BMW X5 Xdrive30d review: The improbable athlete

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Added in: Reviews

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Well, wait a second before pulling that trigger. We’re not so daft to not know that the X5 is a rather old car, due for replacement very soon. In fact we updated the site with the spy images and video of the 2014 model the same day as we began writing this review. But then, we also very strongly believe in the noble philosophy that there technically isn’t ever a bad time to drive and review a BMW – even more so for a machine like the X5. For the uninitiated, the heavy piece of metal you see here on this page is one of the finest handling SUVs on the planet. Yes, we said handling and SUV in the same breath.

You see, we were as skeptical as you probably are, initially, but by the time we stepped out of the X5’s big cabin we couldn’t help but shake our head in disbelief. Fasten your belts, for this review isn’t going to be about anything but performance and handling.

Prologue

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As I drive out of the BMW showroom, heading for the fuel pump to get the tank brimmed, I am generally having a look around in the cabin. Interiors on most BMW cars are all the same – well built, ridiculously ergonomic and extremely familiar. In all honesty, I cannot make out some BMW models looking at the interior – they’re all very similar. And yet, I feel that this one is somewhat different. A little old maybe – I cannot put a finger on what it is, but there is a difference. It’s different from the modern EPS driven Bimmers I have been testing of late, not as iPhone-age inspired. It has the slightest hint of age. And since it’s a BMW, that can never, ever be a bad thing – we still pounce at every opportunity to hold the BMW hydraulic steering wheel, getting fast replaced by the electric units on all new Bimmers.

Trundling towards the fuel pump, negotiating the suicidal thoughts inducing Mumbai traffic, I am feeling overly disturbed – there is something different about this SUV. What is it? The ride is firm, but it’s still soaking the bumps rather well – and it’s a BMW to complain about ride, silly. Is it the high seating position which I am so not used to while being inside a Bimmer? The steering wheel’s surface isn’t too soft, I check – it’s leather wrapped alright. Wait, did I get sloshed last night? Am I a bit hung-over? Negative – yesterday wasn’t one of my lucky days.

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The drive to the fuel station is a short, congested affair. The beast has its feast in no time and is ready to roar. I make a U-turn to take the road leading out of the town. My salute to those who can review a car fully within the city limits, Mumbai in particular – they are motoring gods. I’m not quite at their level yet – need to show the wheels some open, spiraling pieces of tar before I dare comment on handling. Off I go to the hills, humble and flawed!

After about 15 off minutes, I hit a clear patch of tar for the first time since I started. A little lateral movement of the front wheels at speeds above 60, and Voila! I seem to have got it. This isn’t the way an SUV behaves to your directional commands. It’s the steering feel at the palms which was getting me perturbed. What communication and feedback for an SUV! What’s this car? The good old manually operated telephone exchange? A devilish grin spreads to my face at the very thought. Me, smiling, in an SUV – now that’s a first!

The ‘Logue’

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Teeny twirl of the steering wheel to the left – quick teeny turn left; teeny twirl of the steering wheel to the right – quick teeny turn right. I can tell that the turns in both cases were exactly as much as i wanted. The data flow between my hands and the wheels seems to be channeled via a blitzy fast third generation InfiniBand BUS subsystem. And none of this is something I have not experienced before, just the fact that all this is happening behind the wheel of a vehicle weighing more than two tonne is making the experience incredibly befuddling.  It’s absolutely mind boggling, the amount of feel this steering wheel has.

Up on the expressway, the engine begins pulling out one reason after another to prove why BMW has consistently topped the charts as the world’s best engine maker year after year. The bloody thing doesn’t feel like a diesel mill. It doesn’t have any of the lazy characteristics of typical diesel plants – the rev needle dances to the command of your right foot. The extremely rev-happy engine is responsive and makes this mammoth shoot forward with the slightest dab of the pedal. Post 3000 rpm the motor begins emanating a muffled burble which would have suited a sporty roadster. The engine response, the power delivery, the steering feedback, the engine sound – you somehow feel you are in a much lighter, sportier car. The way this machine drives belies its dimensions and heft. It kind of defies physics.

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The 3.0 liter diesel engine powering this monster delivers 240bhp of peak power at 4000 rpm, and 540 Nm of turning force within a band of 1750-3000 rpm. And I am happy to declare that there is some degree of violence in how all that power and torque is laid out on the tar. The X5 won’t surge ahead in a refined, train-like fashion when you bury the metal – it would pounce like a hungry tiger would, on a still gazelle. Your head wouldn’t be gently pressed into the headrest; it would be shoved back when you accelerate. There is a sense of brutality about how the rubber meets the road while spinning with the X5, and I love every bit of it.

Another open patch on the expressway, and I bury the pedal – I show it it’s grave. Speeds we don’t talk about here appear on the speedo rather quickly for an SUV, though not as quickly as they would in lighter sedan outfitted with the same engine. The X5 would go all the way up to 210 km/h – but gathering speed in a straight line is no fun. It’s like sitting in a bullet train. You enjoy the blur outside, but there’s no thrill to it. I’d much rather sit in a roller coaster which doesn’t run at half the speed but delivers ten times the kick.

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I’m itching to test how well this giant handles. Its body must roll, there is no way it’ll behave in a controlled fashion when thrown around bends. It’s too high and too heavy. The twisties are still some distance away, and I can’t wait to find out. A quick glance at the mirrors, which have for some time been witnessing the rest of the traffic turning into dots as if it were on a standstill. All clear – I don’t see a vehicle on my tail for at least half a kilometer. I make a quick high speed double lane shift maneuver, only to find myself completely bamboozled!

Typically, even the better handling SUVs would get unsettled and wobble about substantially before recovering into a stable state in a moose test. The X5, on the other hand seems to be running on rails. Minimal body roll, not a hint of sogginess around the wheels, no flexing of the chassis – sturdy as a mountain. As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of cars capable of doing this, all of them lighter cars, mostly sedans with low center of gravity. But here’s a disturbingly heavy vehicle, passing a moose test without as much as a whimper. The X5 just goes about business unperturbed. I cannot help but scratch my head in bewilderment.

Now, the X5’s may not be one of the most tranquil power delivery anyway, but for those who like savageness to the max, the car comes with a manual/sport mode. Flick the driver selector stick to the left, and you’re in for an even more enthralling experience. The revs hold longer for faster acceleration, and you just have to push the drive selector forward to shift down. You can pull it back too, to upshift – but I hardly ever do that. The manual shifts are reasonably quick. There are no flappy pedals here behind the steering wheel. The drive selector arrangement works very well though. Its very convenient to push forward the shifter stick for going a cog down – in practice it adds a lot of excitement to your drive.

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The uphill road leading to Khandala is peppered with a variety of medium to long sweeping corners. I decide to play. Hurtling the X5 into the sweepies with triple digit speeds continues to perplex me. There’s just loads and loads of grip from the 255 / 50 Continental rubber draped on massive 19 inch wheels. Body roll is mind bogglingly low for a vehicle this size and the steering feels completely wired into the road. Sure, this is no 3-series, but to expect this kind of balanced and sure-footed behavior from a vehicle this heavy is kind of unnerving. With the vehicle loaded to the right on a sweeping left hander, I see a truck ahead in my lane – a slight dab on the brakes, a sway into the outer lane, a gear dropped and off I go without the slightest hint of the body getting imbalanced. It’s a sturdy wildebeest, this thing, with the agility of a leopard.

Sure there is mild body roll when you turn it hard, sure there is a mild wail from the tyres when you punish them – but even so, the massive dimensions of this heavily built machine are so finely balanced and so well under control that even precarious situations seem easy to negotiate. The X5 changes direction with unmatched agility, it’s the benchmark for its class, and can easily teach a lesson or two to many a non-BMW sedan in handling. And that’s saying a lot for a 2150 kg piece of metal.

Around the hilly sections of the expressway, cluttered with slow moving trucks engaged in overtaking maneuvres which last a lifetime, I am darting around as if driving a hot-hatch. Nimbly carving its way through the clutter, the X5 absolutely delights with its on-road abilities. The eight speed auto transmission is mapped well enough take care of shifts, and let you focus on the road. It’s quick, and responds well to various situations by putting you in the right rev range in no time.

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The Xdrive technology keeping vigil over the four wheels of the X5 has a lot of credit to take for the uncanny ability of the car to change directions without a trace of nervousness. The Torque vectoring system keeps a watch on all four wheels, and is capable of transferring upto 100 percent drive force to front or rear axles on detecting a slip in less than a tenth of a second. The system is also capable of applying brakes individually on wheels with help from ABS and DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) to mitigate any directional instability. The Xdrive technology is BMW’s answer to Audi’ Quattro and Mercedes-Benzes 4-matic, and works exceptionally well.

BMW calls the X5 a driver’s car. And one has every right to laugh at the statement looking at the vehicle’s sheer size and weight. But in all honesty, it is one. True, it cannot quite match the low slung sedans from the Bavarian stable, but it isn’t too far off. And that’s quite a feat knowing the odds that go against a vehicle with so much weight. It’s unquestionably the best car to drive in its category – not just in India, but anywhere in the world. It would take nothing less than a Porsche Cayenne to humble this monster around a windy road. The X5 shatters the belief that SUVs can’t handle, turning the statement almost into a myth.

Epilogue

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Before you blame us for being too deferential to an old machine, lets us tell you that there are downsides too.  In all honestly, the X5 is best used on the road. It isn’t the best of off-roaders. The engine is noisy, and may perturb the spectacled baldies, but we love that sound. There is a fair bit of road and wind noise within the cabin too. The interior, though well built and functional, has some fine wrinkles.

At Rs 53 lakh ex-showroom, the X5 is expensive. But you cannot quite buy another SUV like it until you decide to pay double the price. There is a liberal list of options which is good enough to get you poorer by upto Rs 30 lakh more, including an optional 3rd row of seats to convert the vehicle into a seven seater.

There isn’t much to point a finger at the X5, it’s a brilliantly built machine, which is due to get replaced next year. Even so, the X5 doesn’t lag at all as regards power, performance or thrills. An absolutely unique machine which gets our standing ovation!

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Unique glovebox is opened via a button below the AC vents on dashboard.

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Plenty of room inside. Comfortable seats and generous legroom.

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There is ample boot space. You can opt for a third row of seats too for Rs 2 lakh.

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Rear window blinds are an option, not standard fitment.

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iDrive interface is very intuitive. Makes available loads of information easily

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Interior is well-built in typical BMW fashion. Upper part of the dashboard could have felt softer.

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Loading lip can be lowered at the pull of a lever. Makes loading / unloading more convenient.

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There is space for a spare on the X5. Not available though if you opt for the third row of seats

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Unique double deck side air vents

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Drive selector and iDrive controls. Look classy and covenient to use.

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Light sensors for the auto headlamps.

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Corona rings in the headlamps lend the X5 its devilish eyes.

Technical Specifications

Engine Type/Model        BMW six-cylinder in-line diesel

Displacement cc               2993

Power (PS@rpm)             245PS @5500rpm

Torque (Nm@rpm)         540Nm @1750rpm

Transmission Type           8 speed auto

Overall Length (mm)      4857

Overall Width (mm)        1933

Overall Height (mm)       1776

Wheel Base (mm)            2933

Ground Clearance (mm)               212

Boot Space (liter)             620

Tyres     255/55 R 18

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