The new BMW X5 packs some more grunt and adds some new tricks to its repertoire

BMW has updated its capable X5 SUV. The upgrades include both cosmetic ones on the outside and in, and those of a mechanical nature under the hood. So, what is this new version like?

Unfortunately, as luck would have it, I get my hands on the new X5 only to get stuck in rush hour traffic. However, because of this, I pay attention to the changes on the inside. The dash is a big step up from the old X5 but it's still typically BMW. There are un-lacquered wood strips across the fascia, on the doorpads and around the gear lever (the ML and the GL were the first to bring this new trim in). The X5’s dash also gets a standalone 10.25-inch iDrive screen and its high-resolution means that the reverse camera view is very clear.

The new X5 is 29mm longer and 5mm wider than the old car but the new, electrically assisted steering makes manoeuvring through traffic rather easy. The front seats are very comfortable, the air-con works rather well and the powerful 3.0-litre diesel motor makes overtaking a breeze.

The parking sensors on the car are over-sensitive though and even if you turn them off, they come back on automatically. Also, the diesel motor is quite gruff at both idle and when trying to overtake in traffic. The eight-speed gearbox, however, is brilliant. It seems to know when you want a downshift or when to

stay in gear, simply by how much throttle you use, and acts immediately and accurately.

The ride is quite decent as well except for sharp bumps, which crash through painfully. However, this may have been because the test car was riding on ultra-low profile Bridgestones tyres mounted on stunning 20-inch rims. The standard wheels should improve ride quality.

The facelifted X5 definitely improves on the car's road presence, with the cosmetic upgrades refreshing its appeal. The bigger headlights that stretch into the bigger grille and a strong shoulder line make it look more grown up – fresh, but not all new, same but different.

The new X5, despite its 2145kg kerb weight (5kg down on the old one), is quick. The turbo-diesel engine now makes 10bhp and 2.1kgm of torque more than before, which lets the X5 do 0-100kph in 7.05 seconds. There’s plenty of power available from the moment you tap the throttle, the midrange is very strong and the engine pulls eagerly all the way to the redline.

In ‘Sport’ or ‘Sport+’ mode, the engine responds quicker, while the steering gets noticeably heavier. In Sport mode, the X5 feels more planted and stable at higher speeds. The X5 now comes standard with air suspension, self-levelling rear-suspension and electronic damper control.

BMW has undertaken quite a few changes under the skin of this updated car. There’s extensive use of ultra high-tensile steel in the monocoque body shell, the bonnet is made of aluminium and the side panels are thermo-plastic. The car has also been made a lot more refined, with less transmission noise filtering through and the new 7-series based seats reducing vibrations.

So, with the evolution to this new avatar, how does driver appeal hold up? Very well actually. For something that weighs north of two tonnes, it will outdrive most regular sedans and that is impressive. Body control is excellent, the steering is direct and weighty enough and it sticks to tarmac, even across wet patches. The latest xDrive system in this car can send 100 percent of the power to either axle and this, along with the dynamic stability control, ensures its sure-footedness even on greasy roads.

However, few buyers here are likely to drive an X5 enthusiastically and they'll be more interested in the rear seats. The middle row is easy to climb into and offers plenty of room. They slide fore and aft and split 40:20:40. What it lacks though is thigh support. Also, the third row is quite difficult to access, cramped and offers a knees-up uncomfortable seating position. You may just prefer folding the third row flat and using the 650 litres of boot space.

As for equipment, it’s got a Harman Kardon sound system, four-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control with braking function. Our car also had a panoramic sunroof and a touch-sensitive iDrive controller that lets you scribble on it to search for functions or type in phone numbers. There's a BMW Apps option that lets you connect to Tunein Radio (an internet-based radio channel that picks up stations from around the world) as well as in-car Facebook and Twitter access.

So the new X5 looks better, there’s more equipment, the interiors are improved and is exciting to drive. Set to launch today and expected to be priced around Rs 70-75 lakh, what you get for the money is an X5 that mixes practicality, fun and polish in one very capable package.

Keywords: BMW X5BMW carsSUVs