I have divided opinions on cars like the one I’m reviewing this week. They tend to be among the largest on the road but driven by people in suburbia who, it appears to me, do an inordinate amount of shopping/meeting for coffee where road-and-parking space is at a premium.
The sort of cars I’m talking about include this week’s review motor, the new BMW X5, and the likes of the Audi Q7, Range Rover/Sport, Volvo XC90, Lexus RX, etc. You need €100,000 or so to buy some if, as is the custom, you add a few little bits and bobs.
On the other hand, one of my new-year wishes for you is that you will be able to afford a car like the X5. There is no doubting how good they can be. I’ve been accused of having a split personality on them in the past. This had me at odds with myself for long passages, too.
Look, you don’t need a car like this. It’s big, bulky, expensive and much more. But a bit like all the chocolates disposed of in the not-too-distant past, weaning can be difficult once a taste has been acquired.
Mind you, my appetite wasn’t whetted by pictures of the X5. Same again, I told myself, inwardly criticising BMW for disregarding how quickly the previous model looked dated. But this was different in the flesh. From side-on it had Range Rover sloped-roof looks. Inside was a sweep of plush leather, striking cabin design, focussed interactive screen, sumptuous space (with the option of a third row of seats).
The lower portion of the rear tailgate folds out so you can load your golf clubs and expensive trinkets more easily. God forbid you should strain yourself. The upgraded 8spd Steptronic transmission and latest xDrive all-wheel-drive were there to take any little bit of effort out of securely shifting this big SAV (they insist it is a Sport Activity Vehicle not a Sport Utility Vehicle: adds to the snob value).
Meantime, under the bonnet was the tiger-purr power of a wonderful 3-litre diesel engine. What wasn’t to like?
Well, there’s the price for starters. It’s €100,000 in reality (my test car ran to €125,000 – absolutely ridiculous). How can it be worth that? The simple answer, as ever, is it is worth it to those who can afford it. It’s an astounding lump of money, but before you go somewhere else with your Lotto win, don’t expect the competition to be dramatically different.
And, as if the previous model wasn’t big enough, this X5 has a 42mm longer wheelbase; stretches an additional 36mm and is 66mm wider/19mm higher. A big car just got bigger.
It is impossible to say how much of a price rise is involved because comparing brand new, more equipment, etc with old is impossible – but there is a few grand for sure.
On the other side of the brain, meanwhile… I luxuriated in the leather as I set off to do what I believe a car like this is primarily made for – to be driven. Properly driven.
It is not for swinging around narrow country roads – it occupied nearly the entire width of one in north Wicklow. But on the open road – what a joy.
My trepidation with narrow parking slots grows apace but the display was brilliant for several testing manoeuvres. I’m at the stage now where I could hardly park a MINI without a reversing camera or sensors of some kind. Like the sweet items of recent consumption, our expectation of having things done for us increases disproportionately.
Which is something that is hugely important in how instruments and controls are laid out, considering the level of interaction in modern cars. The controls were excellent in this. Worthy of particular mention was the Voice Control. It was brilliant in deciphering my phone-call requests unerringly. This is the way to a distraction-free future; not having to take one’s eyes off the road.
Which is something I rarely did while driving this. I’d say the handling was a little more neutral than I expected though I enjoyed my drives immensely. I don’t need the extra two seats but they’d be a wise addition if you have even occasional requirements. Only, I think, competitors cover that ground better – the XC90, Audi Q7 being cases in point.
So overall, I have divided opinions on this large SAV. I couldn’t help but thoroughly enjoy a car packed with technology, a brilliant drive but it is way overpowered and too large for much of the use to which it is put.
Not that any of my ramblings count. If you have the capability of fulfilling expectations at that level, anything else is a disappointment. So here’s to great expectations for 2019.
Facts & figures
BMW X5 xDrive30d M Sport SAV auto
Tested: €125,798. Price from mid-€90ks. Tax: €570.
Spec included sweep of active and passive safety systems, M Sport Package, 2-axle air suspension, electric heated, front seats, parking assistant, BMW online services, ivory white Merino leather, 21ins alloys, acoustic glazing, auto air con, panoramic glass sunroof, visibility package, technology package.