BMW’s X cars are a brand unto themselves, with the X5 in the role of range flagship. Thus, the fact that the third generation X5 does not radically depart from its predecessor in appearance is no bad thing for owners of the present model.
A smidgen larger than the outgoing X5 (E70) model, the evolutionary new 2014 X5 (F15) has an expanded role to fulfill. You realize how far the new car has raised the game the moment you open the door and experience its plusher and more upmarket cabin.
The enhanced interior takes the new X5 to the next level in sophistication. Just the stitched leather covering on the dashboard top roll and the pleated pattern on the hides of the seats alone make a world of difference to the way you perceive the class and quality of the interior.
It looks and feels more expensive and exclusive straight away, and that initial first impression pervades everything as you run your eyes over the design, fit and finish of the heavily revised cabin.
If choice is a good thing, BMW has really pushed the boat out with enough trim package options to either titillate or confuse a would-be customer. A raft of seat designs, trim patterns and materials are there for the asking. These fall under the titles of Design Pure Experience and Design Pure Excellence plus M Sport Package, to be chosen according to whether your bent is more towards luxury, sporting or a combination of the two.
Subtle detailing includes high-level accent lighting under the dashboard and door trims in a choice four colors that can be changed at the touch of a button. Call it a gimmick if you will, but this mood lighting does actually add to the ambiance and sophistication of the cabin at night, especially when one of the warmer hues is chosen.
This new roomier interior has the option of a third row of seats to give it seven-seat capability. The boot area is now 650 liters, expanding to a massive 1,870 liters with the 40/20/40 split rear seat folded flat. Automatic tailgate operation is now standard, and can be opened and closed by the remote control key, as well as from the drivers seat.
The body-shell surrounding this enticing interior is also new as are its mechanical underpinnings. While the previous X5 was a big step forwards in creature comforts, both perceived and real, over the first generation car from 1998, the new car moves the game ahead a perceptible amount in all aspects of performance, handling, ride comfort, as well as sheer desirability.
Despite strong visual links to its predecessor, every panel is new. The fresh ‘face’ of the 2014 X5 features larger ‘kidney’ grilles in a more upright front that gives it even more gravitas. Along with the slightly raised bonnet line, this improves pedestrian impact protection. The aluminium bonnet has pyrotechnic devices to move it upwards and away from the hard engine structure if it senses a pedestrian strike.
According to Chassis Dynamics engineer, Cornelius Zim, the double wishbone front suspension is a fresh design with its spring pans sitting a bit lower for better kinematics within a conventional coil spring and gas active damper arrangement.
“Our main objective was to measurably improve ride comfort and bring an even greater level of sophistication to the new car,” he explained. “To do this we had to devise new suspension kinematics, and ended up re-designing the whole front suspension and its axle carrier.”
“Every front suspension component is different, and we use lightweight high strength steels for some components, with aluminium for others, “ he said. “The sub-frame is made from lightweight, high-strength steel as aluminium is not strong enough for a car of this weight.”
At the rear axle, the base X5 model has a mildly tweaked version of the previous steel spring and gas damper design. The optional Comfort and Professional suspension systems use self-leveling air suspension with active anti-roll bars. Dynamic Performance Control with torque vectoring to vary power between the rear wheels is part of these two packages.
Unlike some rivals that use air suspension all-round, the steel front springs mean that the X5 does not have the ability to alter its ride height. Thus, its 209mm ground clearance remains almost unchanged from the outgoing model. Maximum water fording depth is 500mm at 7km/h.
Aerodynamic refinements are pretty subtle and include the air curtain system that reduces air turbulence around the front wheels. The exit vents behind the front wheel arches are fully functional as opposed to the dummy vents favoured by aftermarket tuners in the past.
On the X5, form follows function, and these vents are also used as the design cue for the sweeping design line that runs aft into the front and rear doors. Thus, they look part and parcel of the design rather than an isolated and comparatively static design element in the front wings as they appear on the 3-Series GT.
According to Sven Ritter, specialist engineer for body and trim, the new X5’s torsional rigidity is up by five percent, which helps handling and ride. This is a worthwhile improvement when you consider the shell has plenty of big holes in it like the split rear tailgate and the Panoramic sunroof, standard in the US and an option in other markets.
The new body-in-white is 90kg lighter than before thanks to the use of more aluminium and high strength, lightweight steel in strategic places. The bonnet is now aluminium, as is some of the structural reinforcement in the engine bay area, which takes weight out of the nose, to the benefit of handling. The front and rear crash beams behind the PU-RIM bumper covers are now also aluminium.
The lightest large structural component in the car is the support structure behind the dashboard. This is made from magnesium and follows the design ethos the BMW Group began with the Rolls-Royce Phantom.
While 90kg has been shaved off the body weight, all the extra equipment required to address the legislative demands for current and forthcoming safety and emissions standards mean that this saving has been eaten up, and the new 2014 X5 tips the scales with similar weights as its predecessor model-for-model. This means 2,070kg (DIN) for the xDrive30d and 2,175kg (DIN) for the xDrive50i.
That said, the advances in powertrain efficiency enable the new X5 to go faster and further on a gallon of fuel. While all models benefit from lower emissions, C02 numbers will be at an all-time low with the new entry-level 218hp X5 xDrive25d that appears in the European line-up next year.
This is the first time ever that an X5 variant is being offered with a four-cylinder engine, and it is also the first time that a BMW four-cylinder diesel exists with sufficient power and torque to deliver credible performance in a car of this size.
The fact that a rear-wheel-drive only sDrive25d will also be available with this engine means that there are less driveline losses too, and emissions are a meagre 149g/km of C02 versus 155g/km for the xDrive25d version.
At the other end of the scale, the most exciting balance of power and economy will come from the X5 xDrive M50d, whose triple turbo 2,993cc six offers a stonking 381hp from 4,000 to 4,400rpm with 740Nm of torque between 2,000 and 3,000rpm. This rockets the car to 100km/h in 5.3 sec, and quite rapidly on to its electronically governed 250km/h Vmax.
The drag coefficient of 0.31 that helps towards the miserly average fuel consumption of just 6.7 L/100km with 177g/km emissions is impressive, and all the new X5 models meet the forthcoming EU6 emission standards.
At launch however, only the 450hp xDrive50i, 258hp xDrive30d and 381hp xDrive M50 M Performance versions will be available. The xDrive40d, xDrive35i, xDrive25d and sDrive25d come on stream at the end of the year.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox that has now become the default gearbox in many new BMW models is a large part of that equation. With its torque multiplication abilities at low revs and its closely stacked and seamless ratios, it is able to make full use of the available power and torque of the motor.
The slick gearbox helps to extract the best performance from the new twin-turbo, direct-injection V8 in the X5 xDrive50i. I drove this version first from downtown Vancouver up into the mountains near Whistler, where its near instant throttle response and huge raft of torque always felt capable of neutralising the mass of this big car with a mere prod on the throttle.
Equipped with the Professional suspension package, the 450hp xDrive50i can waft along on its 650Nm of twist in Comfort mode on the freeway one moment, and then morph into a pretty good impression of a big and heavy performance sedan on the twisty mountain roads with Sport mode engaged.
Gun it away from rest and a near supercar 0-100km/h time of 5.0 sec pins you back in your comfortable leather seat. The 250km/h top speed is electronically limited.
As always, it is initially daunting to fling a tall vehicle into bends like this, but with the active anti-roll bars strutting their stuff, the roll angle is well contained and body control is impressive.
You build up your confidence to the point where you feel you are actually defying the laws of physics, and end up covering ground at an indecently rapid rate with little drama. The power steering is one of the better electric systems BMW has produced of late.
The other model BMW provided for us to try was the 2014 BMW X5 xDrive30d, whose motor has been mildly tweaked to improve efficiency and emissions. Whether in town or on the open road, this motor is characterised by its strong torque and good throttle response.
Where the petrol V8 gives off a deep, distant rumble when it is working hard, the 20kg lighter straight-six oil burner has a just audible diesel clatter when accelerating from low revs, that morphs into the familiar straight-six soundtrack as it picks up revs. The 0-100km/h time of this heavy oil burner is a respectable 6.9 sec, with a 230km/h Vmax.
At cruise on a light throttle, the diesel engine is all but inaudible and its strong power and torque delivery coupled to good economy and emissions perfectly suit the long legged character of this vehicle. BMW claim a combined consumption of 6.2 L/100km with emissions of 162g/km.
The base X5 models such as the entry-level diesels have 18-inch wheels and you have a choice of normal or Runflat tyres. The X5 xDrive30d and 50i have 19-inch wheels with Runflat tyres as standard, and there is a 20-inch option too, also with Runflats.
All our 30d and 50i test cars wore 9.9J and 10.0J x 19-inch alloys shod with 255/50R19 and 285/45R19 rubber, a nice balance between handling, grip, and ride comfort while providing just enough of that all-important aesthetic appeal.
It is quite normal for new cars to be launched in some markets before others as production of LHD and then RHD versions is ramped up. However, BMW plans to roll out the new X5 in all markets simultaneously. The big day is November 16th.
All X5s are built in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and the US market will get the 35i and 50i petrol models with the 35d holding the fort for fans of heavy oil burning engines. Europe will get the 35i, 50i, 30d and M 50d models first, with the 35d and the four-cylinder versions coming on stream next year.
BMW invented the SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) segment when they launched the first generation X5 in 1999. Fourteen years on, the third generation X5 arrives with an unprecedented level of sophistication, reinforcing its iconic image as a vehicle that seamlessly bridges the gap between off-roader and luxury saloon.
I do like the F15 X5 but I wonder why BMW could not get the finished product to look like Johnson's sketches. In this age of malleable and ductile metals surely this would have been possible. The fact is I prefer the sketches!