The boss is back”, is how BMW announces the return of one of its most successful cars ever – over 2.2 million sold since 1999. Welcome back the BMW X5, the car that showed the world that BMW could make an SUV which drove (almost) like a sports sedan. Almost 20 years later they are at it again. But this time things have changed. A lot. I drove the brand new X5 down in the Western Cape, just to see how prepared the X5 is for this new world.

Straight off the bat I picked up something about the car’s design, a departure from the brand’s historical philosophy. The new X5 does not feature L-shaped rear lights like its predecessors and all other BMWs currently on the road. While this may not sound like a big deal to the average eye, it has subsequently become a talking about amongst my circle, without me even bringing it up. A number of them are not happy with the look, but they just can’t put their finger on the reason why. I reckon it’s those lights.

That may be the “little” bugbear in the package, but the rest is pretty up to the task. Those front end looks for instance, vintage but modern BMW; double kidney grille that drops into the middle of two reduced double-ring headlights in LED or laser, LED daytime running lights on the lower bumper, accompanied by extra air vents, a side profile showing some muscle with clear, sharp convex lines, diminishing window surface towards the rear, and the Hoffmeister kink on the C-pillar. It’s absolutely an X5. Overall the car is 4.9 metres long, 2m wide, 1.7m tall and has a wheelbase of 2.975m. One can feel and see that extra legroom when inside.

Speaking of inside, the X5 is a familiar but new space. Seating position is still similar, with a panoramic view of everything. Of course seats are electrically-adjustable all sorts of ways, as is the multifunction steering wheel. The whole interior has been redesigned, with a higher-quality and hi-tech feel evident in most places. The driver-focused dashboard features two 25.9cm screens; one for the general iDrive infotainment system and the other placed behind the steering wheel. The first screen – accessible through touch or the original rotary tech – displays pretty much everything you would like to see. That includes radio stations, air conditioning settings, lighting settings, satellite navigation, live traffic updates via ConnectedDrive and others.

Certainly one of the coolest features is the optional glass application set around the gear lever. Surfaces are cast in piano black, or faux leather, or brushed aluminium and other materials. The rear passengers can have their own entertainment space with extra screens available at extra cost. Boot space is between 645 and 1 860 litres, depending on how the rear seats are folded or not. Speaking of which, from next month, customers can order their X5 with 7 seats (third row). None of these models were available at launch so I did not get to experience this layout. Useful too, is the two-section tailgate which splits horizontally.

Two models are being made available to potential Mzansi buyers. Later we expect a plug-in hybrid as well as the mighty X5 M to join them. For now it’s the X5 xDrive30d and X5 xDrive M50d, both come with xDrive all-wheel-drive (AWD), run a standard 8-speed automatic, and use the same 3.0-litre, straight six turbo diesel engine. Except one has one turbo, and the other four. At the base end of things is the 30d which produces 195kW at 4 000rpm, and 620Nm of torque between 2 000rpm and 2 500rpm. BMW says it will accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds, reaching a top speed of 230km/h. It’s more than enough. We drove it with the optional Off-road package which includes tyres. It acquitted itself very well under gravel and muddy conditions, felt comfortable on the uneven surfaces.

With four turbos – two for low, two for high pressure purposes – the M50d significantly ups the ante by producing 294kW at 4 400rpm, and torque of 760Nm between 2 000rpm and 3 000rpm. Acceleration is brisk, confident and relentless. BMW claims 5.2 seconds for the 0 – 100km/h sprint, with top speed pegged at 250km/h. Average fuel consumption is said to hover around the 7 litres per 100km mark. While the 30d is properly X5 too, the M50d has extra qualities that separates it from its sibling in an almost tangible manner. Handling is supple, and you can attack curves with a higher degree of confidence, keeping in mind that this is still an SUV. It has sweet grip on all four wheels, while the front ones are precise enough not to fool your directional senses.

“The boss is back”. It may sound like an empty marketing tagline, but the all-new BMW X5 really is the boss in its class. The landscape might have changed and more competitors are building highly desirable and capable direct rivals. But none can yet match the overall offer this car makes, especially when it comes to driving dynamics and the feeling of freedom they deliver.


BMW X5 Prices

xDrive 30d – R1 194 296

xDrive M50d – R1 502 581

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