2017 BMW X5 Range Review

The BMW X5 is a luxuriously equipped large SUV with up to seven seats. Most are AWD, you can choose from several excellent engines, and one can also run on electricity.

2015 BMW X5 M
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Roomy cabin
  •   Seven-seat option
  •   Excellent engines
Not so much
  •   Bumpy ride on big wheels

What stands out?

The BMW X5 is a luxuriously equipped large SUV with up to seven seats. You can choose from a big range of excellent petrol and diesel engines, and most X5s drive all four wheels. City-speed auto braking is standard. The X5 xDrive 40e, a petrol-electric hybrid that you can charge from home powerpoints, offers near-silent short trips.

What might bug me?

That adults and even teenagers can’t stay comfortable in the third-row seats. Those optional sixth and seventh seats are suitable only for children aged about nine and younger. For bigger people, the rearmost seating is short on leg room and hard to get into.

How bulky it feels in the city. The X5 is a big and heavy vehicle, and it does not feel nimble when you are driving around town.

If you have optioned wheels of 20-inch diameter or bigger, that the ride is rougher and noisier than you had hoped for from your luxury SUV. On these wheels, with their matching low-profile tyres, you’ll find bumps and road noise take the serenity out of the driving experience.

Dealing with a puncture in remote places. Every X5 but one has run-flat tyres and a space-saver spare tyre. Run-flat tyres allow you to keep driving after a puncture. The catch is, you are not supposed to drive faster than 80km/h, nor further than 80km. If a replacement tyre is further away (or if the run-flat tyre is badly damaged), you can fit the skinny space-saver spare wheel. However, it too is suitable only for speeds under 80km/h.

The exception is the xDrive 40e plug-in hybrid, which has run-flat tyres but no spare. (Its battery pack occupies the spare-wheel well.)

What body styles are there?

Just the one, a five-door SUV-style wagon.

The original X5 was praised for its smart, crisp exterior styling. The current version, while larger and possibly more pleasing to residents of the United States where it is built, has met less admiration elsewhere.

The X5 is classed as a large SUV, higher priced.

What features does every BMW X5 have?

Satellite navigation, displayed on a 10.25-inch central colour screen. A 20GB hard drive for storing music and other media. Digital radio, and Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and audio streaming.

A reversing camera. (In all but the two least costly models, this offers top and side views as well as a view out the back.) Front and rear parking sensors.

An interior trimmed in leather. Power adjustment for the front seats and exterior mirrors (with memory position for the driver, so that you can touch a single button to restore your preferred set-up).

Cruise control. Headlamps that switch on automatically in low light, and windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains.

Dual-zone climate control (which allows different temperatures on either side of the cabin). A power-opening tailgate, which can be foot-operated from a sensor below it.

Runflat tyres, which allow you to drive up to 80km on a flat tyre (in cities, that should get you to a tyre shop). On all but the xDrive 40e plug-in hybrid, a space-saver spare wheel and tyre.

Driving Assistant, a camera-based active safety package that includes a lane departure warning and city-speed autonomous braking.

Electronic stability control, which can help the driver control a skidding car. All new cars must have this feature.

Eight Airbags (for details of where they are placed, and for more information on other X5 safety systems, please open the Safety section below).

All X5s are covered by a three-year, unlimited distance warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

BMW offers a very big range of diesel and petrol engines for the X5. And in May 2016 it added a plug-in hybrid drivetrain with the xDrive 40e (it teams a petrol engine with an electric motor whose battery can be charged from household power outlets).

Of the diesel and petrol cars, the least costly X5 – the sDrive 25d – uses least fuel, its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel consuming 5.3 litres/100km on the official test (combined cycle).

The same engine powers the all-wheel drive xDrive 25d. It provides perfectly acceptable performance for most drivers in most driving conditions.

Nevertheless, the most popular engine in an X5 is the bigger and more powerful 3.0-litre diesel fitted to the xDrive 30d. It offers muscular acceleration from low speeds, and effortless overtaking and towing. And it uses only slightly more fuel on the official test, at 5.9 litres/100km. (Like most cars, the xDrive 30d needs more fuel in the real world: expect 8 or 9 litres/100km.)

A still more powerful, and slightly thirstier, variant of this 3.0-litre diesel is offered in the xDrive 40d.

If you are one of the few people who want even more performance from a diesel X5, you may be interested in the X5 M 50d. Its 3.0-litre engine is boosted by no fewer than three turbochargers, delivering stupendous performance and an engaging sound (unusual for a diesel), while containing fuel use to just 6.6 litres/100km.

One reason you might not want a diesel X5 is that you don’t want to deal with oily diesel fuel and greasy diesel fuel pumps. For you, the X5 is offered with three petrol engines.

The least costly petrol X5 is the xDrive 35i, whose 3.0-litre turbocharged six cylinder brings you fine, silky smooth performance. Ultimately an xDrive 35i will be slightly quicker than an xDrive 30d, with the greater willingness to spin hard that is typical of a petrol engine, but with a little less grunt for towing.

Then there is the xDrive 50i, powered by a 4.4-litre V8 engine running two turbochargers. It’s a serious performance vehicle, and is thirsty in day to day running.

The most expensive – and quickest – model in the X5 range is the X5 M. It also uses a 4.4-litre, twin-turbo, V8 petrol engine, but one that is significantly reworked and upgraded to deliver extremely high performance and an equally eye-widening fuel bill. On the official test it consumes 11 litres/100km, but it’s easy to use twice as much fuel with enthusiastic driving.

If you expect you will use your X5 largely for short trips around town, and you need only five seats, you might have good reason to bypass all of the conventional diesel and petrol engines and choose instead the petrol-electric plug-in hybrid X5, the xDrive 40e. For round trips shorter than about 25km you can drive an xDrive 40e using no petrol at all, relying instead on its electric motor and battery, which you can recharge fully at home in about five hours. On long trips in the country, however, where you will be driving mainly on its paired 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo petrol engine, it is likely that fuel use will greatly exceed the 3.3 litres/100km attributed to this car from the official test: expect to use more like 10 litres/100km. Performance will be comparable with the xDrive 30d and xDrive 35i.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least expensive X5, the sDrive 25d, drives its rear wheels only, as indicated by BMW’s naming convention: sDrive means a single pair of driven wheels. All other X5s are xDrive models, which means all-wheel drive. Therefore, the first thing you get by spending more on an X5 is the better traction on wet, muddy or otherwise slippery surfaces that AWD brings.

Step past the least costly AWD model, the xDrive 25d, and spend more for an X5 and the main thing you get is a more powerful petrol or diesel engine, or hybrid drive – as outlined above. However you also get some more equipment, and different wheels.

The xDrive 30d brings you a head-up display, which projects a speedo and other useful driving information onto the windscreen in your field of vision. It also brings you wheels an inch bigger at 19 inches, shod with tyres of a slightly lower profile (this is mainly a cosmetic change).

Paying a bit more for an xDrive 35i (or any of the four more expensive X5s) brings you, in addition, smart-key entry, which unlocks the doors when you grab the handle (provided that the key is nearby, perhaps in a pocket or bag). You also get a nicer sounding, and louder, sound system from Harman Kardon.

The xDrive 50i and the M 50d run 20-inch wheels, with tyres of a lower profile again that are wider, for increased grip. These also bring you a more comprehensive active safety package called Driving Assistant Plus, which includes active cruise control and highway-speed automatic braking. (You can order Driving Assistant Plus on other X5s as an option.)

Popular options include the M Sport package, which gets you (among other things) 20-inch wheels and Adaptive M suspension. This suspension sits the car closer to the road to improve its cornering ability. It also adjusts the ride automatically for your driving conditions, using computer-controlled damping. As well, you get some external visual bling, nicer interior trim, and more supportive sports front seats.

There is also an Adaptive Comfort suspension option available for the 40d and the four models priced below it. This also uses computer-controlled dampers, which react on the move to reduce the intrusion of bumps and ruts. In this case the suspension is tuned to emphasise comfort rather than performance. Air springs at the rear level the car when it’s heavily loaded or has a trailer attached.

Two cosmetic option bundles, Pure Experience and Pure Excellence, can greatly lift the interior and exterior appearance of your X5. You choose from an extensive sample palette of leathers, other materials and finishes.

A folding third row of seats, extending seating from five to seven, is an extra-cost option on all but two X5s. The exceptions are the the X5 M and the plug-in hybrid xDrive 40e, on which it is not available.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The performance oriented Adaptive M suspension upgrade, combined with the big 20-inch wheels from the M Sport package, makes the car less comfortable over bumpy roads. And the big wheels and tyres are more susceptible to damage from rocks when driving off sealed surfaces. The larger tyres will also cost more to replace, and will not accept snow chains.

Optioning the third row of seats means you lose the space-saver spare wheel, and must rely on only the run-flat tyres in the event of a puncture.

The X5 M and xDrive 40e plug-in hybrid do not offer third-row seating: they are five-seaters only.

Metallic paint is standard only on the two most expensive X5s. On the others, it is an extra-cost option.

How comfortable is the X5?

The commanding driving position, excellent adjustability of seat and steering wheel, abundant space and premium cabin finishes immediately make any X5 feel welcoming and very comfortable.

On the move, the X5’s ride comfort – its ability to isolate occupants from poor road surfaces – depends heavily on the suspension package and the wheel and tyre combination fitted.

In standard form, the least expensive models – the sDrive 25d and xDrive 25d – are the most comfortable, thanks to their smaller wheels and higher profile tyres, which have greater sidewall depth that helps absorb bumps.

If comfort is a priority, consider the Comfort adaptive suspension option and avoid ordering the 20-inch wheels.

In all other respects, the X5 is extremely comfortable. Wind noise is moderate, and tyre noise at highway speeds is not intrusive. The standard front seats are adequate for people of average build or smaller.

However everyone – and especially those of larger frame – will appreciate the sports front seats (standard on some versions and an option on others). These adjust to provide extra under-thigh support, which is always welcome on long trips, and they also bring better side support, to locate your upper body more securely through corners.

The diesel engines, while noisier than their petrol counterparts, are not loud or intrusive in the X5. On trips around town the plug-in petrol-electric hybrid xDrive 40e is especially comfortable, because its ability to run on just the electric motor makes it exceptionally, almost eerily, quiet.

What about safety in a BMW X5?

All BMW X5s deliver a strong standard safety story, and there’s an array of optional safety equipment.

Every X5 is equipped with six airbags: frontal and body-protecting side airbags for the driver and front passenger; and side-curtain airbags that protect the heads of outer occupants in the first two seat rows from side impacts. (The curtain airbags do not protect passengers in the optional third-row seats, however.)

Also standard is an active protection system that sees the car prepare itself (closing windows and sunroof, and tensioning seat belts) if it detects that a crash is imminent at any speed. If you use maximum braking, rear brake lights flash and the hazard lights activate – reducing the chances of a rear-end collision from the tailing car.

Every X5 also has a camera-based Driving Assistant package that includes an autonomous partial-braking system which works at speeds up to 60km/h. If it detects an obstacle in front – typically a sharply slowing car – it will warn you and if necessary will initiate braking automatically, but it will not apply maximum braking. There is also a lane-departure warning, which alerts you if you have begun to drift out of your lane (a sign of fatigue).

Among safety-related options available at extra cost is Driver Assistant Plus – a camera-and-radar based system that works over a longer range and at highway speeds. It offers active cruise control, which will maintain a safe distance to vehicles in front. And it offers forward collision warning and full auto-braking at speeds up to 210km/h.

Also optional is lane-change warning, which alerts you to vehicles alongside in a blind spot via a light on the exterior mirror and a vibration through the steering wheel.

Other safety-related options include headlights that dip automatically for oncoming drivers, and that turn with the steering wheel to shine into corners. A Night Vision system picks out with a spotlight roadside pedestrians or animals you may not otherwise see.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

Yes. All X5s turn into corners with authority and deliver generous grip, giving you plenty of confidence on country roads.

However this is a large, heavy SUV. So while even the least costly X5s have enough urge to take you anywhere you need to go, the more powerful variants – from the xDrive 30d up – are a better match for the car’s size and weight, and offer a skilled driver much more entertainment. They also feel more responsive in stop-start urban driving, and more effortless in hilly open-road driving.

Another caveat is the steering. Despite having three levels of assistance to select from, it never provides the very high level of feel you get with some other big premium SUVs.

More generally, the X5 is always going to be hamstrung by weight and its high centre of gravity when it comes to true driving enjoyment. It won’t reward you in the same way that a BMW sports sedan does. But considering what it is and what it’s capable of, there is driving enjoyment to be had.

The all-wheel-drive system fitted to all but one X5 helps the car maintain traction on muddy, snowy or otherwise slippery sealed roads, on gravel roads, and on well-maintained tracks. The X5 does not have the ground clearance, underbody protection or low-range gearing needed for rough off-roading, however. And if you were to get a flat tyre while off the beaten track, you would have to struggle home on the skinny space-saver spare.

How is life in the rear seats?

Very comfortable – which is not surprising, given the car’s size and its luxury positioning. Rear-seat passengers enjoy generous leg room, useful grab handles and ample storage.

Even a middle passenger in the second seat row won’t find conditions too cramped or arduous. Very effective ventilation outlets provide ample airflow. Individual temperature controls for outer rear passengers (called four-zone climate control) are available as an extra-cost option on any variant, and are standard on the M 50d and X5 M.

Two 12V power outlets in the rear console let the kids keep phones and other devices charged over long trips.

As an extra-cost option, BMW also offers rear passengers two 9.2-inch high-resolution screens that are linked to a DVD drive. It will also connect with a games console, USB drive, and headphones.

You can have two folding third-row seats in any model but the X5 M and xDrive 40e, but they are an extra-cost option. And over long distances they will be comfortable only for pre-teens.

How is it for carrying stuff?

Excellent: this is an X5 strength. Even with the second-row seats occupied, there is enough boot space (630 litres, in all but one model) to accommodate most of what a family needs for a long weekend away.

Fold the seats (they split 40/20/40 and lie almost flat) and the cargo space is enlarged to a vast 1720 litres, so that a man’s racing bicycle, or a serious trip to Bunnings, will easily be swallowed.

The loading height of the boot is higher than that of a comparable car-based wagon (such as BMW’s own 535i Touring), which many people prefer when loading bags and groceries.

The model with less boot space is the xDrive 40e, due to the battery pack it hides under the luggage area. This raises the boot floor by 40mm (not really noticeable), and cuts the seats-up cargo compartment to 500 litres – still ample for most people.

A foot-triggered, hands-free opener for the powered tailgate is standard on all X5s.

Legal towing capacity is 2700kg if the trailer has its own brakes – about the norm for a road-oriented big SUV. The X5 could easily tow a jet-ski, a single horse float or a camper trailer, for example.

Where does BMW make the X5?

All X5s are built at BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, Carolina, USA.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Perhaps a more extensive suite of active driving aids. This third-generation X5 is essentially a rebody of the model before it, rather than a clean-sheet design. Some similarly priced but more recently developed alternatives offer the driver more assistance – for example, the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7.

More accommodating third-row seats. Both the XC90 and the Q7 offer third-row seats with more room and easier entry than the X5.

Better ride comfort. The Q7 has a more compliant ride over poor surfaces, especially on its optional air suspension.

You may also find the BMW’s standard interior a little dour compared to the more designer-ish Audi. But you can dress it up with material and trim options.

Are there plans to update the X5 soon?

In 2015, BMW made digital radio and internet functionality standard across this third-generation X5 range. A more extensive upgrade is possible in 2017.

However, an all-new X5 has been seen undergoing tests in prototype form. This fourth-generation X5 is expected for 2018.

A bigger seven-seat SUV, designated the X7, is likely to debut soon after the new X5.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

Easy: The X5 xDrive 30d has more than ample performance, is frugal with fuel, and costs a lot less than the faster xDrive 40d. It is the best-selling X5 in Australia, for good reason.

The second-best seller is also worth careful consideration. It is the least expensive X5, the sDrive 25d. Plenty of people find this rear-drive variant provides perfectly acceptable performance, and the lower price might give you more freedom to tailor the car to your tastes with options.
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Roomy cabin
  •   Seven-seat option
  •   Excellent engines
Not so much
  •   Bumpy ride on big wheels


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