The new X5 meets us at the airport and it’s right into Delhi’s rush-hour traffic for us. The very accurate satellite navigation system estimates two-and-a-half hours for the 40km to our destination and traffic is so thick and unruly, it eventually does take us that long. No sweat though – because of the crawl, I’m forced to pay attention to the interiors of this car and, because I’ve had the chance to drive the new 5-series and the 6-series recently, the new X5’s dashboard seems over-familiar. It is, however, a big step up from the dash of the old X5. In here, BMW has gone the Merc way, so there’s my new favourite interior feature – the un-lacquered wood strips across the fascia, on the doorpads and around the gearlever (the ML and the GL were the first to bring this new trim in). The X5’s dash also gets a standalone 10.25-inch iDrive screen and its high-resolution means that the reverse camera view is very clear.
But, like I said, the dashboard is very typical of a BMW and this is a good and bad thing. Good because I instinctively know how to turn off the annoying stop-start system and how to activate the auto-hold function, and bad because it seems to me like all BMWs, regardless of the price, seem to feel so similar on the inside.
Anyway, this is a pretty big car – the new X5 gains 29mm in length and 5mm in width over the old car. Still, the new, electrically assisted, very accurate steering system makes slicing through traffic rather easy. The front seats are very comfortable, the air-conditioning seems to be battling the intense 38-degree ambient temperature and the 3.0-litre, in-line six diesel is responsive enough to let me dart into gaps that present themselves.
Grouses come in the form of the parking sensors that are over-sensitive. Every time something gets too close to the car, it beeps like a bomb is about to go off. It’s annoying and even if you turn it off, it comes on automatically. The other grouse is one we’ve had for quite some time with the BMW diesels – the engine is gruff when it’s undertaking typical thick traffic manoeuvres. So it is gruff at idle and gruff when you need a quick burst of power.
The eight-speed gearbox, however, is brilliant. It seems to know when you want a downshift or when to stay in gear, simply by how much throttle you use. It acts immediately and accurately.
The ride is impressive too – I’ve left the drive adjust system in Comfort and there’s a suppleness to the low speed ride that doesn’t go away even when I switch to Sport. What it doesn’t like is sharp bumps, which it crashes painfully through. I suspect this happens because our car came with ultra-low profile Bridgestones mounted on stunning 20-inch rims. Opt for the standard wheels and the harshness should disappear.
Still, I can tell from the rather appreciative glances coming our way that people like the evolutionary facelift. The bigger headlights that stretch into the grille, the bigger grille and strong shoulder line make it look more grown up – fresh, but not all new, same but different.
Two rather comfortable hours later, we’re on the Agra expressway and the twin-turbo diesel settles down to an inaudible hum as we cruise on this broad carriageway. The new X5, despite its 2145kg kerb weight (5kg down on the old one) is quick. The twin-scroll turbo-equipped diesel now makes 10bhp and 2.1kgm of torque more than before, so the figures stand at 255bhp and 57.1kgm. Thanks to the extra thrust, this X5 does 0-100kph in 7.05 seconds, while the quick eight-speed automatic helps improve kickdown responses when you want to overtake. There’s a healthy shove from the moment you tap the throttle, the midrange is very strong and the engine even pulls with a very un-diesel-like eagerness all the way to the redline.
Set it to ‘Sport’ or ‘Sport+’ and these responses become increasingly quicker, while the steering gets noticeably heavier. The Sport mode is also recommended at higher speeds because the X5 rides flatter and the bit of float you get from the softer rear suspension in Comfort disappears.
Speaking of which, the X5 now comes standard with air suspension, self-levelling rear-suspension and electronic damper control.
In fact, that evolutionary facelift hides a lot of changes under the skin. Based largely on the old X5’s chassis (the wheelbase is the same as well), BMW concentrated on losing some of the old X5’s flab. So there’s extensive use of ultra high-tensile steel in the monocoque body shell, the bonnet is made of aluminium and the side panels are thermo-plastic. A lot of work has gone into improving refinement as well – transmission noise has been cut down via the front bulkhead and the wheel-housings have sound deadening too. There are also new 7-series-based seats that cut downon vibration.
It is clear that the X5 feels more grown up than ever before, but does that mean it has lost some of its BMW-like driver appeal? I’m happy to tell you, it’s still fun to drive. For something that weighs north of two tonnes, it will outdrive most regular sedans and that is impressive. Body control is excellent, the steering is direct and weighty enough and thanks to our car’s 275-section front and 315-section rear tyres, even the unexpected shower the next morning couldn’t throw the X5 off its line. The latest xDrive system in this car can send 100 percent of the power to either axle and this, along with the dynamic stability control, ensures its sure-footedness even on Delhi’s greasy roads.
Few Indian owners are likely to exploit all of the X5’s handling potential though. What they will be more interested in are the rear seats, and here lies a small problem. While it’s easy to get into the middle row thanks to the low-ish seats and the wide opening doors, you will find a slight lack of thigh support (which is strange because BMW usually gets this right). There are no complaints about space though – there’s ample headroom, width and legroom, and the seats slide fore and aft and split 40:20:40 for added flexibility.
BMW is offering a third row, but it is a cramped, rather difficult to access place and once you’re there, you’ll sit in an uncomfortable knees-up position. In all fairness, an Audi Q7’s third row isn’t much better and if you really need the extra seats, a Mercedes-Benz GL or a Land Rover Discovery will be your best bet.
In the X5, it is best to fold the third row flat and use the 650 litres of boot space available.
As for equipment, it’s got a cool BMW Apps option that lets you connect to Tunein Radio (an internet-based radio channel that picks up stations from around the world) as well as in-car Facebook and Twitter access. Standard equipment includes a Harman Kardon sound system, four-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control with braking function. Our car also had a panoramic sunroof and a touch-sensitive iDrive controller that lets you scribble on it to search for functions or type in phone numbers.
So the new X5 looks better, there’s more equipment, the interiors are improved and it is as exciting to drive as ever before. Set to be launched later this month and expected to be priced at around Rs 70-75 lakh, what you get for the money is an X5 that mixes practicality, fun and polish in one very capable package.