BMW X5 on long-term test: is this Bavarian beast still king of the SUVs?

BMW X5
James Foxall gets to grips with the X5, one of the biggest names in the SUV segment 

It’s 20 years since BMW launched the X5, a model which at the time redefined how a high-riding, off-road-style vehicle should drive on the road. We’re testing how the fourth-generation version has moved things on.

Our Car: X5 xDrive30d M Sport

List price when new: £60,375 OTR

Price as tested: £73,925

Official fuel economy: 45.6mpg

Read more long-term tests

May 17, 2019

Average fuel economy (over four months): 36.9mpg

Our time with the big BMW has come to an end and there’s now an X5-shaped hole in my life. I’ve loved the X5’s combination of effortless luxury, supreme functionality and remarkable pace.

Looks-wise I thought the X5 appeared sharp and stylish from most angles. The design at the front was quite busy and it was a bit bland from the rear three-quarter view. Those aside it’s a handsome thing. Even a mid-tenure switch from 21-inch to 20-inch wheels (needed to accommodate winter tyres) didn’t compromise exterior appeal.

Driving it was always enjoyable. The seats were supportive and cosseting and the 3.0-litre diesel engine’s deep reserves of torque made drives so relaxing it seemed as if it could shrink long journeys.

Economy was impressive in the X5's Eco mode - but if you select the Sport setting it's brisk for such a large car

I got used to the active cruise control and lane keep that provided double reassurance on motorway trips. The only thing the system didn’t like was cars in front pushing into its lane in slow-moving traffic. In that situation, it was too slow to react to impending danger for my liking.

I’d frequently have the X5 on its EcoPro setting where the throttle response was muted in the name of economy. But the result was a relatively impressive 36.9mpg overall – around four fifths of the claimed 45.6mpg. Change it to the Sport function and it became a different car. The engine response to throttle inputs was more rapid, the steering and suspension tighter. It became as close to a sports car as is possible for a 2.2-tonne beast.

Downsides? Its sheer size was somewhat limiting. At a whisker over 2m wide, it was pretty much on the limit for London’s 6ft 6in width restrictors. But I figured if a Transit van could make it, so could we. Thankfully I wasn’t wrong. But it was tighter than I would have liked. I’d hate to have to find a suitable city centre parking space for one on a regular basis. And just parking at places like the supermarket was a bit of a mission, particularly if one of the cars either was offset towards me in its bay.

Longer journeys to the French Alps were dismissed with contemptuous ease

Every journey with the infotainment system was a voyage into the unknown. Sometimes it would connect instantly and seamlessly to my smartphone; sometimes it just didn’t want to know; other times it would behave totally randomly. To be fair to BMW, the times it did act up was when we were using Apple CarPlay so if we’re feeling charitable, we can blame Apple.

But it was nonetheless frustrating, particularly on the journey when we were listening to a podcast and it repeatedly disconnected my phone mid-sentence and paired with my wife’s. On another couple of occasions, it connected with my phone, enabled me to control what I wanted to listen to through the car but would only play the audio through my phone. Baffling and irritating.

With these long-term projects, I always think the acid test is whether I would spend my own money on one. In the case of this X5 that’s £74,000 or around £750 a month. It’s an awful lot of money yielding numerous options and great car combinations (how about a Mazda MX-5 and a Porsche Macan for the same price?).

But if I were to choose the X5, I don’t think I’d be disappointed.

May 9, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 34.6mpg

The X5 is coming to the end of its tenure with us and it’s fair to say I shall miss it. One of little things I enjoy is the welcome it gives when I approach. A blue-violet ring illuminates on the laser headlights and before my hand has reached the handle, the doors have unlocked. However, that very system facilitates others who might covet features like that actually taking the car.

Figures released last week show that car theft is on the up in the UK. And it’s being driven by the popularity of ‘keyless’ systems exactly like the X5’s. In case you don’t know, the villains use a ‘relay’ system where you bounce the signal that’s constantly transmitted by the key to the car. This tricks the car’s security system into thinking the key is present. The crook unlocks the car, jumps in and drives off.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem for me. I park the car in a garage and the key is stored in a metal box in the house, which appears to block the signal. However, what to do when out and about and leaving the car outside my mate’s house, for example?

Keyless entry is undoubtedly useful, but not if it allows someone to steal your pride and joy

After all, it would be disastrous if the X5 ended up in a shipping container, on its way to a different continent. I could spend £5 and buy a Faraday Pouch which does pretty much what my metal box does. Alternatively I could wrap it in kitchen foil, which I’m told does the same thing.

And talking of the key, the X5 comes with BMW’s smart key. The size of a small mobile phone, it has made me the butt of others’ humour (“Is that the car key in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?”) and it’s proving pretty pointless. The idea is that you can control some functions of the car remotely.

It’s a neat idea but after the initial novelty, the key has just become another device that needs charging. I recently discovered that it hasn’t had any charge at all for a couple of weeks and I hadn’t noticed. Which says it all about how much I use it, other than to gain access to the car.

April 30, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 34.7mpg

In days gone by we’d talk about an engine needing cooling. This was the simple process of air being forced through the radiator when you were driving to stop bits melting together beneath the bonnet. Then, when you were stationary and airflow couldn’t do its thing, a fan would suck air through the radiator. Driving the Peugeot 205 GTi I had in the early 90s, I’d marvel at how that fan would frequently come on when I’d finished driving and then switch off automatically after I’d locked the car. The wonder of it.

That was then. The word cooling is about as primitive now as my old Peugeot’s automatic fan. It’s all about heat rejection these days and how you get the hot air out of the engine bay. Work in wind tunnels made the clever people who engineer our cars realise that minimising the vents at the front had a highly positive impact on fuel economy. But of course cars, particularly those with big engines like the X5, still need cooling.

Here's an active air vent. The sections below and to the left and right of the number plate open and close automatically according to the thermal demands of the engine's control computer

Enter the active air vent. I’ve noticed that when the car is locked, the vents beneath the number plate are left open, presumably to aid air flow around the engine while the car is stationary. Start the engine and the computer knows that to be at its most efficient the engine needs to be warm. And the best way to do that is to limit the cooling, sorry heat rejection, so the vents swivel shut (to retain the heat in the engine bay). And then when the engine needs to gulp cold air, they open again. Clever stuff.

I’ve no doubt engineers will say this is nothing to get excited about. And that probably a greater technical marvel is what goes on with the common-rail direct injection and piezo injectors to get diesel fuel into the cylinders. But those active air vents did it for me.

However, possibly not quite as much as this car’s brutal performance. I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that this X5 is the slowest in the range. Its 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds feels pretty spectacular to me, particularly considering the mass that 3.0-litre engine has to catapult forwards to achieve that figure.

The more time I spend in our ‘base’ 30d model, the more I wonder how much sense the extra expense and higher running costs of the M50d model with its 0-62mph time of 5.2 seconds actually makes.

April 23, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 34.9mpg

Possibly the most irritating problem to have with a car is an entirely random one. And that’s what the X5 has. It’s nothing major but it’s one of those things that when you notice it, you can’t un-notice it.

The problem in question is a whistle. It’ll happen at any speed from 65mph upwards. And it stops as quickly as it starts. It would be less irritating if it ceased when the speed started to drop. But it doesn’t. You can have the cruise control on at 70mph, after a period of time, the whistling will start. It’ll last for a few minutes and then stop. It really is as arbitrary as that.

Is it worth getting fixed? Probably not. And I’ve only noticed it since the car has had winter tyres fitted to it so it may well be linked to those.

I’ve also noticed that after months of faultless behaviour, the hands-free boot seems to have decided that rather than opening the boot its purpose in life is to make the car’s human keeper (me) look like an idiot. I have now given up doing a Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks impersonation and waving my leg around beneath the rear bumper as if I’m expecting something to happen.

Foxall takes the X5 for some light off-roading. The tolling of the bells provided a welcome distraction from an infuriating whistling noise

It does make me wonder if the sensor gets covered in dirt and that’s why it’s no longer giving the reliable service it once did. But bearing in mind the boot lid is electric-powered anyway, it’s not exactly a hardship pushing a button on the tailgate. And it’s certainly easier doing that than grovelling around under the car looking for something – and I’m not sure what it might look like – beneath the rear bumper.

In other areas, the X5 continues to excel. I remain in awe of its ability to shrink the length of journeys. If any car has the right to be called a mile-muncher, it appears to be this one.

This is partly to do with the automatic cruise control and lane keep functions which have integrated seamlessly into my motoring life. And it’s partly to do with the reassuringly bullet-proof build quality which is superb at insulating the cabins occupants from the irritations of road and wind noise. Strange whistling sounds aside.

April 17, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 35.4mpg

Air suspension is standard on the X5 as it now is on many SUVs of its ilk. Obviously it would be too simple to simply call it air suspension: with the X5, BMW has chosen to name it Adaptive M suspension Professional with active roll stabilisation and Integral Active Steering.

It might be a mouthful to say but there are multiple advantages to this system. Each corner of the car has an electrically driven compressor that enables it to balance an unevenly loaded vehicle. And of course it can automatically compensate for body roll in corners, doing so gently or more aggressively depending on the setting you choose.

Air suspension raised...

Arguably as important for its dynamic performance is the Integral Active Steering. This controls the rear wheels and steers them in the same or opposite direction to the front wheels depending on speed. The idea is to make the X5 more agile and while it doesn’t exactly ‘dart through city traffic’ as the literature suggests, it does help to make it a remarkably nimble car to drive for such a big beast.

In addition to that, the air suspension enables you to control the ride height of the X5. Put it in Sport mode or exceed 86mph (handy for the Autobahn), and the BMW drops to its low-riding position. From an aesthetic perspective, I like it when it’s in this mode.

... and lowered to its maximum seting

Although its only 20mm lower than standard, it appears meaner with a heavy emphasis on the Sport bit of Sport Utility Vehicle. Using the manual feature, I adjust the suspension to this for motorway driving in the probably erroneous belief that it’ll make the X5 more aerodynamic and eke out a few more miles per gallon.

But it will go lower still. If you’re stationary and want to make loading easier, you can drop the suspension further to 40mm lower than the standard setting. It doesn’t quite collapse onto its wheel arches like my old Citroen GS used to when it was stationary, but it’s close.

At the opposite end of this spectrum, there are two stages of raised suspension. In its highest setting its 40mm higher than standard. This is in the unlikely event that you venture off road and hikes the X5 up improbably high to maximise ground clearance. It’s a useful feature to have but I’d be fascinated to know how many X5s will eventually come to the end of their life without it ever being engaged.

April 9, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 35.3mpg

Anyone with grown-up children will appreciate that you can’t just palm kids off with anything once they become adults. Where once my daughter would spend uncomplaining hours in the rear ‘seat’ of a cramped, harsh and noisy Nissan GT-R, now she has much higher expectations of her conveyance.

By and large, the X5 meets those. I might look a bit squeezed in this picture but the front passenger seat is as far back as it will go and I’m 6ft tall. The more usual occupant of this seat – my teenage daughter – is 5ft 4in and finds the space particularly spacious.

Plenty of space in the back

There’s lots of leg room, plenty of head room too, and unlike the previous X4, she doesn’t bash her head on the sloping roof opening every time she gets in and out. The seat cushions are also comfortable but bearing in mind the X5 is a luxury car I’d expect a bit more.

There are many cars costing an awful lot less than the BMW that have rear seats that slide backwards and forwards and have a reclining backrest. I’d like to see one of these in the X5. And what about having heated rear seats? It always baffles me that these are viewed as de rigueur in the front seats, but not in the back.

What the rear seats do have is a pair of USB ports to recharge mobile devices. Except they’re not USBs; they’re mini USBs. Now that’s fine, but who has a phone or tablet charger that goes from the phone’s adapter plug to a mini USB?

This is what the X5's mini-USB charging slots look like. But why oh why doesn't BMW fit regular-sized USB slots like it does in the front?

We certainly don’t. All ours go to regular USBs, the clue probably being in the “universal” part of the device’s Universal Serial Bus name.

It’s puzzling then why BMW hasn’t chosen regular USB slots. The result is that on long journeys my daughter must plug her mobile device into the regular-sized USB port at the front of the car and then lean forwards to use it, with the lead trailing over the centre console.

There is also a slot in the back of the front seats to fit a tablet mount into. Handy for young kids, though I’m afraid I can’t say whether it’s a standard fitment or one that’s compatible with other tablet mounts. If not, I suspect your BMW retailer will be happy to sell you one…

April 3, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 35.5mpg

The X5’s biggest test in my hands came when we took it south for a week’s skiing from the French Alpine village of Vaujany. More than 1,000 miles covered there and back in just more than a week and the big BMW didn’t put a wheel wrong. In fact, it was a delightful holiday companion, swallowing the many motorway miles we did with alacrity.

The 3.0-litre engine was smooth and remarkably economical for such a big, heavy car. And the only time it made itself heard was when I wanted to enjoy the sound of the sports exhaust accelerating away from Autoroute toll booths.

The split tailgate and vast load area came in useful on a skiing trip

Inside, the electrically adjustable driving position meant both Mrs F and I could get an uncompromised driving position despite a height difference of six inches. And the boot swallowed the notoriously large amount of luggage skiing holidays call for.

Adapting the lights for driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road involved a couple of moves of the iDrive controller. And it was similarly simple to change the units on the speedometer to kilometres per hour. This was the digital dashboard in all its convenient hi-tech beauty, even if for me the head-up display on the screen renders it largely redundant.

The only feature that has proved minorly irritating is the Apple CarPlay. We entertained ourselves on the journey with a selection of podcasts. Trouble was these were on more than one device which meant my phone, Mrs F’s and our teenage daughter’s all had to be connected at one point or another.

The X5 in the splendour of the French Alps

Linking them was easy enough. And it’s understandable that for one phone to operate CarPlay you have to disconnect any others. However, after working seamlessly on the way to the French Alps, CarPlay got the holiday blues and decided it was time to act up on the way home.

We’d be happily listening to one podcast when the X5 would suddenly get bored, disconnect Phone A and connect to Phone B or C. It did this repeatedly and randomly until we switched off the Bluetooth of the phones we weren’t broadcasting from.

But annoying as it was, this couldn’t take the gloss off a performance that made a journey we’ve done numerous times before feel shorter and more relaxing than it ever has in the past.

March 26, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 35.2mpg

The X5 went back to base last week and was returned with a lovely new set of gloss black rims. The reason? I want to lead the active lifestyle that SUVs like the X5 are designed to do. I’ll be on the piste when you read this. And although there hasn’t been a vast amount of snow lately and I’m unlikely to need them, the law says that cars in the French Alps must be equipped with snow chains.

If you’ve ever looked, you might know that you can’t get snow chains for cars with 21-inch wheels. Well you can, but a) they cost £289 and b) they’re only suitable for mounting on front wheels. The four-wheel-drive X5 needs snow chains on the rear wheels.

The X5 at BMW UK HQ after having had a more versatile set of 20in rims fitted

However, BMW is nothing if not resourceful. Hence the return trip to base where 20-inch wheels were fitted. This enabled two things to happen. It could be equipped with Michelin Alpin 5 winter tyres. And the snow chains I already own fit those slightly smaller rims. So, I’m doubly prepared should it snow.

On our trip, several things have come to light. The man showing me where to park on the ferry made a very late call. This required me to reverse down a ramp when he thought (incorrectly as it turned out) that the X5 was too tall for the 1.8m height restriction. However, that put us at the front of the ferry so I wasn’t going to argue.

The chilled cupholders are splendid for keeping saucisson treats fresh. Other heavily salted pork-based snacks are available

Inside, the chilled cupholders are splendid for keeping saucisson fresh. And the automatic reversing feature came into its own when I had to reverse down the ferry ramp. The multi-adjustable seats with memory function for driver and passenger are pretty handy, too.

The average economy is rising, too, and the X5’s massive 600-mile-plus range means we can dispense with our motorway drive to the Alps before we have to fill up. And that will result in cheaper, off-motorway diesel. Hooray!

March 20, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 33.4mpg

Way back in the early 2000s BMW came up with a radical new idea. It was called iDrive and involved having many of the car’s functions controlled via a central screen. It was clunky and hard to use. And it was received so badly by the media that BMW extended the loan period of its 7-series press cars from a week to a month so that journalists could get to grips with iDrive. And we still complained about it!

BMW's iDrive rotary controller alongside the gearlever has evolved from pain to peerless

A couple of years later and Mrs F was changing the cabin temperature with the iDrive controller on a 6-series and crashed the system. We had to stop on the motorway hard shoulder and ‘reboot’ the car; we needed the navigation and the screen had frozen.

Fast forward to ‘our’ current X5 and iDrive is still with us - but unrecognisable. Our model runs the latest BMW Operating System 7.0. The iDrive controller is more than simply a controller. It now has a touch function on top; you can control it by touching the screen or with buttons on the steering wheel and there’s even gesture control. The latter, as I discovered on the X4, is a step into the pointless and it’s now switched off.

All this is part of BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional which includes an adaptive navigation system and 50Gb worth of hard disk space, should you wish to store music on the system. The screen measures a healthy 12.3in across so there’s plenty of room to view all you need. And the display can show up to four tiles so you can keep an eye on navigation, infotainment, fuel consumption etc… all at once.

The best bit is that iDrive has developed into a pretty intuitive system. When you use the controller to swipe across, you usually know what you’re going to end up with.

But possibly the cleverest thing about the system is the bit you can’t see. The X5 has its own SIM card and that means important software upgrades can be carried out across the airwaves without you having to visit a dealership.

BMW might have been panned for being an early adopter with iDrive way back when, but we’re the ones who’re benefiting now.

March 12, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 33.5mpg

There’s no doubting people have certain pre-conceptions about BMW drivers. Selfish is probably among them and is no doubt a word aimed at me, and other X5 drivers, in car parks.

The X5 continually brings home how narrow parking spaces are compared with the monster dimensions of some modern cars. And the X5 is indeed a beast, measuring 2,021mm when you add in the door mirrors. Consider now that the recommended minimum size for a parking space is 2,400mm and the 379mm that’s left isn’t a great deal.

Put the X5 slap in the middle of a bay and you have just 189.5mm – about seven and a half inches – on either side. And that’s why I’ve taken to parking on one side of the bay. It means Mrs F has to get out before I park and when I reverse in, I’m invariably rather tight to the car next to me. But at least then I have a fighting chance of getting out of the car without resting the door against the adjacent car. I just hope the people on my nearside have entered the bay front-first…

The image on the rear-view camera is crystal clear. It won't, however, compensate for the X5's width...

This parking bay size is something the BMW’s cameras leave you in no doubt about, particularly when you look at the Top View. This is a clever piece of visual trickery which superimposes a graphic of the car over the images the downward-facing cameras in the door mirrors are seeing. The result is a bird’s eye interpretation. Of course, it’s not perfect. Cars that are next to you look like walls. But you can see how much of the parking space you take up.

As part of its £1,995 Technology Package, ‘our’ X5 features Parking Assistant Plus which combines audible alerts with cameras front and rear. The definition of the camera is remarkable and as braces to the belt, the BMW’s Rear Crossing Traffic Warning alerts you to things you may not have seen.

Obviously on visits to the supermarket, I park nose-in for better boot access. And that means I can use the Reversing Assistant which controls reversing up to 50m along a path that’s already been negotiated forwards. When the shopping is done, all I need to do is operate the brake and accelerator while keeping an eye out around me. The car does the steering.

And, astonishingly, it can remember manoeuvres. So it will reverse you out of a parking bay that you drove into the day before.

March 7, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 33.4mpg

The X5 comes with BMW’s Driving Assistant Professional. At £2,295 it’s one of the more expensive options but if you’re into technology it’ll be a must-have. This is the basis for the self-driving tech that will apparently revolutionise our lives.

We’re frequently told cars will soon be able do everything on their own, from taking control of the school run to enabling the very old or visually impaired to hold a driving licence. And it’ll be coming to a road near you soon. Well, in any time between five and 35 years, depending on who you talk to.

The BMW will automatically perform an emergency stop if it detects an obstacle in front of you. And its Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go takes control of stopping, going and staying in lane while you’re on the move. This takes some getting used to. Thankfully (for other road users) there are restrictions built in to prevent you climbing into the back seat for a snooze.

At £2,295 the Driving Assistant Professional set-up is an expensive option but it has already proved its worth 

If the wheel doesn’t detect any hands on it in the form of resistance, the steering wheel icon in the instrument panel goes from green to orange. And if it’s really concerned, the spokes of the steering wheel flash angrily in orange. It’s only done this a couple of times because I don’t trust it sufficiently to let go of the steering wheel.

However, I could: it seems more than comfortable negotiating sweeping bends on dual carriageways. And having the steering tug you back into the lane you’re in if you don’t indicate before moving is reassuring.

But where I find it particularly useful is in traffic jams. All you do is set the cruise control and the car deals with the stopping and going after a pause of up to 30 seconds, as well as maintaining a safe distance to the vehicle in front.

It does frequently remind you that it is a computer and not a human and struggles with the random actions of humans. When traffic is moving and slowly gaining speed, the X5 does as you would expect. But it seems to get thrown if another car pushes into the lane ahead. I can see someone indicating and would ordinarily slow down; the X5, however, keeps accelerating until it detects something in its path, which invariably makes it appear as if I’m being overly aggressive.

I could make a remark about the stereotypical BMW driver at this point...

February 26, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 33.5mpg

Our X5 has hands-free boot opening as part of its Comfort Access package, a no-cost option. With the advent of electrically powered tailgates this feature is becoming an increasingly popular feature with various car makers.

The premise is simple: you approach the car with your hands full of a big bag, box, whatever, and perish the thought that you should put down what you’re carrying to open the boot. With this feature you simply wave your leg beneath the rear bumper and passers by grin in wonder as the boot lid opens.

The X5 isn’t the first car I’ve had this on: even our significantly cheaper Seat Ateca had the feature. And it works on the entire tailgate because the X5, as with previous models, has a split boot lid. So first the larger top portion opens, then the smaller bottom part.

Once you’ve put whatever you’re carrying in, another wave of the leg and the tailgates power smoothly shut. Despite my scepticism and that on some cars it has only seemed to work when it felt like it, the X5’s system operates reliably. Which is a bonus. There are few things more humiliating in the car-human relationship than waving your leg around behind the back of your motor, like a lame John Cleese, only for nothing to happen.

The X5 has a split tailgate revealing a cavernous boot - and you don't have to get your hands mucky accessing it

Once open, the boot offers a massive 650 litres of boot space. There’s so much load area that on a number of occasions I’ve done a bit of shopping, put it in the boot and then found it distributed all over the place on arrival at my destination. There’s a fold-out hook to prevent this but it’s tiny and good only for one bag. I think some form of luggage compartment separator would make more sense.

I understand why BMW has split the tailgate: if it was in one piece it would be enormous. And the bottom section does make a handy seat, not that I’ve had too many picnics over winter.

However, leave the bottom section closed and accessing the boot is quite tricky when the luggage cover is pulled over. There’s not really sufficient space to get anything other than a narrow parcel in. Thankfully, lowering the bottom section isn’t a massive effort as that’s electric too. And when you press the button to close the top section, it raises the bottom part as well.

Doing such mundane tasks manually is, it appears, a thing of the past.

February 19, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 33.2mpg

We used to be able to take headlights for granted. They illuminated dark roads, had main beam and dipped functions and that was about it. Now in addition to halogen you can get xenon, bi-xenon, LED and the new light on the block: laser.

Laser lights have been designed to make LEDs look a little antediluvian and ‘our’ X5 is fitted with them. The first thing I noticed about them was the blue-tinged welcome they give off as you approach the car. The next thing is that they provide an unbelievably illuminating light. BMW claims these lights are 1,000 times more powerful than regular LEDs and that their range is increased from 300 to 600 metres.

You might now be cursing me as one of those people who wantonly ‑ and sometimes literally ‑ blinds anyone in an oncoming vehicle. Lasers are dangerous if you look directly at them; however, BMW’s system sees the light filtered, diffused and reflected on to the road.

Remember when headlights used to be simple?

It’s too much of a cliché to claim that the lights can turn night into day. However, they are remarkably bright and BMW claims they also reduce energy consumption by 30 per cent. That said, the point of super white light that gradually adjusts with the steering is a tad distracting, although it does encourage you to look further down the road, which is what advanced driving teachers always tell you to do.

Now the prickly issue of how it effects other road users. Two things to point out here. The lasers aren’t initiated until the car exceeds 37mph, as they’re judged to be too bright for an urban environment. In those circumstances the car simply reverts to regular LED lighting.

The second thing is that I haven’t had a single driver flashing in apparent annoyance at the brightness of my lights. And, having viewed them from a distance, they’re a lot less blinding that the absurdly bright lights that some cyclists now use.

The one caveat is the auto adjusting beams. These work well on motorways and wide, straight A-roads where the car gets plenty of warning of oncoming traffic. They’re not so clever on tight, twisting country lanes. In those circumstances, the X5 can’t anticipate as well as I can and I’m aware that oncoming drivers are likely to get a face full of my laser beam.

It’s not a perfect system but it’s pretty impressive. Would I spend £1,595 of my own money on it? I’d have to do a back-to-back test between it and the standard LEDs to make that decision.

February 13, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 33.3mpg

It’s fair to say that while life with the X5 has been going swimmingly it’s not been entirely niggle-free. And some of those problems are fairly fundamental. For a start, this car is a beast of a thing in size terms. It’s wider than the outgoing model by 66mm. That might not sound much but it makes slipping into parking places a tricky business because the X5 is usually almost as wide as the bay I’m attempting to fit it in.

Interestingly, the car’s growth in width compared with its predecessor is nearly twice its 36mm increase in length. It’s now fairly standard for Mrs F to get out before I park so that I can shimmy the car as far over to the nearside as possible. This hopefully ensures I can get out without inflicting door damage on the vehicle next to me. But it’s a real test of my agility, not to mention my abilities as a contortionist.

Size matters: an increase in width of 66mm over the previous X5 might not sound like much, but it makes parking even more of a chore

When I do get out, one leg invariably slides down the angular door sill protector which means I’m forever wiping road dirt off my trouser legs. And I’m 6-foot tall and not short in the lower limb department so that will be a real problem for smaller drivers. I’m sure grimy legs aren’t really the premium look BMW wants for its customers. And it’s from a piece of body trim that is entirely unnecessary and apparently simply there for aesthetics.

Just as with the previous X4 I ran, I’ve tried changing the settings for the entertainment system so that it turns off when I open the door. And as with its predecessor, the system seems to stay on when it feels like it. Sometimes this might be caused by a front seat passenger remaining in the car; other times it appears to be completely random.

This week’s final grouch isn’t strictly BMW’s fault; it’s the inexorable ascent of the price of diesel that’s vexing me. I’m simply not used to paying the thick end of £100 every time I pull up at the black pump.

Of course, that means I usually get more than 600 miles between fill-ups. But the fact remains that if I were to run the X5 dry and replenish it with premium diesel, I’d be looking at more than £120 for the pleasure. Ouch.

February 5, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 33.2mpg

As with all new relationships, you have to get to know one another. Obviously with a car that has no ability to emote, that’s entirely one sided. But I can reveal the feelings from my side are still entirely positive, just as they might be when you first meet someone who you think might be ‘the one’.

I took the X5 on a drive up to the Midlands last week, the first time we’ve covered any meaningful distance together, and it was a wholly pleasurable experience. As with every other BMW I’ve driven I’ve been able to find a driving position that is spot on for me. That’s helped by the fact that the seats adjust in pretty much every way known to mankind and automotive designers.

In addition to setting the height, reach and rake of the seat back, you can also adjust the side bolsters and lumbar support. As well as that, you can move the head restraint back and forth electrically so the seat envelops, caresses and cossets you. The steering wheel is electrically adjustable too and there are memory settings so if I do ever let Mrs F behind the wheel, I’ll be able to get my perfect setting back.

The seating position is characteristically "BMW" Credit: John Lawrence 

In addition to enjoying the comfort, I tried the Driving Experience Control. Sport adjusts the standard Dynamic Damper Control to its firmest setting and brings the chassis 20mm closer to the tarmac. The result is a machine that dispenses with the twists and turns of a fast A road while exhibiting the sort of poise you don’t associate with a 2.2-tonne, high-riding family car.

Throw in that this entry level slowest version still blasts from 0 to 62mph in 6.5 seconds and you have a car that is fast, luxurious and dare I say it, fun. The sports exhaust is still making me grin like a baboon and it’s combined with a wave of torque that doesn’t ever feel likely to run out this side of licence-losing speeds.

It’s fair to say that as I sat in the X5 on my five-hour round trip I was feeling rather smug with life. But rather like finding who you’re convinced is ‘the one’ aged 18 then discovering they’re emigrating to Australia in a few months, I’m already dreading the day we have to say goodbye.

January 28, 2019

Fuel economy this week: 33.4mpg

The figure it’s impossible to get away from with this X5 is 73,925. That’s how many English pounds it would cost to buy the BMW in the specification we’re testing it in. As you can buy this xDrive30d as standard for £60,325 it’s worth investigating where the extra 13 and a half grand has gone.

The heftiest option is the Sky Lounge panoramic sunroof. You’ve got to really love having your hair ruffled by a bit of wind or looking up and seeing trees passing by to spend £2,440. The days of having a breeze flow through my hair are long gone, although I will concede the glass looks funky at night with a lighting effect that resembles stars twinkling above you. But as it took Mrs F to point this out to me, you can tell it’s not high on my list of priorities. Truth is, I could happily live without it.

Next up for £2,295 is the Driving Assistant Professional. This is all the tech that will eventually make up the major part of self-driving cars and warrants more than a cursory sentence; one for a future report.

How much would you pay for a sunroof? Credit: John Lawrence 

The £1,995 Technology Package includes the display key. I had one of these on the X4 and quite liked that it tells you the car’s status when you’re not too far away. It also lets you programme the heating so the car isn’t freezing cold when you get into it. But it’s a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for me. The Technology Package also features the Head-up Display, Parking Assistant Plus and the Harman/Kardon surround sound system.

The sound system is excellent; Parking Assistant Plus I need to fully explore before I decide whether it’s a tick or miss on the option box. Then there’s the £1950 M Sport Plus Package. This includes the handsome Y spoke light alloy wheels which are two colour and feature Pirelli P Zero runflat tyres. But it also includes the M Sport exhaust package. This has been the surprise hit of the X5 for me. It’s something I’d probably have dismissed as fluff before trying it but the more time I spend with it, the more I like it.

Finally, for £1595 you can specify the Visibility Package. This includes High-beam Assistant and BMW Laserlights. These also require further investigation so again, one for a future report. And that, ladies and gentlemen is the thick (and very costly) end of ‘our’ X5’s options list.

January 23, 2019

There might be only one digit between X4 and X5, and the pair might share BMW’s CLAR platform, but there’s a whole world of difference between the two. For a start, if the X4 feels big, the X5 is simply enormous. Compared with the third-generation X5, our all-new version is 36mm longer, 66mm wider and has a wheelbase that’s 42mm longer. Tiny amounts but they add up to make a car with a significant road presence.

To decipher its name, our model features xDrive which is BMW’s four-wheel drive system, has a 3.0-litre single turbo diesel engine and is in M Sport trim. The alternative xLine is more off-road focused with roof rails and body accents in brushed chrome. Our M Sport car has wheel arches, bumper trim and side skirts painted in body colour.

Even though ours is the smallest, least powerful engine of the lot, the maximum output is still 265hp with a hefty 457lb ft of torque. On the road this translates into a 0-62mph time of 6.5 seconds. According to NEDC, its CO2 emissions are 162g/km and it returns 45.6mpg.

The xDrive system is a helpful piece of kit, especially at this time of year

But what instantly caught my attention about the engine was its sound. Put your foot down and you’re greeted with a meaty roar. This is doubtless courtesy of the M Sport exhaust system which is part of the £1950 M Sport Plus package. It’s expensive and it’s unlikely I would spend my own money on it but I instantly appreciated the aural accompaniment it brings to my motoring. Particularly after the whisper quiet 2.0-litre diesel from the X4. Now I’d like to hear if the identical capacity 50d model with its four turbo chargers and 400hp builds on that.

That said, ‘our’ X5’s 265hp feels just fine to me. And in the fullness of time, I think it could be a brilliant compromise between performance and economy. Meanwhile, we’re certainly not scrimping on luxury. The extra £17k in list price compared to the X4 buys an interior that moves the premium game on a couple of levels. Parts of it are a tad bling for my taste (the crystal-effect gear lever, for example); most of it is simply beautiful.

This is not a cheap car and its £73k price tag includes the thick end of £14,000-worth of options. I’m looking forward to exploring these in more detail over the coming months.

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*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 31/01/2019 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront.  Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change.  Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.