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.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
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.

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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.

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