is more straightforward – mainly because it’s easy to dismiss the versions powered by the 4.4-litre petrol V8. They have the performance you’d expect but will give you economy figures in the mid-teens. Relatively high CO2 emissions on the petrol X5s should seal the deal in favour of one of the diesels.

The three different levels of diesel are more evenly matched, though in truth the xDrive30d feels sufficiently strong for you to have to think very hard to go beyond it in pricing, power and torque.

Expect the BMW and its rivals to be worth around half of their value after four years. And with the latest engine in the xDrive30d, the X5 is not only more potent than the equivalent Audi or Mercedes, but also more frugal and cleaner. In our experience, 26.5mpg is a perfectly realistic average, and this rises to 36mpg at cruising speeds.

VERDICT

4 star BMW X5

BMW may not have created the executive SUV, but it has defined how well these cars can be made to perform on the road.

Even now, years after its launch, the X5 shows that the company still knows how. The X5 may be getting a little long in the tooth, but this is a car that goes down the road in a more rewarding way than any SUV this side of a Porsche Cayenne.

A Range Rover Sport will eclipse the BMW X5 in terms of off-road capability

And the rest of it? The X5’s comfort levels are beyond serious question, it feels soundly built and it accommodates five well, while running costs aren’t too profligate, provided you avoid the petrol-engined models.

There are other SUVs that do things better; a Range Rover Sport will go further off road, a Porsche Cayenne handles with more pizazz and an Audi Q7 will seat seven far more easily.

But no rival is quite able to combine the blend of abilities that best suit how these cars are used like the X5 does.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

BMW X5 2007-2013 First drives