The X5 sticks to BMW's well-proven SUV formula, delivering a competent and refined off-roader – but one that's lacking the extra flourishes found in a Range Rover Sport or Porsche Cayenne Turbo

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To appreciate the original BMW BMW X5's impact on the market, you have only to consider for a moment which other SUV rivals to the BMW were available to buy in 1999.

The Land Rover Discovery looked like farming equipment and had all the durability of a falling comet. The Toyota Land Cruiser could brush off a comet strike, but only because it was the size of a continent.

The third-gen SUV packs a big punch in tri-turbo diesel guise

Elsewhere, Mercedes-Benz's M-Class was still a body-on-frame calamity, and while the Lexus RX wasn't, it drove like it might well have been. Only the Jeep Grand Cherokee had the right image – and that was American.

When BMW's newcomer arrived on the scene, the writing was on the wall. There was no antecedent for the X5. Before the original, E53-generation BMW X5, the brand had shown no interest at all in the market for 4x4 machinery. Then, in 1994, BMW acquired the Rover Group and, with it, Land Rover.

The manufacturer learnt much from its ownership of the troubled British brand by the end of the 1990s. But it was still smart enough to mould its 4x4 in its own image, dubbing the first X5 an SAV – Sports Activity Vehicle – that prioritised on-road manners over off-road ability.

Over two generations, the X5 racked up 1.3 million sales. With this latest version, the F15 generation of the X5, BMW has promised improvements across the board – particularly with a view to improving efficiency – as it plays catch-up to a new breed of Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Volkswagen Touareg, Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne.

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Has BMW now managed to overtake its newer and much-improved rivals rivals? Our comprehensive test will reveal all.



BMW X5 alloy wheels

Although the exterior has submitted itself to notable reinterpretation, the X5 is closely related to the previous model underneath. With a 2993mm wheelbase, the platform is much as it was before.

Instead, BMW claims to have focused on cutting some excess weight from its unibody by making extensive use of ultra-high-tensile steels in the structure and introducing an aluminium bonnet along with thermoplastic side panels.

BMW described the first X5 as a Sports Activity Vehicle

The near-2.4-tonne kerb weight of the xDrive M50d that we tested suggests there is still some way to go on that account, but the five per cent gain in rigidity is a useful attribute, given that improving the X5’s ride quality was also high on the fix list.

Entry-level cars will get a fettled steel set-up as standard, but many buyers will benefit from the adjustable dampers and self-levelling air springs that appear higher up the trim list. Adaptive Comfort – with two damping modes accessed via the (new-to-X5) Dynamic Damper Control – will appear in all SE models.

In the UK, where a penchant for M Sport is predicted, most will have the Adaptive M Suspension that adds Sport and Sport+ to the setting list. Beyond these, there are two more optional packages: Adaptive Dynamic, which significantly beefs up the active roll bars’ resistance to lean, and Adaptive Professional, which includes all modes in one integrated bundle.

The engine choice, mercifully, is a little more straightforward. The X5 benefits from the evolution of BMW’s TwinPower Turbo line-up, which has already been upgraded to forthcoming Euro 6 emissions standards across the board.

BMW will offer six X5 powertrains, starting with a new two-wheel-drive 215bhp sDrive 25d, a four-wheel-drive xDrive version of the same, and xDrive 30d (255bhp), 40d (309bhp) and M50d (376bhp) diesels. The sole petrol option is a twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8, producing 443bhp, badged the xDrive 50i, and 567bhp for the X5 M. There is also an hybrid option in the form of xDrive40e iPerformance driven by a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and an 110bhp electric motor.

BMW’s efficient dynamics mission and the use of the latest eight-speed automatic gearbox means the xDrive 30d's motor gains 13bhp and 15lb ft of torque, and sprints to 62mph 0.7sec quicker, despite emitting 33 fewer grams of CO2 at 162g/km. BMW can also claim substantial economy gains for the 4.4-litre petrol V8, which has an official combined figure of 27.2mpg.

Attempting to stay as true to its natural dynamic as possible, the X5 was conceived with a rear-wheel-drive bias. The original, E53 generation of the X5 sent about 60 per cent of the torque to the back axle by default, and so does this new one, the F15 generation.

However, the latest xDrive system is now capable of sending almost 100 per cent of available power to either end if the Dynamic Stability Control senses a dramatic loss of traction. In the interests of efficiency, the set-up – which uses an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch to shuffle drive between nose and stern – has also had 1.4kg subtracted from it. Every little helps.

In the case of the M50d, the rear differential is supplemented by Dynamic Performance Control, the limited-slip-diff-mimicking function previously seen on the previous-generation X5 M, which vectors torque between the wheels as its sensors see fit.

Clearly, this is intended to enhance cornering, but BMW also provides the X5 with an Automatic Differential Brake, a driver aid that brakes a spinning wheel so that peak torque only finds its way to a corner with purchase.


BMW X5 front seats

The new car’s innards don’t move the model away from what will already be familiar to many as an X5. Thus, sophistication and a rifle-clean finish are on the cards, but not necessarily the special sense of superiority found in a Range Rover Sport or Porsche Porsche Cayenne.

As you sit in the captain’s seat, the dashboard’s indebtedness to what has appeared in the 3 Series and 5 Series and the naturally low ‘command’ driving position create a distinct saloon flavour.

There's more front row legroom than most, and lots of reach adjustment on the steering column

This remains a premium product and, in expensive M50d finery, there is more than enough aluminium, polished wood and double-stitched leather to remind you of that fact. BMW has introduced two distinct optional styling packs – Design Pure Experience and Excellence – to offer alternative material choices.

Elsewhere, the X5 remains much the same package as before. There is a choice of comfort or sports seats as an option – our M50d test car came with comfort seats that, by and large, lived up to their name – and it’s still possible to spec a third row of seats.

The second row now splits 40/20/40 as standard and there is a sufficient, if not spectacular, amount of room for those with longer legs. The calibre of fit and finish hardly dilutes the farther you get from the front, and gains made in noise refinement – BMW claims 2.5dB across the range – will be felt just as keenly from the back.

A 30-litre increase in seat-up boot space means a competitive 650 litres for family buyers and a full 1870 litres for part-time hauliers. The split tailgate remains, offering additional convenience – especially now that BMW has made the top portion electrically powered as standard.

Standard sat-nav is always welcome, regardless of model, and it's no different in the X5, especialy when it's largely a pleasure to use. It does get better if you opt for BMW's optional ConnectedDrive services, though, which as well as the online hocus-pocus gives live traffic info.

BMW's standard entertainment system is perfectly functional. Harmon Kardon and Bang & Olufsen systems are available as options and can be supplemented with the optional Online Entertainment, which boasts access to 12 million music tracks. Internet connectivity also means web radio.

The real pleasure here is not that the X5 connects seamlessly with your smartphone, but that it does so through such a convenient and classy set of clicks and dial twirls. The latest incarnation of iDrive dials up the button damping, feeling more like an expensive cinema amp than an in-car menu selector. Combined with the intuitiveness of the interface, it has no rival at this or any price level.

Opt for the entry-level SE trim and such luxuries such as cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, heated front seats and xenon headlights all come as standard, while Hybrid SE models get adaptive suspension as well. Upgrade to the range-topping M Sport trim and you will more aggressive styling, sports automatic gearbox and electrically adjustable front sports seats. There is the opportunity to enhanced these models with the M Sport Plus pack which include bigger alloys, a head-up display and Harman and Kardon stereo.

The M50d sees only limited changes over the M Sport models including a M-division tuned servotronic steering set-up and a twin stainless steel exhaust design, while the boombastic X5 M gets adaptive LED headlights, bluetooth wireless charging, wi-fi hotspot preparation and numerous M-badges throughout the interior and exterior.


BMW X5 rear quarter

BMW's engine range for the X5 primarily focuses on diesel units and comprises the 25d, 30d, 40d and 50d. All but the 50d, which displaces 3.0 litres, are 2.0-litre engines.

A 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V8 is also offered in 50i variants, for those seeking the most refined of the X5s. To date we've only tested the 30d, 50d and 50i.

With the transmission in manual mode, with Sport+ engaged, it won't change up when you hit the limiter

The 3.0-litre diesel variant of the new X5 is much improved compared to its predecessor, its clatter and growl usurped by a subtle background hum. Lots of low-rev urge and the eight-speed auto gearbox’s excellent anticipatory skills make for authoritatively brisk and effortless performance that, at lower speeds, shades the petrol 50i for easily accessed power.

The 50i provides a 4.4-litre V8 coupled to an eight-speed paddle-shift transmission. It’s an engine familiar from the last X5, now with a sharper performance and economy mix. Power climbs 10 per cent from 401bhp to 444bhp while torque rises 37lb ft to 479lb ft to shave half a second from the 0-62mph time, which falls to 5.0sec. Economy improves a little, too.

Yet despite this potency, and the traction to make good use of it, this ultimate petrol X5 is not the fastest thing off the line. Engine and transmission need a frustrating few moments to absorb your commands before launching the BMW with the power you’d desired moments earlier.

It’s a pause that appears when you’re on the move at lowish speeds, too, although switching to Sport mode enlivens the drivetrain. The engine sounds good, too, providing a satin V8 beat that turns impressively muscular when the throttle is sunk deep.

BMW’s tri-turbo diesel has it all to do in the 2.4-tonne X5. Given the choice, we wouldn’t have picked such a heavy, unaerodynamic machine for our first test acquaintance with the powertrain codenamed ‘N57S’. But there’s no right-hand-drive version of the all-paw 5-series in which it features and so, for now, no way for us to find out what kind of numbers it might produce when less encumbered.

Even in the X5, the motor is formidable. It feels every bit as responsive as a typical twin-turbo oil-burner and every bit as smooth. Its 546lb ft is the obvious attraction. It’s available from 2000rpm to 3000rpm and is delivered undramatically enough to make you wonder if you’re really getting everything you’re being promised.

Our numbers suggest that you are, though. The X5 M50d will rush from 30-70mph in fourth gear more quickly than an Audi R8 V10. It may never feel like it’s pinning your ears back, but it’s very brisk indeed. The ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox is the perfect partner for the engine, too, picking a ratio early when you flex your right foot, allowing the motor to pull through the mid-range and making back-road overtaking and motorway slip-road acceleration absurdly easy.

We don’t doubt that this would be a true 160mph car, given enough space and a means of disabling its top speed limiter. But what impresses most about the engine is its willingness to rev. You don’t encounter the redline until 5500rpm, and neither do you feel power tailing off significantly before the cut-off presents.

BMW has made sporting diesel engines before, but here it has achieved quite a coup: a truly flexible, gutsy six-pot that you’d happily take instead of most V8 TDIs.


BMW X5 cornering

The BMW X5’s chassis is certainly capable of handling the 50i, 30d and 40d's efforts. Or it does in the versions that we've tested the car in, which includes the Dynamic Handling package of air-sprung rear suspension, electronically adjusted dampers, active anti-roll bars and cross-axle torque vectoring. The standard set-up, by contrast, is specified with steel springs, conventional dampers and passive anti-roll bars.

With all this kit, it proves satisfyingly agile through bends, both sharp and sweeping, although a less-well specified diesel felt barely any less capable. This is a car that feels smaller than its bulk implies, and certainly nimble enough to entertain. It’s also stable, steers accurately, stops convincingly and rolls enough to let you know what you’re doing without turning remotely floppy and unco-operative.

The X5's chassis could do with a little more compliance

A pity, then, that the new electrically supported steering takes the edge of this accomplishment by coming over curiously vague through the first few degrees of its movement on straights and in turns. It’s a faintly disconnected feel that appears in both Comfort and Sport modes, too. Happily, it does little to undermine the accuracy of the X5’s steering, but it does slightly dim the sporting appeal of this sports activity vehicle.

And the ride? The X5 swallows most small bumps whole as promised, although the odd clatter across ridges and potholes in Sport suggests that it’s the comfort damping mode you’ll mostly want on Britain’s exfoliating roads. So it’s unfortunate that in this setting the steering is a little too light – and you can’t mix and match the steering, drivetrain and suspension settings to achieve an ideal blend.

We liked the introduction that BMW gave us to its M Performance line-up (the M135i hot hatch) and understand why the maker should choose the fastest diesel X5 to tear in with another. This time around, though, it seems to have tried too hard with the M50d – turned up the volume knob a notch too far. Perhaps that’s because a baseline X5 will already distinguish itself as quite a sporty prospect.

Whatever the cause, the result is a model that doesn’t get close to the combination of comfort and easy agility of a Range Rover Sport. Even on the motorway, you’ll note as much if you’re unwitting enough to deselect Comfort mode on the Drive Performance Control. Do this and the X5 can find irregularities in the road surface in the most unexpected places, and over the bigger ones it thinks little of bump-steering its way off course and jostling its occupants.

How much added involvement you get in exchange for the flawed rolling comfort is questionable. The steering is certainly direct and the chassis taut, grippy and capable of soaking up whatever you can throw at it on the road. There is, however, little finesse here. In place of actual steering feel, the best you can expect through the rim is wheel-fight as the driveline shunts all that torque between axles.

This big, somewhat brutish BMW turns out to be not without a party trick when the grip under its wheels begins to run low and its asymmetrical driveline is asked to prove its mettle.

In low-grip conditions, the M50d’s off-throttle balance is good enough to allow you to play with the car’s attitude through a long corner. You can steer the car on the throttle up to a point, but the X5 will never drive its way into steady-state oversteer. You always need positive steering angle involved to prevent the drive system wrestling the car out of a slide.

Our experience of equivalent Audis fitted with the firm’s sport differential suggests that they’re a bit more delicate and controllable in transition, yet also easier to manage. In the dry, the X5’s handling is more stable but also more monotone.

Grip is balanced much more towards the rear axle, with understeer governing your pace. Body control is very good, but those optional active anti-roll bars do seem to put unwanted force through the front wheels at times.



BMW expects the xDrive30d to be the X5's big seller, and with an on the road price of just under £50k it's handily cheaper than an entry-level Range Rover Sport. It's also much better than the mediocre base Porsche Cayenne diesel.

Running costs should be acceptable on a comparitive basis and reliability should also be good. The build quality is of a high standard and the engines are well-proven units.

If you want a fast diesel SUV then the Porsche Cayenne or Range Rover Sport is probably a better choice

The most economical option is the 25d, which is claimed to average 50.4mpg, but if you want four-wheel drive then that drops to 48.7mpg. The less strained nature of the larger diesels may make it easier to average higher figures in the real world than the smaller engine option, however.

When it comes to specifying your X5, stick with black leather and aluminium trim; wood veneer is likely to cause a problem at resale time, especially if you've got one of the more sporting models. Have the Harman Kardon audio, enhanced Bluetooth and adaptive LED headlights, too. There's no great need to opt for the adaptive dynamic suspension either, unless you're intent on seeking out the most capable X5 possible.

Most models should also retain their value in a similar fashion to that of the Range Rover Sport, so in other words very well, which is an impressive performance.

There is an inevitable disconnect between the value of the M50d and the X5 range as a whole. The M50d is more than £60,000 – four figures more than the Porsche Cayenne S Diesel, its nearest competitor, despite an 80lb ft deficiency against the Porsche’s V8.

BMW will point to its straight six’s far greater claimed efficiency, but we were able to return only 34.0mpg on a touring run (and a disappointing 27.7mpg test average), some way short of the claimed 42.2mpg combined. The M50d’s 41g/km CO2 saving is more substantive but, in the realms of high-powered, high-priced SUVs, probably easily overstated.



3.5 star BMW X5

At its heart, the BMW X5 is still the sporting SUV that it was back in 1999. Perhaps too much so aesthetically, because this restyle is certainly short of imaginative flourishes.

It's certainly more polished, however; the X5’s mix of big cabin comfort, luxury trimmings, sporting performance, all-weather security and accomplished manners is a compelling draw, despite the V8’s lazy step-off and its somewhat flawed steering feedback.

It's a competent and more polished offering, albeit one lacking in notable aesthetic changes

The BMW X5 M50d proves that the diesel-fuelled performance 4x4 has some potential, but its justifications aren’t as clear-cut as they might be in a saloon. We’ve demonstrated that the X5 M50d can be quick enough to stand credibly next to a Porsche Cayenne Turbo or Mercedes-Benz AMG ML.

It can also consume fuel almost as savagely as a petrol counterpart. Again, though, we've found the active chassis systems that manufacturers like BMW now use to hold off the laws of physics in such fast, heavy and tall machines need to be very carefully deployed to make for a coherent, natural-feeling drive.

Mighty powertrain aside, this particular model is a long way from being the equal of our chart-topping Range Rover Sport.

Buyers looking at the more conventional versions, however, will undoubtedly find them to be very comfortable, very capable, premium off-road cruisers.


Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

BMW X5 2013-2018 First drives