IT’S QUITE A mind shift to jump from a workhorse to the pimped out, techno-fest that is the new X5. A few months ago, I was blissfully trundling along in my Hilux listening to the engine clatter, with the most technical features in front of me being the intermittent wiper stalk and a push-button cigarette lighter.
In our new X5 xDrive40d long-termer I’m cocooned in leather, looking through a fighter plane-style readout of the car’s speed, courtesy of the car’s Head Up Display (HUD). Then there’s the familiar iDrive multimedia interface to play with, now relayed through a detailed, colour TFT screen. The system’s been around a while, though I seem to find new features every day.
For instance, insert a CD and the audio system offers you the option to save it to the onboard hard drive. Once saved there’s no need to scratch your favourite albums as you fumble around the cabin for CD covers, because your tunes are all easily accessible from the iDrive’s rotary controller and drop-down menu. Nifty.
The more I get to know the X5 the more I realise what a privileged place it is to be. There’s a feelgood factor that comes with the driving the vehicle that few ever allude to. This feeling broadens your smile and is present every time you sink behind the wheel and push the start button.
Make no mistake, I loved the practicality and unpretentious nature of the Hilux, but the X5 is a new world my own super limo for exploring SA. I still have ample versatility and space (the luggage compartment can be extended from 620 litres to a maximum of 1 750 litres second row folded), there’s still a measure of off-road freedom, but now I can appreciate the craftsmanship and class of the X5’s black leather cabin, with all its fine details (including brushed aluminium accents).
Our unit was fresh from the range’s mid life facelift launch and has been fitted with a range of useful options: a USB/audio interface (iPod here we come), Logic7 sound system (makes my home stereo seem like a clock radio), satnav (no more map books), active cruise control (for long-distance hauls), lane departure warning system (in case you fall asleep on the way), four-zone climate control (to keep the missus happy), an extended light and storage compartment package (helps with all her kit), as well as an electrically operated tow hitch.
While all the options add convenience, it’s the last feature that I’m most looking forward to using over the next 12 months, whether to tow my ski boat or transport my bike rack and bicycles to trails across SA.
Visually, BMW hasn’t messed with X5’s successful recipe, just refined it with mild revisions to the front and rear aprons, along with a new fog lamp location. It’s arguably the best looking SAV on the road, and our unit’s optional 20-inch alloys have been fitted with massive 315 profile rear tyres. A colleague pointed out that they are even wider than the original Lamborghini Countach’s 295 profile rear boots! They may seem a like overkill to most and are costly to replace, but you can’t deny their lasting visual impression. After all, I’ve gone from Camel Man to Coolio in one go. (Dream on Gus. Ed
We’ve also specified an optional emergency spare wheel which hopefully won’t be called upon during those weekend getaways. I was expecting the low profile tyres to adversely affect the damping and ride quality off the beaten path, but so far I have been pleasantly surprised by the lack of intrusion over rutted and corrugated roads. Back on the black stuff, the X5’s wider rubber and all-wheel drive offer surefooted traction through turns. Dynamically the X5 is hard to fault in this environment.
In the Hilux, cars and taxis would move out of your way as you came up behind them in the fast lane, because they probably presumed you had a shotgun behind the front seat. The X5 also does the trick, but I can also see how intimidating a gaggle of blue-light brigade X5s could be to the normal road user.
But it’s not all show, as there’s plenty of go underfoot. Along with the facelift, BMW increased the power outputs of its engine line-up, optimised efficiency and reduced the emissions of each derivative by up to 10%. The range now comprises a 4.4-litre V8 (xDrive50i) and a straight six-cylinder petrol (xDrive35i) featuring direct injection and BMW’s TwinPower Turbo system (twin scroll units driving equal numbers of cylinders), as well as two updated six-cylinder 3.0-litre diesel engines the single-turbo XDrive30d with 180kW, and our 225kW xDrive40d. The 40d engine, which features common rail direct injection with pressure up to 2000 bar, is also boosted by what BMW calls a TwinPower Turbo, but this one is a variable twin turbo, with a small charger operating at just above idle and the larger one kicking in when more torque is required. And there’s 600Nm of torque underfoot, offering relentless surge and very smooth gear transitions, thanks to the new eight-speed automatic.
The only issue I’ve had thus far is seeking out petrol stations with low sulphur 50ppm diesel in my neighbourhood. This wasn’t an issue with the less fussy Hilux. BMW says the 40d can run on 500ppm if there’s nothing else, but it’s not ideal in the longer term (fuel quality isn’t an issue on the 30d derivative).
Thankfully the X5’s 85-litre tank doesn’t need to be filled that often as the onboard computer shows a consumption of just over 12/100km and a range of over 900km just what will be needed as we explore the country in the months to come.