BMW X5 drive in Atlanta: Time to level up

By GEORGE WONG | 13 June 2019


Lo and behold, the all-new BMW X5 is coming to Malaysia in August. And it so happened we had driven it last year.

We got acquainted with the fourth-generation SUV in Atlanta last September, and it subsequently had its global debut two months later. It is available from launch with a choice of a V8 and three six-cylinder in-line engines that include oil burners.

Incidentally, the first-gen E53 X5 made its world debut in Atlanta.

It was only 20 years ago that BMW started making the X5 — its first SUV or SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) as it likes to call it. Time flies, and now the latest G05 X5 will make its official debut on local shores in less than three months.

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Atlanta, home to Coca Cola and Delta Air Lines, is a little under 3 hours’ drive from Spartanburg, South Carolina, the global hub for the production of the X-Series vehicles. The Spartanburg plant happens to be BMW's biggest facility in its global manufacturing network, and from where 70% of production vehicles are exported.

As the outgoing X5 is still a pretty nice rig, what has the new one got to offer?

In its latest form, the X5 has more of what matters. It has racked up more luxury, more tech, more safety on top of improved offroad capabilities. That last bit is especially noteworthy. Since its inception in 1999, the X5 has been more of a luxury road runner than off-road warrior.

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But 2018 changed perception. It picked up new offroad skills, resulting in “a more balanced package”.

Because few X5 owners (we can’t think of any) would actually subject it to such brutal punishment as the Rainforest Challenge, the Offroad package is optional. But the fact it’s available - for the first time in any X model in fact - says the X5 can handle some serious offroading when push comes to shove.

To show how the X5 has changed over the years, BMW also presented the first three-generation X5s – the E53, E70 and F15 – on the side lines. Also on static display was a prototype G05 plug-in hybrid - the xDrive45e iPerformance - whose Li-ion battery has been upgraded for increased electric range. It also gets more cylinder count than the previous xDrive40e, switching from a 4-potter to an inline six for more power and performance. The production hybrid will be ready in the coming weeks.

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Start outside

As is typical of SUV evolution, the X5 has grown bigger with each generation. In the latest round, it's also all the better to fit two more passengers in third row as an option to make this a 7-seater.

The new X5 shares the modular BMW Cluster Architecture or CLAR with many current models; count X3, X4, X7, 5 Series, 7 Series and 8 Series in.

On the styling front, the new X5 exterior looks more mature and better sorted out. Clean surfacing and precise lines highlight its modernity and robustness. Bonnet creases make the vehicle appear more muscular.

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You will know this is the latest X5 simply because it has the biggest BMW kidney grille in an X5 to date. It's a one-piece surround unlike before. BMW has already made it a point to make the grilles of some of its biggest models as outsized as possible, starting with the X Series and the 7 Series. So whether you like it or not, it's here to stay.

LED headlights are standard but BMW Laserlight with Adaptive LED Headlights can be specified as an option to optimise the high beam function.

Enhancing the look is a character line on the flanks that rises up at the rear door and feeds into the rear LED lights that adopt a sleek 3D-look.

The sportiest X5 will be able to run on up to 22-inch wheels, making it the first BMW model to do so.

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Jump in

BMW whipped up more changes inside.

With a 42mm longer wheelbase now, the cabin (now 2,975mm) is bigger and a much nicer place for driver and passengers with poshness level up substantially and features that are in-trend with what BMW has to offer across its product line-up.

Adopting the “less is more” principle, BMW has revised the dashboard with a clear, layered approach for a cleaner look. It now seems like there are fewer buttons to fiddle with.

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The 12.3-inch centre display with crisp graphics is also placed closer to the same-sized instrumentation cluster that is now the all-digital Live Cockpit Professional, designed to adapt better to individual driver needs. BMW offers a multitude of ways for the driver to interact with the infotainment system such as via the steering wheel buttons, iDrive Controller, the touchscreen display, voice control or gesture control.

On the fun side, the standard “Hey BMW” voice control can be personalised to, for example, “Hey Kereta” if you are so inclined.

The head-up display unit has also been upgraded, offering a larger projection area on top of new display content and optimised graphics.

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Sweeping horizontal lines and electroplated trim elements emphasise the girth and elegance of the cabin. And with its large trim finisher and surrounds likewise made up of electroplated elements, the centre console – rising up to the instrument panel – also contributes to the handsome overall impression.

A new Vernasca variant forms part of the standard leather upholstery. Other new features designed to maximise well-being on board include multifunction seats, cooled/heated cupholders, the panorama glass roof Sky Lounge, Dynamic Interior Light, and glass applications for selected controls. In addition, a Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System and Rear-seat entertainment Professional system with 10.2-inch touchscreen display can also be ordered to jazz up the cabin further.

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Folding down the 40 : 20 : 40 split rear seat backrest increases boot capacity from 650 litres to a maximum 1,860 litres.

A third row of seats for two more passengers can be specified, an option available since the second-gen X5. As in third-row seats in many other vehicles, these are essentially for small children as they are not comfortable for average-sized adults on long trips. However, getting into third row is a little easier now with electrically operated second row seats.

The new X5 also has a two-section tailgate for ease of loading. If the optional Comfort Access is installed, both sections can be opened and closed automatically and hands-free. The optional two-axle air suspension allows the loading sill to be lowered. Adding to the luxury amenity is a boot cover that can be lowered electrically into the load compartment floor.

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Aids everywhere

The whole point of generational changes is to improve the breed and stay in the game. The latest X5 does that.

It's the first X model to get a host of chassis system upgrades such as two-axle air suspension, Integral Active Steering and an Off-Road package to enhance the car’s versatility, dynamic ability and comfort levels.

Driver assistance systems have been expanded to include Driving Assistant Professional and Parking Assistant Plus with Reversing Assistant.

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The latest BMW Operating System 7.0 is aboard, and works closely with the all-digital display to optimise attention control. The systems software, which makes its debut in the new X5, is characterised by a clear presentation and structuring, plus customisable and personalised displays, to provide drivers with the right information at the right time.

The SUV comes standard with Dynamic Damper Control, while Adaptive M suspension Professional with active roll stabilisation and Integral Active Steering - making its debut in an X model - allows for more agile and sportier driving.

The two-axle air suspension caters to those seeking greater ride comfort and also allows the vehicle height to be adjusted by up to 80mm at the touch of a button or using the included BMW Display Key.

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If the Off-Road package is installed, a separate button gives drivers the choice of four driving modes, allowing them to activate the ideal settings for the vehicle's ride height, the xDrive system, the car's accelerator response and transmission control, and the DSC system's corrective inputs in preparation for driving on different types of terrain.

The G05 X5 moves the model closer to automated driving with an increased spread of driver assistance systems available. Among them are Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, the Steering and lane control assistant, Lane Change Warning and Lane Departure Warning, Lane Change Assistant, Lane Keeping Assistant with side collision protection and evasion aid, Crossing traffic warning, Priority warning and Wrong-way warning. The Parking Assistant now takes over acceleration and braking duties as well as steering.

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Another aspect of automated driving is the Reversing Assistant. This system takes over steering to manoeuvre the vehicle along a path recently negotiated forward. This system makes reversing for a distance of up to 50 metres much easier such as when backing up to a parking spot.

The new X5 does its part in a medical crisis with an Emergency Stop Assistant, which brings the car safely to a standstill if the driver gets into a situation like a heart attack. It can even call for help if the built-in SIM card is used.

Providing connectivity between the car and digital devices is a cloud-based BMW Connected personal mobility assistant.

A BMW Connected app makes it possible to lock/unlock the car with a smartphone ala digital key, making the new X5 the first BMW model to do so. It only works with selected smartphones for now.

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Choice made

We chose the BMW X5 xDrive40i as our ride as this is the version that’s coming to Malaysia as previewed locally in M Sport gear last month at an estimated price of RM640,000. It will pave the way for the plug-in hybrid to be introduced in 2020. The 40i is expected to be the volume seller in other markets as well.

For the more ambitious who demand the sportiest, BMW offers the V8-based M50d and its upcoming petrol counterpart that should appease before the X5 M shows up.

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The 40i test unit came in xLine trim and was dirt-ready with the optional Offroad package, that adds air suspension, automatic locking-rear differential, underbody shielding, and four offroad modes to tackle sand, snow, gravel and rocks.

The 40i's 3.0-litre turbocharged straight 6 makes 340hp and 450Nm of torque, available from a lowly 1,500rpm.

Power is relayed to the wheels with the latest ZF 8-speeder that boasts new control electronics and wider ratio spread.

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Offroad

Ground clearance is an important consideration in offroading. The Offroad package can automatically adjust it; it can also be manually set via a button in the centre console. The ride height can be increased in two stages up to 40mm above the standard setting.

The package ties in with the hill descent control system and the exterior cameras that lets driver see all-around to avoid obstacles when the X5 is navigating up or down steep slopes.

The offroad course at Painted Rock Farm outside Atlanta was suitable challenge for the likes of Land Rovers, with its varied terrain that snaked through the Chattahoochee National Forest.

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There were 45-degree descents, streams to cross and slippery, rutted trails and uneven surfaces to roll over. Squeezing between obstacles while scaling rocky terrain was part of the deal.

BMW was eager to show how offroad-capable the X5 was. With DSC off, transmission in M2, Rock mode on and suspension raised, off we went into the muck.

It was more like crawling in a convoy with the instructor in the lead car barking orders through the walkie-talkie. The higher ground clearance helped the X5 surmount uneven terrain peppered with jagged rocks that could easily tear at the car's underbody.

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There were moments when the wheels were caught in muddy ruts but the X5 managed to wiggle its way out with controlled throttle input and the all-wheel drive with rear differential lock that shunted optimal power between the rear wheels.

At one corner, we had to wriggle through a gap between two trees but we pulled through without denting the X5 body, assisted by the Integral Active Steering that worked the rear wheels to reduce the turning radius.

The hill descent control did a reassuring job moving the X5 down a steep slope while driver provided steering input. Going up a slippery slope? No problem. Step on the gas and up you go with the torquey engine and all-wheel drive maximising grip.

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Crossing shallow streams or creeks was uneventful; we were half-hoping for deeper waterways with fast-flowing current, as that was supposed to automatically make the X5 close the grille shutters as it forges across to protect the engine from being swamped. No such fun in our case.

Harrowing moments there were, but the X5 tackled the course confidently.

As effective as the Offroad package is for rugged pursuits, we believe there will be few takers for it. Most X5 owners will be content to drive without the extra-cost option simply because they are not interested in offroading in such an expensive SUV.

The demo is at best an indication of the X5's improved offroad capability rather than a challenge to the still-superior skills of the Land Rover clan in the wild.

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Onroad

On paved roads in and out of Atlanta, the 2.1-tonne X5 is a picture of composure as it fires on all cylinders.

With bigger space and more refined interior appointments than the F15, the new X5 is a lovely spot to sit in for a few good hours, made more delightful by a hushed cabin on account of the acoustic-glass windscreen.

While the air suspension has its place in offroad escapades, it makes for a plush ride on asphalt in Comfort setting, isolating potholes and other uneven surfaces well - even on 21-inch mixed run-flat tyres!

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The 340hp/450Nm six-cylinder mill is ultra smooth, supported by a highly competent, quick-shifting gearbox.

There's ample power to play with. Plus, the low and mid-range torque is linear and impressive.

Work the X5 harder and the engine noise seeps into the cabin but in a good way, as there's a sweet resonance to it.

Steering is well-weighted but light by default. Switch to Sport mode on small and winding roads and the suspension stiffens up along with a sharpened steering and reduced body roll.

The rear-wheel steering in low-speed turns makes the big X5 more agile than it looks, though at times it felt skittish.

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On-road, the electronically-controlled rear differential lock aids to a sporty drive, apportioning power dynamically between the rear wheels when the rubbers are running on surfaces offering differing levels of grip.

If manually choosing the drive modes is too much of a bother, turn on Adaptive mode and the X5 will do it on the fly. It works the dampers, the steering and transmission and continually adapts the settings to suit the current driving situation independent of what mode you had initially set.

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Braking performance is worth a mention. The M Sport brakes are effective stoppers, feeling natural and progressive with none of the grabby sensation felt in some cars.

On the way back to Atlanta for the vehicle drop-off, we ran into a navigational glitch. At one point in the city, the pre-set navigation kept making us go round in a loop at a stretch of the highway. Retracing our route before the glitch happened seemed to clear up the system fog, and it was able to finally lead us to our intended destination.

Oh well, nothing's perfect. BMW will make running adjustments as and when issues arised.

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Wrapping up

Over 2.2 million units of the X5 have been sold since 1999. It is a testament of its allure.

The newest X5 out of Spartanburg is a much more advanced and sophisticated animal, which endows it with new levels of comfort, luxury and refinements. The keener offroad capability helps but we don't expect Malaysian buyers to see that as the trigger to handing over hard cash.

It's all the other stuff that matter more ultimately.



SPECIFICATIONS

BMW X5 xDrive40i

Engine: 2,998cc, inline 6 cylinder, TwinPower Turbo
Maximum power: 340hp at 5,500rpm
Maximum torque: 450Nm from 1,500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed Steptronic
Offroad: Approach/departure angle (degree): 25.2 / 22.3; breakover angle (20.2); unladen ground clearance (214mm); fording depth at 7kph (500mm)
Features (as tested): Adaptive 2-axle air suspension, Remote Engine Start, Sport leather steering wheel, M Sport Brakes, M sport differential, Integral Active Steering, Comfort access, Rear view camera, xOffroad package, Panorama glass roof, Roller sunblind, rear side windows, Luggage-compartment package, Active Cruise Control, Steering and lane control assistant, Lane Change Warning and Lane Departure Warning, cross traffic alert, Parking Assistant, Reversing Assistant, 21-inch light alloy wheels with mixed runflat tyres
Acceleration (0-100kph): 5.5s
Top speed: 243kph
Fuel consumption (combined): 8.8l/100km
Price (estimated OTR without insurance): RM640,000* (equipment list varies from test unit)
Available: August 2019

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