On a recent trip to Portugal, Steve Smith, consulting editor of Sawubona got to sample the latest generation of BMW’s premium SUV.
On the A1 highway between Lisbon and Porto, the big X5 has been pretty much been driving itself for the last hour.
Equipped with the Driving Assistant Professional option (and as long as I keep my hand reassuringly rested on the wheel), the big Beemer is content to navigate itself north to the satnav-set destination.
With the lane-keeping cameras keeping a beady eye on the A1’s prominent road markings and the adaptive cruise control maintaining a set distance to traffic in front of me, the X5 calmly steers itself along the long straights and curves of this well-maintained highway, braking obediently if a car ahead slows down.
A Subtle Muscularity
The autonomous driving system is only part of a raft of technologies that this brawny fourth-generation X5 offers. But more on that later.
This fourth-generation X5 is a bigger vehicle in every dimension, and while the relatively conservative design DNA remains, there’s a subtle muscularity to this car that its more functionally attired predecessor didn’t have.
The new vehicle is based on the BMW Cluster Architecture platform that underpinned the previous generation, and it carries over what’s basically the same 3.0-litre turbodiesel too.
Among the small but noticeable refinements in the handing department is the the latest generation xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
To maximise traction, agility and directional stability, the system can now split drive torque between the front and rear wheels with even greater precision and speed, as the situation demands.
Similarly the six-cylinder engine has also received a minor massage from BMW’s technicians, now boasting an extra 5kW of power and 60Nm of torque with a 0.2L/100km improvement at the pumps.
Power delivery through the eight-speed adds to this new BMW X5’s impressive refinement – meaning that, unless you’re vigilant, the difference between the speed you feel like you’re going and the speed you’re actually doing will result in a traffic fine or two.
If you do want to take your nearly R1.2-million BMW X5 off road there is an xOffroad package that includes two-axle air suspension as well as a specific transmission and diff with four extra driving modes – xSnow, xSand, xGravel and xRock – that supplement the standard Sport, Comfort, Eco Pro and Adaptive modes.
A Big Leap Ahead
As alluded to earlier, it’s the new tech you’ll experience behind the wheel that sees this X5 take a big leap ahead of the car it replaces.
The most visible is the new Live Cockpit Professional package that introduces BMW’s seventh-generation operating system with a high-resolution 12.3-inch screen behind the steering wheel.
Gone is the digital display that still mimics traditional round gauges that have been used for the last century. In its place is something truly future-forward, with a user interface that wouldn’t be out of place in the movies.
The overall idea behind the design is to highlight relevant information when it’s needed but to let it fade back when it’s not, allowing the driver to focus on the task at hand.
Supplemented by a crisp, centrally mounted infotainment screen – also 12.3 inches across – you can view up to 10 pages of customisable info, each showing two to four tiles with live content.
This can all be controlled either via the touch on the display, the iDrive Touch Controller, the controls on the steering wheel, voice control or BMW gesture control, depending on the situation.
The Total Package
Live Cockpit Professional also includes the adaptive satnav, a hard-drive-based multimedia system with 20GB of memory and two USB ports, and Bluetooth and WiFi interfaces.
Part technological tour de force and part incremental improvement would be the two disparate descriptors of BMW’s new X5.
Its looks and mechanical upgrades may be subtle in isolation, but they do add up to a total package that feels imminently more substantial than its predecessor.
Engine 2 993cc, 6-cyl turbodiesel
Power 195kW at 4 000rpm
Torque 620Nm at 2 000-2 500rpm
Transmission 8-speed Steptronic auto
Top Speed 230km/h*
0-100km/h 6.5 seconds*
Fuel Economy 7.0L/100km*
Maintenance Plan 5 year/100 000km
The SA Range
BMW X5 xDrive30d R1 196 296
BMW X5 M50d R1 502 582
xOffroad package: R59 250
M Sport package for xDrive30d: R58 900
Words by Steve Smith