The tech-driven BMW X5 demonstrates diesel in its best light
What exactly is a Sports Utility Vehicle and is it conceivably relevant in today’s world? New car buyers seem to think so, the plusher the better; in the UK, the market for luxury SUVs rose by a fifth last year against an overall downturn in car sales. The esoteric blend of ‘sports’ and ‘utility’ continues to enthral those wedded to the idea that a car should be a Swiss Army knife, capable of literally any conceivable scenario. The cliché is that such big, capable cars inevitably spend their lives schlepping around cities, not towing trailers, fording rivers or traversing continents.
The BMW X5 is a prime example. The original was one of the first premium SUVs, developed back in the late 1990s when BMW had access to the parts and expertise of one its subsidiaries, a small company called Rover. The X5 didn’t exactly tread on the Range Rover’s toes, although it borrowed a fair bit of its ethos; in the long run it has probably helped it by bolstering the SUV’s solidly upmarket image. This is the fourth generation X5, launched late in 2018, and expected to add to the 2.2m already sold. In every sense, it is bigger and plusher than before and although the requisite off-road hardware is installed, the X5 is pitched firmly at the open road.
It’s also a diesel (petrol is also available, and there’ll eventually be a hybrid). As the next decade looms, a consensus seems to be emerging; diesel is a fuel best-suited for agriculture and industry, not for city-bound passenger cars. Emissions testing scandals, the rampant problem of urban pollution and the ever-increasing efficiency of electric vehicles is pushing this century-old technology into a corner. Sales are falling, public and political opinion is swinging. Ironically, the modern auto diesel engine is as clean and efficient as it has ever been, but it is a beast of some complexity. Most large modern diesel engines are still far more efficient than their petrol counterparts, but the downside is the maintenance required to keep a lid on emissions.
Straight out of the box, then, the X5 30d would appear to face many challenges. It also has to be reported that it is not a thing of beauty. BMW’s signature kidney grille is currently on a quest for world domination, growing in size with each new model, while the scalloped sides and angular vents also do little to disguise the car’s size, but the upside is that the interior is spacious, bright and filled with mature, easy-to-use technology.
BMW pioneered modern interface design and it’s fitting that the X5 should have one of the best. A full suite of digital instruments is supplemented by a comprehensive head up display, with touchscreen and gesture control thrown in for good measure. The car also carries the latest set of BMW’s semi-autonomous driving assistance systems, which supplement cruise control and make motorway driving a breeze with the engine humming along near silently in the background.
The Traffic Jam Assistant is designed to take the stress out of bumper to bumper ‘driving’ by delegating low speed stop, start and follow driving. Finally, and thankfully, given its size, the X5 is festooned with cameras and sensors, turning parking into a multi-shot cinematic adventure.
This combination of technology, space and comfort does wonders for the X5, as well as demonstrating diesel in its very best light. Coming very soon is the even larger X7, as well as a revised 7-Series. Will they simply be more of the same? For although the X5 is a long-distance cruiser of exceptional poise, its abilities will need to be repackaged in a far more innovative way for the next generation automobile to truly arrive. §