Back in 1999, BMW launched the first Sports Activity Vehicle, or SAV: the X5. It was a bullish marketing differentiation that BMW used to shout about the more performance-biased credentials of what was, in fact, a standard SUV in every other respect. But “Activity”, not “Utility” was, and remains, the name of the game for BMW as far as its X5 is concerned.
You could have a manual or automatic gearbox, but got four-wheel-drive. There was no M-badged version until 2009, but unlike the first Mercedes M-Class it was not a body on light-truck chassis, but rather used the 5 Series platform which further enhanced its roadworthy potential.
Nowadays, the new X5 is built in South Carolina, and has merged into a pool of xDrive sports utility coupe offerings alongside the X1, X2, X3, X4, X6 and now X7 flagship luxury SUV.
The new X5 is an absolute blingfest of technology, which is what customers will want: your average SUV customer has a family, is female, likes weekend adventures and wants to stay connected at all times.
Our test car featured £13,000 of baubles, including (deep breath): BMW’s laser lights and the company’s display key (a mini touchscreen showing information like your fuel range and whether you locked the car, whilst allowing you to pre-heat the interior); there’s a heads-up display and parking assistant, extra acoustic glazing, a heated steering wheel and seats, a panoramic sunroof, a cut glass gear knob with lit “X” symbol, ambient lighting, gesture control for the infotainment system and more.
In addition, my children loved the feeling of space and light – this is a generous five-seater with a large split-tailgate boot.
Goodwood had the M50d, a heated diesel performance version of the X5, which needs some unpacking to get to what’s on offer. For a start, it’s a sporty diesel engine – only BMW could get away with that offer in this political climate. But it’s an irresistible unit, full of smooth urgency, while giving better fuel economy than the petrol equivalent. You get 400 horsepower and 179g/km of CO2, plus 35mpg if you’re good with your right foot (we saw about 27mpg).
The chassis feels like the most taut, compressed version yet, with pinned-down dynamics that shouldn’t exist in a car of this weight and height. Plus that BMW steering remains impeccably behaved, should you choose to hustle it through corners, which most customers will only be doing if they’re late for the school run.
As for its off-road credentials… does it matter? No one will test them out, and it’s back to that Sports Activity Vehicle nomenclature to remind us what this car is all about.
The X5 has always evoked more cynicism than passion; we British petrolheads hate to admit that we might actually like a premium SUV with a massive engine and sports styling. But the truth is that this is a highly impressive family car and if you have the money, you won’t be disappointed. It has the status symbolism, the comfort, the space, the technology and the performance to impress, and when you’re sitting on the split tailgate in a muddy field donning your Hunters for the next point-to-point meet, you’ll feel as quietly satisfied as the next SUV owner…