BMW X5

Cops a quick, direct steer back on track

TONY OíKANE

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

Engaging handling; cabin presentation; space; equipment

PLUS & MINUS

Needs air suspension for resolved ride, but itís not an option on all X5s

CALL it tall poppy syndrome, but we were a little critical of the X5 when the just-superseded F15 generation arrived.

Could you blame us? Its E-series predecessors proved that luxo SUVs could handle (remotely) like a sports sedan, delivering plenty for family types with petrol pumping through their ventricles.

Though beaten to market by the Mercedes M-Class, it was the X5 that perfected the luxury large SUV in the noughties. Trailblazers are always a hard act to follow, and the ho-hum F15, with its slack steering and lack of dynamic sparkle, disappointed.

But thatís in the past; the G05 is here now, and itís moved the goalposts again. Luxury? Yes, sir. Space? More than ever. Driver appeal? Absolutely.

From afar it doesnít look all that different, but in each of its generations the X5 has been fairly handsome Ė the lack of change here is no deal-breaker. But itís the sub-dermal renovation that bears the most fruit for the new X5. A platform thatís been engineered to trim weight and improve handling is central, but so is the new X5ís larger footprint.

A 42mm wheelbase stretch is another crucial ingredient, and the X5 feels much bigger inside (especially from the second row), though there isnít such an increase in the optional third row. The incoming X7 will be the true, full-time seven-seater.

The best seats in the house are up the front. Sports seats are now standard, and they offer plentiful support and grades of leather that range from Ďgreatí to Ďas supple as an angelís cheekí. Almost. But you can now spec an X5 to a near-7 Series luxe, should you desire.

Yet the base specification is already fantastic, BMW Australia seemingly scrapping its policy of leaving the best stuff to the option list. Standard for every X5 are cool features such as a pair of crisp, 12.3-inch colour displays, for the slick iDrive 7.0 infotainment suite and driverís instrument panel, a wide-angle head-up display, adaptive LED headlights and software thatís intelligent enough to memorise the last 50 metres of a trip and semi-autonomously retrace your path in reverse Ė perfect if you just had to negotiate a particularly tricky driveway.

Thereís more good news on the dynamic front. The electrically assisted steering still may not be the last word in driver engagement, but the rackmounted motor provides for light, reactive and direct steering and is allied with a suspension tune that endows the two-tonne-plus X5 with commendable agility. The low-profile 20-inch rubber definitely helps here, but thereís no denying that the new X5 makes handling gains. Especially if you go for the quad-turbo M50d flagship, with its torque-vectoring

More to come

The six-cylinder-only range that has now launched in Australia is by no means the full X5 family. Itís set to expand greatly later in 2019 and into 2020 with the arrival of expected four-cylinder petrol rear-drive and four-cylinder diesel all-wheel drive variants. A plug-in hybrid is also on the cards, mating a four-cylinder combustion engine to an electric motor to deliver emissions-free motoring for modest distances. And, of course, there will be the big daddy X5 M behemoth in due course, with twin-turbo V8 power and honed handling.

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Fancy a big, three-row SUV that sips fuel but donít want a diesel? The hybrid RX 450hL may be your model. But it canít hold a candle to the X5ís dynamic flavour, muscular torque or high-tech features. rear diff and rear-wheel steering.

A diesel-only proposition from launch, with a 40i petrol six in showrooms as you read, there is no engine bigger or smaller than 3.0-litres in the X5 line-up for now. The M50d, with four turbos and a brutal 760Nm and 294kW, is predictably the most impressive, but the Ďbaseí 195kW, 620Nm single-turbo diesel 30d doesnít exactly live in its shadow.

In some ways, itís actually preferable because, unlike the M50d, it can be had with the optional dual-axle air suspension, a $2300 option that endows the X5 with exceptional ride, dialling out the brittleness that can be experienced on the standard coils.

All this, in conjunction with the bigger cabin, generous standard equipment, and a pervading high-end look and feel, means the new-generation X5 doesnít just represent a return to form, it shoots for class honours.

TONY OíKANE