2019’s sure been a year. For South Africa, that means extreme highs and depressing lows, but one things for sure, the country didn’t stop…
The BMW X5 arrived on the scene back in the late nineties as one of the first â€œcrossoverâ€ vehicles to coolly cast aside the primitive SUVâ€™s commercial roots and instead embrace on-road ability and passenger comfort.
Yes, despite the idyllic rural settings featured in this mid-size luxury vehicleâ€™s official press shots, the BMW X5 â€“ particularly the performance M50d model we tested â€“ is awkwardly out of place in The Wild and far more comfortable in a bustling city, in defiance of its considerable dimensions.
Of course, tarmac-biased SUVs have become exceptionally popular over the past few years, sassily elbowing their rugged body-on-frame counterparts far into the background. In fact, the soft-roaderâ€™s rise has been so prolific that the typical young urban family now favours it over the station-wagon and minivan.
But to dismiss the third-generation BMW X5 as a mere limp-wristed soft-roader would be an inordinate injustice. You see, this chunky SUV has evolved into something of a dynamic marvel â€“ and in M50d trim it boasts extra-special sports-car performance and enough gadgets to render a technophile positively giddy.
And, since weâ€™re all about the gadgets here at Motorburn, weâ€™ll start with the X5â€™s cutting-edge equipment, which is built mostly around the German brandâ€™s clever â€œConnectedDriveâ€ system.
The X5 ships standard with a full-colour head-up display. Useful snippets â€“ such as current vehicle speed, speed limits and even collision warnings â€“ are projected onto the windscreen in front of the driver. Interestingly, telephone contact lists can now also be displayed. The presentation of this information is remarkably clear and easy-to-read, although when viewed through polarised lenses, it all but disappears.
Not standard, although arguably even more nifty, is BMWâ€™s night vision system. Prod a button to the right of the steering wheel and the iDrive-controlled 10.25-inch screen neatly integrated into the dashboard displays a black-and-white forward view via an infrared camera. People, animals and indeed any heat-radiating objects (I even picked out a few hot-headed passengers on the bus in front of me) are automatically highlighted. If the system reckons there is a risk of collision, it sends the driver a quick warning. Clever, although we noticed that heavy rain rendered the system virtually useless.
The BMW X5 is a bit of a beast â€“ measuring nearly 4.9m-long and close to 1.8m-wide â€“ so parking it in a cramped spot can be a bit daunting. Thankfully, it comes standard with front and rear parking sensors as well as a reversing camera. But the optional â€œsurround viewâ€ system is an even more useful addition, providing a 360-degree birdâ€™s eye-view of the vehicle and its surroundings on the display via a team of strategically placed cameras. Very smart indeed.
Most of the X5â€™s most impressive gizmos serve to boost the vehicleâ€™s safety. In fact, along with the usual array of airbags and safety acronyms/abbreviations, the big Beemer boasts some seriously inspiring protection systems. One of those is the dynamic brake-lights function: under particularly hard braking, the tail-lights initially flash, before the hazards come on to warn trailing drivers.
Optional camera-based driver assistance packages, meanwhile, include lane departure warning, blind spot monitors and â€œperson warningâ€ (with a city braking function). Active cruise control â€“ which works via cameras and radar â€“ incorporates a â€œstop and goâ€ function that renders slow-moving traffic a breeze (and incidentally works up to speeds of, ahem, 210km/h). Thing is, the preferred following distance tends to present itself as a perfectly sized gap for impatient motoristsâ€¦
Not that one would be too bothered from inside the BMW X5â€™s plush cabin. The standard nine-speaker hi-fi system (with a DVD drive) is perfectly adequate, although a 1200W Bang & Olufsen high-end surround-sound option (with 16 loudspeakers) is also available, as is a rear-seat entertainment package incorporating twin 9.2-inch tablet-like screens.
Internet preparation is also offered, facilitating the in-car use of Facebook and Twitter (while stationary, of course), while a dictation function with full speech recognition for emails, SMSes and memos is also available in certain markets. The BMW X5 M50d also benefits from a full navigation system with 3D map display and 20GB of storage space.
So, in terms of tech, the X5 is particularly well endowed. But what about under-bonnet oomph? Well, the M50d employs the kind of diesel engine thatâ€™d embarrass all but the hottest of hot hatches. Thanks to three turbochargers (and thus multi-stage charging), the 3.0-litre straight-six powerplant kicks out a not-to-be-sneezed-at 280kW. But, more importantly, it also generates a gargantuan 740Nm between 2000rpm and 3000rpm, ensuring terrific throttle response.
In fact, that fat slab of low-down grunt â€“ fed to all four wheels via a smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox â€“ translates into a zero to 100km/h sprint time of just 5.3 seconds. Not bad for something with a luggage capacity of 650 litres and weighing well over two tonnes. Switch it into its most extreme settings (bump the gear-lever to â€œSportâ€ and scroll the driving mode through to â€œSport+â€), and the BMW X5 M50d eagerly dishes up the type of relentless acceleration that one would expect from a nuclear-powered train. It is quick in a straight line, no two ways about it.
Thing is, it can go around corners, too. The adaptive M suspension system, rear-biased all-wheel drive, and the meaty tyres on the 19-inch wheels combine to lend the M50d more dynamic ability than should be physically possible. It grips through the bends so well â€“ despite the somewhat soggy steering â€“ that it could plausibly be described as an oversized sports-car.
But itâ€™s also capable of plodding along in â€œEco Proâ€ mode â€“ rather comfortably, we might add â€“ taking tiny sips from the 85-litre fuel tank. In fact, BMW reckons itâ€™s good for a rock-bottom 6.7 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, although we ended up in the early double-digits thanks to our penchant for on-road haste. Can you blame us?
Verdict: The BMW X5 M50d combines the best elements of various types of vehicles. It boasts more passenger/load space than a large luxury sedan, itâ€™s quick enough to be classed as a performance vehicle, and it can even be frugal on fuel should the need arise. It can do the job of a soft-roader, and much, much more. Of course, the big X5 is also packed to the rafters with technology, even if the most enthralling bits are optional extras. Itâ€™s certainly not cheap and it doesnâ€™t look all that different from the second-gen model, but the BMW X5 M50d is an absolute marvel â€“ and that tremendous tri-turbo engine is at the heart of it all.