BMW X5 xDrive 40d 2011 Review

The first generation BMW arrived ready to party, and so it did. It partied like it was 1999, because it was. The good times didn’t end there either, and in the following years the X5 helped trailblaze what we now know as the luxury SUV category. Naturally it had its haters, those who said it had been beaten with the ugly stick and those who called it a “insert posh local area” tractor. But it proved resilient and broadly appealing and just recently clocked up a very impressive 1 million units sold worldwide. It was in 2006 that the X5 entered its second generation, while already well established it further built on the strengths of the first model. Now for 2010 the X5 has been given a visual refresh and a reworked engine line-up. Car and SUV spent a week with the new X5 xDrive40d to see exactly what’s new and find out if the big BMW has still got it.

Styling on the X5 has only been changed subtlety since the first-generation with the 2010 updates being a further tweak. Although the changes are minor they are effective and the X5 looks every bit as modern as competitors. The X5 nose hosts the most noticeable changes with a new front bumper sporting larger side intakes and repositioned fog lamps. There’s more colour coding in the sheet metal and LED tail lamps now feature a smart L-shaped design. Elsewhere it’s business as usual with clean, tidy lines and handsome styling that will offend very few. Our test vehicle looked particularly striking with its Alpine White hue maximizing the X5’s bulky dimensions and the optional aluminum running boards and 20-inch (19s as standard) alloy wheels.

Inside, the X5’s cabin exhibits a nice blend of luxury and durability with high quality materials that are finished to an exacting standard. Dashboard design is simple and traditional with dark plastics mixing with brushed aluminum trim inside our test subject. The wide centre console is well placed for leaning on, it houses cupholders and a rather limited storage bin. The iDrive control system is a breeze to use and displays various functions on an 8.8 inch, high-mounted colour screen. The silver-ringed instrumentation with orange illumination is trademark BMW and the heads up display functions very well.

Our test vehicle was fitted with optional comfort front seats which were an absolute delight, they were both cosseting and supportive with a wide range of electronic adjustments. The rear pew has fairly good legroom on offer and by being mounted quite low down makes for excellent headroom.

As you’d expect in a luxury vehicle the standard equipment list is impressive and too long to rattle off here but highlights include a superb satellite navigation system, park distance control, rear view camera with top-view mode, cruise control with automatic braking, voice control functionality and a thumping 16-speaker stereo system with a hard disk and USB interface. In the 40d model the BMW sports package is now included as standard fare and adds a sports steering wheel, some additional exterior trim and a sports suspension tune which can be deleated at no cost for a more luxurious ride.

The loading area in the X5’s hatch is capacious but not class leading. There are some practical touches like a split tailgate that creates a flat loading floor, adjustable tie-down points and also a long luggage blind to hideaway your gear.

The X40d is a new entry into the X5 range in NZ because it comes packing one of BMW’s next-generation diesel engines under its curved bonnet line. Don’t be tricked by the ’40’ in the model name the engine used is a 3.0-litre straight six with twin-turbocharging to making sure it unleashes hell when pushed hard. This high-tech six-pot produces 225kW of power and a walloping 600Nm of torque making it the strongest diesel engine in the X5 range. Thanks to the clever sequential turbo system the full compliment of torque is available from just 1,500rpm. It’s a powerhouse of an engine and with masses of torque on tap the 40d easily sheds its considerable 2110kg kerb weight and gets to 100kph in just 6.6 seconds. The 40d has a rapid turn of speed off the line and is particularly quick when thrusting between 80 — 120kph.

The diesel X5’s high-performance is helped in no small way by BMW’s new 8-speed automatic gearbox. It’s a great pairing with eight gears to choose from the straight-six engine can easily stay in its torquey sweet spot during acceleration. It’s also a very smooth operator and shifts down gears with total finesse. The eight-speed gearing is good news for fuel economy as well, with the 40d returning 7.5l/100km combined. Cruising on the open road in top gear will get economy figures even lower to 6.8l/100km — an impressive achievement for a full size SUV.

Car-like on road dynamics have always been a strength of the X5 and the new 40d extends the tradition. With the exception of the Porsche Cayenne the X5 is the best SUV to drive on the road, it’s very agile for its size and grips strongly when cornering. There’s a genuine feeling of sophistication to the X5’s handling and ride comfort which is partly due to BMW’s decision to go with a double-wishbone front axle. The cabin is also very tranquil with low noise levels, minimal vibration and a very good driving position. The steering on the X5 is active dependent on speed and while it’s light and precise at low speeds it firms up nicely when the vehicles running at a higher pace.

Get too far off the tarmac and the road-focused X5 won’t be able to foot it with Range Rovers or Toyota Land Cruisers but it’s not without some ability. BMW’s xDrive system is clever in its use of the vehicles stability control sensors to detect instability and quickly direct power to where it’s required. While this can’t entirely make up for the relatively low ground clearance and lack of low-ratio gearing, the X5 should have few issues climbing gravel roads or slippery paddocks.

Safety features on the X5 40d include dynamic traction control, hill descent control, run-flat tyres, cornering lights and numerous reinforcements to the body shell. There’s also a full cache of front, side and curtain airbags waiting patiently for any worst-case scenarios.

The new BMW x40d doesn’t just continue with the well-known strengths of this model but it really graduates them further. With a powerful, economical and completely competent diesel engine like the x40d possesses sales of the X5 won’t be slowing anytime soon. The entire powertrain is superb, the ride is very comfortable when cruising but can be an engaging steer when desired. The X5 doesn’t come cheap but very few luxury SUVs do and for many buyers in this segment it will win them with it’s driving dynamics, high quality fit out and impressive equipment list. It’s already done that 1 million times and with the new 40d it’s well set to do it plenty more

Price: $142,000

What we like:

  • Fiesty performance
  • Sporty driving dynamics
  • Very comfortable ride
  • High level of quality and practicality

What we don’t like:

  • Exterior styling could have been updated further
  • Expensive option list

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

Other reviews of interest:

Porsche Cayenne S (2011) — Road Test

Toyota Land Cruiser Prado (2010) — Road Test

Range Rover Sport TDV6 (2008) — Road Test

Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI Edition 10 (2008) — Road Test

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