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Putting the ‘Sport’ into SUV

Putting the ‘Sport’ into SUV

BMW has kept with a winning formula for the latest evolution of the X5

Words: Stephen Smith

Pictures: Stephen Smith and supplied

Last month we featured the Renault Duster, an SUV big on value and offering everything you need, but with very little in terms of excess. This month we venture higher up the food chain to the third evolution of BMW’s über-SUV, the X5. Where the Duster was pared down for practicality, the X5 is plumped up for luxury, making it one of the most sumptuous vehicles on the road.

BMW X5 Subtle Differences

Subtle difference set the new generation X5 apart from its predecessors.

Not long after the Comrades Marathon had temporarily crippled thousands of our country’s most foolhardy athletes, I took an X5 for a drive along part of the route, up hill and down dale, and came to the conclusion that I was quite happy to be driving and not plodding along in my running shoes. That got me thinking of running shoes and how so many of us buy top-of-the-range ASICS or Nikes and then use them for walking around malls and going to braais. And let’s be honest – the SUV market is pretty much the same.

Because of this, BMW doesn’t pretend that their SUVs are off-road vehicles, unlike some of their rivals, and I would hesitate to take the X5 off-road. The suspension is too firm to comfortably navigate much more than a dirt road, the tyres too low-profile to survive sharp rocks, and the bodywork too flashy. But keep an X5 on the surfaces it’s designed for and it’s sensational. All South African X5s are ‘4x4s’, but the xDrive system is a road-biased one aimed at good traction.

When the X5 was launched in 1999 it took the ‘sport’ from Sport Utility Vehicle to new heights with outstanding handling and a range of performance-oriented engines. So as you’d expect, there’s a range of engines to suit all manner of right feet out there. For the sensible, there’s the 3-litre, six-cylinder turbodiesel in the X5 xDrive 30d that we drove. Its fuel consumption is just under 8ℓ/100km, despite it being capable of accelerating from 0-100km/h in under 7 seconds thanks to the 190kW and 560Nm the engine produces.

More space and better finishes make the BMW interior superb.

More space and better finishes make the BMW interior superb.

The entry-level engine, if you can call it that, is a turbocharged 3-litre, petrol engine in the xDrive35i model and produces 225kW and 400Nm. Then there’s the 40d, the 50i and the faintly lunatic M50d, which produces 280kW and 740Nm, also from a 3-litre turbodiesel engine. The entire range uses an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Exterior changes are subtle – a new grille, new headlights and a few tweaks here and there. And yet it does look different – it must, because when I was parked at a shop someone came up and asked if it was the 2014 model! The split tailgate, which can now be opened using the remote, is a great new touch, the bottom section folding down in line with the boot’s floor. It’s a very handy feature for sitting on and watching the world run by. Also brilliant is the bird’s-eye-view reverse camera, which generates a 360° view of the vehicle and its surrounds.

Now there are no excuses for dinged bumpers! And while the iDrive infotainment system (for controlling everything from the radio to the sat-nav) was mocked and scorned when it was first created, it has evolved into one of the best systems around and is very user-friendly and intuitive.


What isn’t as good is the space of the boot, which, at 1 870 litres, is at least 100 litres smaller than that of its closest rivals. Other than that the interior space is good, while the level of finish is excellent. As is usual, the list of optional features is long and extensive, but the standard specs are definitely good enough to live with. It’s only if you want extras like heated seats, a panoramic roof or a very high-end Bang & Olufsen sound system that you need to dip further into your pocket.

The X5 is a success because it highlights all the characteristics that potential SUV drivers look for: a handsome exterior, a sumptuous interior, the very latest technology and gadgets, powerful engines and surefooted handling in all sorts of conditions. These characteristics have continued to lead the success that the X5 has enjoyed, to the extent that more than 1.3 million vehicles have been sold in the past 15 years.

Reverting to my running analogy, there’s no doubt that the Duster would get you through any marathon, and even a trail run. But you’d be more comfortable, more stylish and have more admirers if you did that same marathon in an X5, although the trail run would be a bit of a push.

All that luxury doesn’t come cheap, and you would have to fork out a minimum of R825 000 and up to R1 100 000 plus, to be the proud owner of an X5. All models come with a 5-year/100 000km maintenance plan.

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