The last time I drove an X5 off the beaten track was for a comparative test that pitted the previous generation model against Porsche’s Cayenne. The Teutonic duo tussled at a course in Fisantekraal just outside Cape Town. While the X5 was impressive, it was particularly in its element on the asphalt, arguably more so than the Cayenne. But just how much better is the new F15, which is now available in South Africa?
The local launch of the X5 took place in northern KwaZulu-Natal, with a border crossing into Mozambique near Kosi Bay included as part of our route. The roads that far north aren’t of consistent quality, though there were interesting twisty bits that were to re-affirm the X5’s on-road supremacy, as well as a myriad of gravel tracks and sandy pathways that was just rough enough to demonstrate its off-road efficiency.
Not your typical bundu-basher
Okay, I have to admit that I am always reluctant to disappear into the bush in a premium SUV such as the new X5 – and the model that stood out most for me, the X50 xDrive50i. It’s not so much that I doubt its ability, but it’s always seemed slightly painful to take a vehicle such as this out of its natural environment of urban highways and business parks.
But I was pleasantly surprised and reminded just how capable the X5 is. Unlike the xDrive30d models, which were fitted with 20-inch wheels and lower profile tyres, the particular xDrive50i unit I drove on the launch was shod with 19-inch wheels and thicker tyres. The difference between the two in terms of ride was eye-opening. The V8 model was that much softer that the vehicle seemed to not take as much abuse on corrugated surfaces as the six-cylinder.
Left to its own devices, the eight-speed automatic transmission is more than capable on gravel, with the xDrive all-wheel-drive system handling the transfer of torque with the driver none the wiser – so effortless and seamless is the powertrain. When the surface changed to the very soft sand of the veld, the turbocharged V8 with that massive 650 N.m of torque available from very low down the rev range came to the fore.
Though I felt that sometimes it shifted up too soon for the more testing sections, none of the launch convoy experienced any serious trouble. The transmission and plethora of electronic systems handled soft stuff with ease, though it must be said that off-road aficionados would have found our route relatively flat. I was actually glad, because I noted that the front overhang has become longer on the F15 X5 – with its new jaw and squarer nose. One of the previous generation X5s accompanied our launch party, and the rounded front-end lended itself to a greater approach angle. Because of this, I’d really like to experience the X5 in a dune driving environment, but don’t think I will.
In manual mode, which is how I preferred to pilot the X5, the peach that is the 4,4-litre motor dispatched the sandy route mostly in second gear, with slight prods of the throttle to pick up some momentum here and there. Playing with the adaptive suspension package, which was left in comfort for most of the trip, I activated sport mode and thus tightened up the X5’s ride, but it lost some compliance that is required for off-roading and I quickly turned it back. Nonetheless, the X5 held its own.
Still an accomplished on-road SAV
BMW having coined the term SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) when the X5 was initially launched way back in 1999, the X5 has always been revered for the depth of its talents as a comfortable highway cruiser. And it’s still very much as capable, even more so in fact.
But while enjoying the muscular motor’s broad powerband on the road and the massive amount of grip that felt even more exploitable in the sport setting, I was only annoyed with the traction control system – which seemed to be intervening way too early fully enjoy the driving experience. The only way past that is to completely deactivate the electronic nanny, but in the interests of safety I didn’t go that far – especially when the hazards of cattle and cavernous potholes started dotting the blacktop at random.
Economy-wise, the xDrive50i didn’t disappoint. Despite some flat-footed hoofing on my part in the more remote areas, it averaged around 15,0 litres/100 km (BMW claims an average of just over 10,0 litres/100 km).
I really do feel that that the new X5 has shifted the segment goalposts with its unique blend of overall appeal, well-rounded abilities, more chiselled looks and some truly impressive new (mostly optional) features such as a night vision system with human and animal detection, a flawless parking assistance programme with around-view monitor, an adaptive cruise control that virtually allows the X5 to drive itself on the road and a system that uses the infotainment screen to relay information that comes in handy while enjoying the occasional off-road jaunt such as angles, direction, and where the torque is being transferred.
The X5 is not cheap, but the range is broad enough to make it a segment favourite – especially with two more models on the way in the form of the turbodiesel xDrive40d and xDrive35i powered by the company’s legendary turbopetrol straight-six. Look out for a road test in CAR shortly.
Price: R1 016 517
Engine: 4,4-litre, V8 turbopetrol
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 330 kW at 5 500 – 6 000 r/min
Torque: 650 N.m at 2 000 – 4 500 r/min
0 – 100 km/h: 5,0 seconds
Top speed: 250 km/h
Fuel consumption: 10,4 litres/100 km
CO2 emissions: 242 g/km
Maintenance plan: 5 years/100 000 km