Third Generation BMW X5: The Boss Gets More Comfortable

By Lee Pang Seng
THE BMW X5 SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) may win sales based on its dynamic outlook but the area of comfort is also not overlooked, if the recently launched third-generation X5 is any indicator. There is now a greater distinction between performance and comfortable driving, going by the options that are available with the latest ‘Boss’ from BMW.

Keeping with the ‘evolutionary’ family profile, the new X5 has a nose panel that is more forward in profile, moving away from the seemingly more angular frontage of the previous model, without losing out on efficient body aerodynamics to achieve better stability and performance.

The new face, still highly and immediately recognisable with the iconic BMW kidney grille, sees the twin adaptive LED headlight units extending into the grille area. The foglights (which are LED units) are relocated to a spot just below the headlights, and their previous positions now serve as large single-fin air intakes to divert air to form a curtain over the front wheels and out through vents (called Air Breathers) on the wheel arches. The new X5 is the first BMW X model to carry this feature, which is a new aerodynamic detail to aid overall vehicle stability.

The latest X5 is also BMW’s first model to have Aero Blades, which are black air-channelling elements that complement the roof spoiler to optimise the vehicle’s aerodynamic properties. If you look at the X5 from the top, they come in two black strips that run from the front to rear on the roof edges. It may look similar to roof racks except that these Aero Blades sit flat on the roof panel.

There appears to be minimal changes to the body from the A-pillar rearwards, other than the more sharply angled waistline (BMW calls this the swage line). The rear lights follow a similar L-shaped pattern but now come with LEDs, while the bumper has a more flushed apron apart from the two exhaust indents at each end (with matt chrome tailpipe embellishers), topped by slim red reflector strips.

Basically, it follows the old body formula of a short overhang in front, long wheelbase (2933mm), upright A-pillars, and a short distance between front axle and instrument panel. The rationale of not changing a good thing works with the new nose to exude a fresh outlook. Depending on models, the Cd value (drag co-efficient) is 0.31 (diesel models) and 0.35 (petrol), which are pretty low for such vehicles.

The interior also sees its share of updates, in particular the ambience, to increase the level of creature comfort for the driver and passengers. This comes in the LED units arranged in a wraparound contour line and a pick of blue, white or orange lighting individually or in nine pre-stored combinations through the iDrive system.

A styling change here is having the central control display (up to 10.25-inch dimension) being a freestanding unit: in the previous model, it was an integrated part of the sweeping dashboard panel. This appears to be a preferred styling option in most cars today. The displays in the X5 unit for climate control and ventilation systems feature black panel technology.

The front seats are said to be newly designed for a ‘high level of long-distance comfort’ and ‘impressive’ lateral hold when going at a gallop through winding stretches. The second row has seatrests split 40:20:40 that allows load capacity to be progressively increased from 650 litres to 1870 litres (an increase over the old from 30 to 120 litres respectively). The rear tailgate is a two-piece item, with the lower section folding to form a flat floor with the load area. The upper section can be electronically closed at the touch of a button and for the first time, it can be closed or opened with the remote control or a touch of button from the driver’s seat.

The international media introduction of the new X5 was conducted in Vancouver, Canada, maintaining an Olympic venue as the launch pad (the first X5 was introduced in Atlanta, US, another Olympic venue, more than 13 years ago). Vancouver, or rather the Whistler Olympic Park in Cedarstone, is host to the winter Olympics and the site was part of the 470km drive itinerary. The X5 is made at Spartanburg, US, (although the engines still come from BMW Germany as it is deemed more cost effective that way), and the American market takes up about half of its production. Europe and China are its other sizeable markets.

For the event, two models were provided: the X5 xDrive50i with the new-generation V8 petrol engine and the X5 xDrive30d. The rationale was to let the international media get a feel of the model that sells best in the US and Europe respectively. The 4.4-litre V8 is almost square in configuration with a marginally shorter stroke (88.3mm) over the bore (89.0mm). It delivers 10 per cent more power over the old V8 at 330kW (450bhp) (+30kW/43bhp) at 5500-6000rpm.

BMW says the improvement is due to the TwinPower Turbo technology (it uses twin turbochargers) with High Precision direct petrol injection and VALVETRONIC variable valve timing. Torque output is also increased to 650Nm (+50Nm) that is delivered between 2000 and 4500rpm. In performance, it sprints to 100km/h in 5.0 seconds (-0.5 second quicker than the previous model) and 0-1000m in 23.9 seconds. Its top speed is capped at 250km/h while its average fuel consumption (EU test cycle) is claimed at about 9.6km/l (10.4 l/100km).

The six-cylinder in-line diesel engine in the X5 xDrive30d sees a ‘range of detail improvements’ to achieve a better balance between performance and fuel economy. It is clearly undersquare in configuration with a 90.0mm stroke and 84.0mm bore. It also employ the TwinPower Turbo technology but with single variable geometry turbocharger and common rail direct injection.

Output is also improved with the power rated at 190kW (258bhp) (+10kW/13bhp) at 4000rpm and 560Nm (+20Nm) from 1500rpm to 3000rpm. Performance-wise, it accelerates to 100km/h in 6.9 seconds (+0.7 second) and 0-1000m in 27.5 seconds. Top speed is 230km/h while the average fuel consumption is improved by 16 per cent to 16.1km/l (6.2 l/100km).

Both models come with the eight-speed automatic with a host of options: steering wheel paddle shifts when Sport mode is selected, launch control, ECO PRO to determine engine operation based on detection of the road and traffic conditions ahead.

The X5 is a permanent all-wheel drive and improvements here include a lighter and improved power divider (-1.4kg). The models made available for drive impressions came with the Comfort Adaptive Suspension package that comprises Dynamic Damper control and air suspension with automatic self-levelling rear system. There two damping modes – Comfort and Sport – to choose according to road and driving style. The steering is now an Electric Power system.

We started with the xDrive30d, with the advice to stick to Canadian traffic rules. Initially we complied by sticking to the respective speed limits posted, varying between 50km/h (urban centres) and 90km/h (highway). We did push the xDrive30d where possible especially along the remote winding section up to the mountainous area north of Vancouver, but we overtook only on stretches that permitted it. Later, when we were running out of time, we pushed our luck a little by flowing with the quicker traffic that was going between 110 and 120km/h on the highways.

Choosing the Comfort mode for the active suspension had all the road irregularities nicely ironed out but it did floated at highway speeds. For the winding stretches, the new X5 was a delight to drive in Sport mode when the damping action was harder: body roll was well checked, especially for a tall vehicle, and we could push it quick enough through corners (often above the speed posted). There was adequate directional feedback coming through the Electric Power Steering to take corners quickly and confidently. The all-wheel drive set-up with its host of active systems helped to maintain good traction as well.

With the engine turning lazily below 2000rpm at highway speeds, the xDrive30d could easily gobble up the mileage without burning too much diesel. Being almost 100kg lighter than the xDrive50i at 2070kg kerb, its 560Nm torque made light work of highway cruising. On stretches that we could overtake, kicking the turbo into action had the engine flexing its muscles, picking up the pace strongly to pass quickly. There was that familiar exhaust gurgle as engine revs went beyond 4000rpm that was music to our ears.

When we next drove the xDrive50i, we noted a more eager pace what with all of 650Nm coming in early from 2000rpm. Kicking the two turbochargers into action for even quicker overtaking brought about that typical V8 roar, muted as it were but addictive none the less. We took the opportunity to see what it could do on a quiet stretch, hitting just above 160km/h before easing off for the sweeper that followed. With eight ‘mouths’ to feed, it was definitely a thirstier Beemer but we had enough juice to make it back to our hotel in Vancouver, peak hour traffic jam and all. The new X5 is due for launch in November but it won’t make it here till early next year.

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