First Drive

First Drive: BMW X5

The story:
The BMW X5 was the first large SUV aimed more at tarmac than mud; BMW’s added air suspension and cutting-edge infotainment to this latest version to make it even more so.

Category:Large SUV
Key rival:Audi Q7
Emissions: 158g/km
On sale:Now

Gentle evolution – rather than outright revolution – has been the modus operandi behind the new BMW X5. And why not? After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – and with its popularity still high despite advancing years, the outgoing X5 certainly ain’t broke.

So the recipe remains familiar for this fourth-generation car: five seats as standard, seven as an optional extra, and an emphasis on on-road driveability over off-road prowess.

BMW X5 2018 - Image 3

But it isn’t all same again with this fourth-generation X5. The range kicks off with the relatively high-end xLine version – there’s no SE trim level this time around. Consequently, the P11D value of the cheapest xDrive 30d, with BMW’s 265hp 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel up front, is a hefty £56,610 – and that rises to £60,110 if you want the M Sport model. At those prices, the BMW is more expensive to tax than an equivalent Audi Q7 or Volvo XC90, albeit cheaper than a Land Rover Discovery.

There are two other engines to choose from – a 340hp 3.0-litre petrol and a 400hp quad-turbo diesel – with more on their way, including a plug-in hybrid.

Its high cost does at least mean the X5 is pretty well equipped. For example, you get a snazzy, if rather busy, digital dashboard display, and you also get BMW’s latest infotainment system, which comes packed with a suite of connected features and a smarter, more user-friendly interface.

BMW X5 2018 - Image 9

Happily, there’s no distracting, reflection-prone lower touchscreen here; instead a more traditional row of buttons controls ancillary functions and climate control. Heavy plastics, standard ambient lighting and some smart inlay options really lift the sense of quality, too. The boot’s on the comparatively small side, though, and if you do want to add the extra row of seats, you’ll find it isn’t as spacious as that of a proper seven-seat rival.

Air suspension is now standard on even entry-level versions; another key change from the old X5. It works well, ironing out all but the worst ruts and potholes while keeping the body from wallowing over crests, as some rivals do.

It also prevents the body from rolling too much in the corners, giving the X5 a sense of reassuring stability when you push it harder. Combined with the progressive steering and tenacious grip, that makes it a joy to hustle along. And while the engine’s rather vocal, the warbling noise it produces is at least quite appealing.

If you only need a five-seat SUV, this new X5 is an appealing option. It does a convincing job of combining comfort, luxury and sportiness, and it’s efficient enough to make its high P11D value tolerable. If you need seven seats, though, there are still better rivals out there.

Alex Robbins

The verdict

A smooth and relaxing SUV – and as good to drive as ever. But the X5 isn’t perfect, and nor is it cheap on tax.