I drove the new BMW X5 the other day, and there was nothing about it to surprise. It looked much the same. It drove much the same. It provided the same cabin ambience and even smelt much the same. But, we shouldn’t be surprised at this lack of novelty, because the X5 is a big success.

BMW has sold 1.3 million of the first two iterations of this car, which debuted in 1999. It’s a car that earns BMW good margins according to board member Herbert Diess and also launched the entire X-model sub-brand for BMW.

So this is a car that it cannot afford to get wrong and like VW and its Golf, a car now best-known for staying the same, BMW has found a formula with the X5 that it’s probably best not to meddle with. Striking automotive gold like this is hard, which is why the planet’s smash-hit cars tend only to progressively evolve, and without deviating from their essence.

Besides the Golf – and its 2013 World Car of the Year title is further confirmation of a winning formula – we can number the BMW 3-series, the Mercedes S and E-classes, the Ford Focus and the Range Rover among the many that have found the right groove. And all of these are notable for their product consistency from one generation to the next.

The downside, if you’re a car nut, is that such success breeds unremarkable conservatism. If you like boldly adventurous styling and radical innovation in your cars, you should probably look elsewhere. But given the huge investment needed to launch a new car and the difficulty of making a profit on it, this is a caution that it’s easy to understand.

So unless this latest, well polished BMW X5 faces headwinds caused by unexpectedly departing buyers, we can assume that the fourth generation, out in six years' time, will serve up much the same recipe.

What it doesn’t mean is that BMW has turned risk-averse, as the i3 and i8 prove.