High climber: BMW X5 heads up the brand's X family
In many respects, BMW have a lot to answer for when it comes to car design. While the Bavarian masters are still forging new markets for electric and hybrid cars with their award-winning 'i' range, the company's first foray into a distinctive mass-market sub-brand was marked by the arrival of its 'X' models, which helped usher in the SUV arms race that now shapes our parking lots and highways. The first X car was the X5, released in 1999, a time when BMW was also Lord and master of the Land-Rover brand, the world's long-standing experts in off-roading. As a result, the X5 was capable from the outset, but when the two marques parted company the road was wide open for Land-Rover to head upmarket and for BMW to bolster the dynamic ability of its new SUVs.
Today, everyone's chasing the luxury buyer. The X5's position at the top of the tree has been bolstered by the addition of the smaller X3 and X1 beneath it, while the more outrageous (and unquestionably vulgar) X6 shares much of its components beneath its swooping, fastback bodywork. Of all the X cars, the X5 is probably the best, being big enough to fulfil the duties - load lugging and terrain tackling - of the best 4x4, and sufficiently well styled as to not appear too overbearing. Enthusiasts and extroverts will opt for the X6 or even the X5M, the performance variant that sits at the top of the tree at almost double the price of the base model.
Inside, BMW's IT expertise is very much in evidence - the company is now the one to beat when it comes to delivering a slick, simple and intuitive interface between maps, media and in-car systems. The dashboard is distinguished without being busy and the high driving position and easy ambience of the cabin make this a relaxed, easy car to drive, despite its size. There's even an eDrive plug-in hybrid option that allows you to tap into the company's Wallbox charger - useful if you have an i3 or i8 on the drive. Rumours abound of a forthcoming X7, with possible links to Rolls-Royce's upcoming (but secrecy-shrouded) SUV project. High riding luxury looks set to continue.