Clearly no daring reinvention of the luxury 4x4 concept - nor even the idea of a BMW X5 in all honesty. But it’s spacious, convenient, refined and lavishly appointed. Munich’s tried-and-tested approach to model replacement also puts the X5 well ahead of the prevailing class standard on performance, fuel-efficiency and handling precision - right where you’d expect a new BMW to be.
It’s a relief to report as much just a couple of months after our road test of the X5 xDrive M50d. The headline 376bhp diesel seemed too highly strung for our tastes, falling a long way short of what we expect from a big 4x4 on rolling refinement and lacking consistency in its primary controls.
The xDrive 30d is like a different car entirely: much more proportionate of response, much easier to drive, and still sufficiently wieldy and poised to feel more athletic than the SUV norm.
It’s a difference that perfectly illustrates what has become an insoluble problem for anyone ordering a premium German car, and for BMW buyers more than most. Munich has broken new ground even by its own standards in complicating and confusing the ordering process of the X5.
The car comes with a passive coil suspension setup as standard, but there are no fewer than four ‘adaptive’ alternatives to that – Comfort, Dynamic, Professional and M-Sport – which introduce active dampers, a self-levelling air-sprung rear end, stiffened and shortened springs, active anti-roll bars and an active ‘Dynamic Performance Control’ rear differential into the mix in varying combinations. Depending on engine and equipment, you can also add an active variable-ratio power steering system, as well as a sport automatic transmission. And that’s before you have to choose between a barrage of 18-, 19- or 20in alloy wheels.
In the face of so much complication, we’ll probably never know for sure what the perfect rolling specification for a new X5 is. The only certainty, as the M50d demonstrated, is that there are myriad ways to get your order wrong.
Some reassurance comes with the fact that our test car (Sport transmission, adaptive comfort chassis, 19in rims) conducted itself well. Always quiet-riding, the car had gentle long-wave compliance in ‘Comfort’ mode, but it comes with some body roll and some deterioration in directional precision. Select ‘Sport’ mode and you get less roll and pitch and quicker steering response. The suspension does what it says on the tin, in other words. What it doesn’t have is an all-purpose ‘auto’ or ‘normal’ mode that expertly splits the difference between the two settings – so you spend many journeys flicking between them, wondering all the time whether you’re in the right one.
It’s a minor flaw that takes nothing away from the polished smoothness of the X5’s powertrain, or the exceptional spaciousness and strong material quality of its cabin.