It is hard to imagine that it's already time for a new BMW X5 to drive in. Seems like yesterday that I was in Vancouver, Canada to test the 3rd gen car, and now here I am in Atlanta, in America's 'peach state' Georgia, to test-drive the new 4th generation model. The car is made in BMW's Spartanburg, South Carolina plant but that's not why the drive is in the US. Nope, it harks back to the first gen X5 drive having taken place here - and that for some reason BMW has only stuck to Olympic hosting cities since, that has brought me to Atlanta - the 1996 Summer Olympics host city. Oh in case you're wondering, Vancouver hosted the 2010 winter games, and the second gen X5 drive was in Athens, which played host in 2004. Okay trivia done; let's get to the car itself! The new X5 will straight away remind you of the last car, and BMW has not gone in any radical new styling direction.
The face gets the new massive kidney grille (yes it really is a bit too large even in person, but you get used to it quickly enough!), and the new headlamp cluster which includes laser light tech and the new 'open' twin rings with the blue 'X' element within them. We have seen that on the recent X models, and it does make the car look appealing and give it a sense of being progressive and modern.
The side flanks sees a lot of distinct metal play, with an angular line coming off the wheel arch rising into the front door. And there is the prominent shoulder line adding muscle to the car, as it travels through the rear door handles and then curves upwards to finish in to the taillight. That curve - very non-BMW like, and so it is a new direction perhaps.
The rear certainly is a very direction, with a horizontal, slimmer layout. The split taillights of yore - a defining character for BMWs once - have gone and you get a congruous wrap around treatment. The corners have an L shaped LED element that will make the X5 recognisable on the road at night. The electric split tailgate is cool, and the boot gives you 650-1870 litres of space.
The X5 is being offered with two diesel and two petrol engines for starters and there will be a plug-in hybrid coming next year. That's the global portfolio though, and India is likely to get one petrol and one diesel at the start. India will get the X5 xDrive 40i too, with a 3.0 litre in-line 6 petrol engine that makes 333 bhp. But I had the pick of the lot which will likely be most relevant for India - the X5 xDrive 30d. The 3-litre inline-6 makes 261 horses and delivers a healthy 620 Nm.
This is essentially a tweaked version of the last X5's 3 litre diesel, and you can do 0-100 kmph in 6.5 seconds. There is enough power and torque here, and yet somehow the car seems a tad less eager than the last one. Lag is reduced now though and the power delivery is more linear. So it's ironic how the engine comes across as more refined and yet less punchy all at once.
You also still get the same 8-Speed gearbox that remains quick, smooth and effective. If you downshift manually you do get a better response, especially if you're in Sport mode. The engine may be the same, but its exhaust note is reworked. I liked its revvy growl, though many others on our drive rotation did not - so that's going to be an individual preference, or not! I really liked the sound, and it egged me on to push the car harder.
But that rarely happened sadly, as the drive route was not conducive to fun driving. Driving through some suburbs of Atlanta and then some bit of rural Georgia was largely dull, impeded further by slow moving traffic. Some bits through forested areas did give me some bursts of fun, with some winding roads also thrown in for good measure. But while that was fun, it also exposed the car's weaknesses in my book. The handling is good, but not as good as the last car's. While there is ample agility, the athleticism is a touch lacking. And then there is the slightly increased roll when the car is in Comfort mode.
The twin axle air suspension on the 2019 BMW X5 lets you adjust the ride height
Where it also helps is when you take the X5 off-road. And this is where the compromise in dynamic performance starts to fade away. The new X5 is definitely more capable when you take it away from tarmac, compared to the previous one.
The X5 finally gets terrain modes - sand, rock, gravel or snow. We went in to a forest reserve with the car, and since it had rained the previous day the surface was sticky, slippery and nicely muddy! I selected the X-Rocks mode which raises the car by 40 mm over the standard 214 mm clearance. And it along with other on-board electronics like the hill descent control, variable torque and active steering - as well as the front view camera, made climbing, descending, stream bed crossing, and generally twisting through the trees quite a breeze.
Yes the X5 is now more capable as an off-roader, and it offers you good traction, grip and even a decent wading capability. But don't start comparing it with the hard-core 4X4s just yet! Especially if you opt for the new 22" wheel option - a first for the X5 model line!
Inside the car the cabin is all new. There is not a sense of enhanced space, though you won't find it cramped for sure. There is the option of the third row of seats, and getting there is easier with row 2 now folding up electrically to allow access to the rear. The dash is slim, fresh and very stylish. There's a 12.3" screen in the console and another one that makes up the instrument cluster. I have the say latter is crisp, sexy and very new - a big change for BMW as far as virtual clusters go, and well executed. The same is true of the all-new interface on the infotainment screen.
Powered by BMW's iDrive 7.0, we finally see a whole new level of touchscreen functionality with quick swipes and easier access - with better graphics too. There is a glass finish applied to the gear shift, volume control, iDrive controller and the start stop button.
Me, I found that a bit cheesy but I reckon our home audience will love it. Wireless charging (optional), plenty of USB charging points, including 2 in the back, cup holders up front with a cooling or heating function, are some of the many goodies you get.
Front seats with heating, ventilation and massage functionality and a Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System with 20 speakers and 1500 watt output - wait you're still not impressed? Okay the 7-Series lends its ambient air package, ambient lighting, and even the panorama glass roof that has the sky lounge feature with led graphics embedded inside the glass - are all available on the new X5. Phew!
So the new X5 is an athletic, ample, abundant new SUV for the affluent. The car is better in almost all respects and promises to establish some new benchmarks. I am keen to spend more time with the petrol and also use the 3-row version a bit before I can finally say I have thoroughly tested it. But spending the many hours driving it here in Georgia has given me enough confidence to say that BMW has done enough to worry rivals.
And now I wonder what the X7 will further add to BMW's X family when it comes out next year. Meanwhile, the new BMW X5 will arrive in India only late next year. But 2019 promises to bring us lots of bimmer SUVs - the X5 of course, the X4 and also maybe the X2. Lots to look forward to then!