The original BMW X5 was one of the first road-focused 4x4s, and this third-generation model is even further removed from the off-road roots its looks belie – some versions don’t even have four-wheel drive.
Instead, the latest X5 focuses on offering the qualities that prestige SUV buyers demand: space for the family, a commanding driving position and the sort of plush interior that used to be reserved for luxury cars.
It’s also one of the best-handling cars of its kind, and is available with six engines: a four-cylinder diesel, three six-cylinder diesels and two V8 petrols.
However, the latest X5 faces a tougher task than any of its predecessors, because it has to fend off competition from some very strong rivals, including the Mercedes GLE, and the latest Audi Q7, Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne.
You can read about previous versions of the BMW X5 here. Or, for everything you need to know about the latest model before buying one, read on over the next few pages.
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
BMW X5 performance
None of the engines struggles to pull the X5’s weight
Even the smallest, least powerful four-cylinder engine doesn’t feel underpowered in the X5. It pulls strongly from low revs and keeps pulling until you get close to the redline. Of course, the six-cylinder diesels are even stronger, but when the former is so good there’s little need to upgrade.
Company car buyers might also want to consider the xDrive 40e, a plug-in hybrid model that teams a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor, the latter of which provides 20 miles of pure electric travel. This powertrain is seamless when in electric mode, and generally predictable and easy to get on with the rest of the time. However, a Volvo XC90 T8 is much faster, and will stay in electric mode more of the time.
The standard V8 petrol is hugely powerful and massively quick when you plant the accelerator, but it doesn’t make much sense. If you’re after one of the fastest large SUVs on sale, then the X5M’s V8 engine is boosted to even loftier performance figures, and is extremely rapid. Again, though, the M50d diesel is only just behind it in a sprint and makes more financial sense.
BMW X5 ride comfort
Impressive in and out of town
You can either leave the options list alone and stick with the X5’s standard suspension, spend extra on adaptive comfort suspension, or spend even more on adaptive dynamic suspension. Alternatively, if you go for M Sport trim, you’ll get an adaptive M Sport set-up as standard.
As expenisive as it is, we’d recommend the adaptive comfort suspension; it’s noticeable more forgiving than the standard and Dynamic alternatives, yet still keeps the car tightly controlled in corners.
If comfort is your top priority, though, it’s worth noting that a Range Rover Sport is even better at blending a controlled high-speed ride with competence over the sort of horrid surfaces you’re likely to find in town.
BMW X5 handling
One of the sharpest large SUVs to drive
Whichever suspension you choose, the BMW X5 is one of the best-handling large SUVs on sale, providing a huge amount of grip in tight bends, and remaining flat and composed. It’s only over undulating roads that the dynamic set-ups offers advantages over standard and comfort, allowing slightly less body float.
There’s only one X5 without four-wheel drive – the entry-level sDrive25d – but its lesser traction is only really noticeable in particularly wet conditions. Instead, it’s the steering that’s a little disappointing because its slow to self centre and short on feedback.
As a result, the Porsche Cayenne is better to drive. However, the X5 feels more agile than a Range Rover Sport or Volvo XC90.
BMW X5 refinement
Diesel engines let it down
By far the most refined engine the X5 has to offer is the V8 petrol. It’s extremely smooth, and sends no vibration back through the controls, even when pushed to its limit.
The hybrid X5 is also very quiet – nearly silent in electric mode – although you do hear a bit of wind noise on the motorway, and quite a lot of tyre noise at any speed.
Unfortunately, the diesels aren’t as good. The four-cylinder isn’t noisy at idle, but even moderate acceleration causes a gruff engine note to enter the car, while really stretching it sends lots of buzz through the controls. The six-cylinder diesels aren’t quite as bad under light acceleration, but still feel and sound strained once you start to push them. This is especially bad in M50d.
Great adjustment and dash layout
Confusingly, although SE models get electric driver’s seat backrest and height adjustment, fore and aft adjustment is manual. With this trim level, electric adjustment of the base is standard in only the V8 petrol.
M Sport models get full electric control of the driver’s seat, and adds a sportier seat style, but electric lumbar support is an option across the entire X5 range. Optional comfort seats bring an even greater range of electric adjustment than the standard seats. The comfort seats do provide more support, but even the X5’s standard seats give hold you in place well.
Whereas pedals on manual BMWs often don’t line up nicely, the X5 is automatic-only, so there’s no danger of having to sit in an awkward position for hours on end. The X5’s dash controls are all within easy reaching distance of the driver, too.
BMW X5 visibility
Good both forwards and backwards
Like all good large SUVs, the X5’s driving position is well elevated above the majority of traffic. Seeing out forwards is no problem, because it has a tall, wide windscreen and thin pillars that don’t get in the way. The front side windows are similarly helpful, making judging junctions and roundabouts that bit easier.
Sleek styling often gets in the way of the over-the-shoulder view because a sloping roofline and thick rear pillars block sight. However, the X5 remains pretty upright towards its rear, and as such, rear visibility is better than in most large SUVs. Front and rear parking sensors are standard.
BMW X5 infotainment
One of the best available on any car
Every BMW X5 gets the Professional version of BMW’s iDrive, which is one of the best infotainment systems on the market. The next best challenger is the XC90’s, but a Range Rover’s system is no comparison.
Professional iDrive consists of a 10.2in screen controlled using a rotary controller located between the front seats. The controller can also be knocked side to side and forwards and back, and is flanked by useful menu buttons.
It’s brilliant because the screen resolution is impressive, meaning the graphics are sharp, and all the menus are easy to get to grips with. DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB and Aux sockets, a 20GB hard drive and voice control of all these functions is included as standard on the X5.
BMW X5 build quality
Good quality, but doesn’t match that of its best rivals
It seems harsh to criticise the X5 for its interior quality, but the premium large SUV class features some of the finest interiors of any segment, and in some areas the X5 fails to quite keep up with the Range Rover Sport and Volvo XC90.
That’s not to say anything feels flimsy. It’s quite the opposite, because the dashboard and door panels all have a sturdy feel to them. The dashboard also features soft-touch plastics higher up, and its various trim sections all look and feel plush.
However, some of the materials lower down in the car are less convincing, and the X5’s switches and knobs, while well damped, are the same as you get in a 1 Series hatchback that costs half the price.
Space & practicality
Most large SUVs put on a good show when it comes to front space, and the X5 is no different. It’s one of the roomiest out there: even the tallest drivers will have enough head room and will find the seat slides back a long way. Getting inside is also easy, because the X5’s front doors open widely.
The glovebox is a good size, too, and BMW has engineered a cubbyhole in front of the gearlever that has a flip-up lid. It’ll fit most wallets, keys and a mobile phone to keep them from rattling around. Both front doors have a pocket that will accept a small water bottle.
BMW X5 rear space
Some of the best rear space in the class
Two six-foot adults can sit in comfort behind two more, but fitting a third in the middle isn’t a comfortable experience on long journeys because shoulder room is tight. At least even though the X5 has a four-wheel-drive layout, it doesn’t have a large transmission tunnel for the middle passenger to straddle.
Both front seats come with a map pocket on the rear of their backrest and each rear door has its own pocket. Unfortunately near has very good depth or access, so storing a water bottle is tricky. Access to the rear seats is good, though, because the doors open wide and the roofline remains usefully high.
Two extra seats that flip up from the boot are optional, but this space is best left to children. Adults will find that head room is good, but there’s very little knee room.
BMW X5 seating flexibility
Although SE models get electronic front passenger’s seat backrest and height adjustment, base adjustment is manual, unless you buy the V8 petrol.
M Sport models get full electric control of the front passenger’s seat, but disappointingly, electric lumbar support is an option across the entire X5 range. Optional comfort seats bring an even greater range of electric adjustment than the standard seats.
The rear seats split 40/20/40 and fold flat to open up the luggage space, while the optional rearmost fold flat into the boot floor. These seats can be flipped up using one hand if necessary.
BMW X5 boot space
A good size, even next to its impressive rivals
The BMW X5 has an impressive 650-litre boot with the rear seats in place, which is larger than most of its rivals’ including the Range Rover Sport’s, but some way short of the class best XC90’s. Even so, it will provide easily enough space for a family to transport their things, including two or three large suitcases or two large folding pushchairs.
Even better, the X5’s boot is a square shape, meaning you won’t get wide items stuck on the wheelarches when trying to slide them in. The boot lip is flush with the boot floor, too.
The hybrid model gets a slightly smaller boot, losing some of the boot depth to accommodate the batteries necessary to power the electric motor. You also can’t spec seven seats on the five-seat only hybrid model.