MANY people will question the point of the super SUV. After all, what we have here is a 2,3-ton “offroad” vehicle that will probably never see dirt and spend its days blasting from robot to robot while consuming vast amounts of petrol. But let’s face it, you want one of these bruiser SUVs, don’t you? You want something more aggressive-looking than the neighbour’s, something faster, with more gadgets and bigger wheels… Enter the BMW X5 4,8iS. The only place you’ll find bigger wheels is in 50 Cent’s latest music video. But it’s not only the 20-inch wheels that scream bling-bling! At the rear, two massive chrometipped exhausts emit a wonderful V8 rumble. In front, a menacing bumper and sculpted bonnet combine to give this X5 intimidating overtaking presence, especially when the bi-xenon headlights with their distinctive illuminated “corona rings” are switched on. And the muscular flanks make it look like a pumped-up gym freak. So, call it a pimpmobile or the most aggressive-looking SUV ever, but this BMW will certainly get you noticed.
The interior of our test car was just as… erm, colourful. Blue plastic inserts (yes, blue) immediately catch the eye, but were not universally liked and made the interior look like Dame Edna’s bedroom. There are other options, of course…
Otherwise, the interior is pretty much stock X5, which is to say high quality. The front seats are electronically multi-adjustable (also for lumbar) and heated. All the testers agreed the seats offer a superb range of adjustment.
Rear space is good, with plenty of room for large feet. The boot (accessed through a soft-closing split tailgate) measures 328 dm3 and can be expanded to a useful 1 216 with the rear seats folded.
The controls and instrumentation are straightforward items – no fiddly iDrive here, just plenty of buttons on the busy hangdown section.
As you might expect, the complete standard features list would take up this entire road test. Let’s just say all the comfort items are accounted for. Besides the navigation system, Bluetooth telephone, adaptive headlights and park distance control, there is also a massive panorama dual-sunroof that almost turns the X5 into a targa. Unfortunately, travelling faster than 80 km/h with the sunroof open turns the cabin into an unbearably noisy place.
Providing the power to move 2,3 tons in a hurry is a 4,8-litre V8 engine, similar in design to the units used in the 5, 6 and 7 Series, but with larger bores and a longer stroke. The intake and exhaust system have been modified and the engine management system adapted. The engine features Valvetronic valve control, bi-Vanos and a fully variable intake control system. Maximum power is 265 kW at 6 200 r/min and 500 N.m of torque is developed at 3 500. A six-speed Steptronic gearbox is fitted and features both a sport mode and a manual shift option. Power is put on the road via BMW’s new xDrive all-wheel drive system, which identifies when slip is about to occur and transfers the power to a wheel (or wheels) with grip. According to BMW, xDrive is able to “think ahead” by using not only information from the wheel sensors, but also from the DSC stability system. Factors such as yaw rate and steering angle are used to calculate when grip will be lost. The system will then redirect power to wheels with more grip.
BMW claims an optimistic 0-100 km/h time of 6,1 seconds, but our test unit could do no better than 7,46 seconds. However, in this price range the Touareg V10 posts a quicker time. Our top speed of 238 km/h was also slightly down on the claimed figure. Overtaking acceleration figures are similar to those posted by the ML55, Cayenne S and Touareg.
In terms of fuel consumption, the X5 is again pretty much in the ballpark. Our fuel index figure came to 16,8 litres/100km. This is heavy, but not the worst in the class.
The X5 has pneumatic selflevelling suspension on both axles. This allows the ride height to be varied from 187 to 240 mm. The body automatically hunkers down on the massive tyres at speed to improve stability. Wheels are 20- inchers all round, with 275/40 tyres in front and fat 315/35s at the rear.
The 4,8iS managed an excellent emergency stopping average of 2,8 seconds, with a best 100 km/h to zero time of 2,75. DSC and ABS are standard fitment, as they should be. Inner ventilated brake discs are used and measure 356 mm in front and 324 mm at the rear.
From behind the wheel the rumbling V8 is always audible, reminding the driver of the explosive power under his/her right foot. It’s hard to resist the temptation to floor it at every opportunity just to hear the engine clear its throat like some upset demon and watch the nose lift, speedboat-style, as the X5 prepares for blast-off. It’s huge fun, but only for a while, and unfortunately the rest of the driving experience doesn’t really offer anything else to keep the driver interested. There is a top-heavy feel that calls for huge confidence from the driver to really reach the vehicle’s admittedly high limits. And those big tyres start to lose grip just a bit earlier than you’d expect. The steering has nice feel, however, and ride quality is actually very good.
So, what about off-road driving? You’ll need to be brave – the tyres fitted to the 4,8iS cost about R5 000 each. There is no spare, either. And it doesn’t have a low-range transfer box. It does have good approach and departure angles, however, and the adjustable ride height gives the driver some obstacle clearance. But really, it’s not meant to do this…
The X5 4,8iS is one heck of a piece of engineering. The combination of size, crushing performance and luxury makes the driver feel invincible, which perhaps is what this type of vehicle is all about. But do these ingredients make it a good buy? We think not. There are cars that can go faster at the price. Cars that are as luxurious. And cars that handle vastly better. There are possibly even cars with more off-road ability than the X5. Still, we could almost forgive the 4,8iS its sins because it makes the driver feel so powerful. And it is this fact – the way the X5 4,8iS manages to be as desirable as it is pointless – that is perhaps its biggest achievement. A fool’s paradise, then, if you like…