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Contrast BMW’s first diesel X5 from 2002 with today’s new X5 25d. The earlier model featured a 3.0-litre six-cylinder producing peak power of 135kW and 390Nm of torque. In 2014 the F15 series X5 introduces a sequentially-turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel rated at 160kW and 450Nm. BMW is marketing the new engine in both four- and rear-wheel drive variants from $82,900 (plus on-road costs).

So this new X5 is the first to offer rear wheel drive, and the first four-cylinder model also. Right away you’re probably thinking words to the effect of “What’s the point?”.

Okay, so the point is this: it’s cheaper to buy as a rear-driver, it remains as enjoyable and safe to drive as other BMWs but with a slightly different character to it, and it will execute 95 per cent of the tasks that 95 per cent of X5 owners will ever ask of it. It will tow 2.7 tonnes, for example; it will seat five, but can also be ordered with (optional) third-row seating, as another example.

BMW_X5_interior

And the new engine will be strong enough and sufficiently exploitable for the vast majority of owners, as we learned from a drive program through the picturesque Victorian countryside to the north and west of Melbourne Airport.

The two-litre four-cylinder diesel under the bonnet was an unexpectedly sporty powerplant. Push the accelerator all the way to the floor and the engine revved to a 5000rpm redline, feeling strong and lively from just below 4000rpm, where the engine would quickly recommence building a head of steam after each upshift.

Allied with this engine, and due partly to the engine’s power delivery characteristics, the smooth-shifting ZF eight-speed automatic transmission felt like a close-ratio box. Fuel consumption over the course of the drive program was 7.5L/100km, which was helped by the idle stop-start system fitted as standard. Systems such as this struggle with restarting a diesel engine without shaking loose the fillings in your teeth, but the X5’s new engine coped reasonably well.

For a car as generously proportioned as the X5, it felt small and nimble on the road.

For a car as generously proportioned as the X5, it felt small and nimble on the road. The standard suspension worked overtime on lumpy bitumen roads like those around Daylesford. That’s not to say the ride was firm for the sake of firmness. In fact the ride was compliant but not acquiescent. The xDrive25d (four-wheel drive) variant was riding on 18-inch alloys and there was marginally more give in the higher-profile sidewalls than those of the 20-inch tyres optionally fitted to the sDrive25d (rear-wheel drive), but few would pick the difference.

Nor would many pick the difference in cornering between the rear-wheel drive model and the four-wheel drive. On the road the sDrive25d was as dynamically dependable as the four-wheel drive xDrive25d variant. On unsealed roads, the all-paw model was fun to drive and encouraged the driver to flick the big SUV into corners with tail out – easily straightened with the application of power, which would cancel the stability control’s intervention. But leave power off and the safety nanny always worked the brakes to right the tail-out attitude.

BMW-X5-wheel

Having previously driven a BMW X5 xDrive30d, I found the steering of the four-cylinder diesel felt very light by comparison. According to Scott Croaker, BMW’s Product Communications Manager, the X5 is 75kg lighter over the front wheels with the four-cylinder fitted, in lieu of the in-line six. The light steering was particularly noticeable with the BMW Driving Experience control set to Comfort. There’s more weight through the wheel by switching to Sport, but after a while even that setting began to feel almost unnaturally light. Target buyers will probably adjust quickly to the lightness and contrived feel from the electric assistance, however.

BMW has managed to suppress NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) from the tyres over all but the coarsest of hot mix sections of road, and the engine cannot be heard at open-road speeds.

Packaging was practically identical to that of the six-cylinder models. Both cars driven were five-seaters, and the cabin was roomy enough for adults front and rear, even with an optional panoramic sunroof fitted. The front seats were very comfortable pews, but provided excellent support and held the occupants very securely in place even when the driver was hurling the X5 around. Order the X5 with the third-row seat option for $4600 and it gains self-levelling air suspension to handle significant extra weight – BMW presuming that all seven seats will be occupied often enough to warrant that added facility.

gears

Two minor grizzles: The window switch for the front passenger was a stretch to reach, being located far forward on the armrest. And there was a buzzing vibration from a woodgrain trim piece on the dash over some rougher sections of (sealed) road.

And despite the perception this is an affordable car for its specification – and that’s basically true – it’s up against some highly capable competition for around the same money, or less. And some models in competition with the BMW can go off-road for the money.

All up, however, the X5 with the new engine is a winner, with the only question remaining: when will it trickle through to other BMW models?

2014 BMW X5 25d

Price: $82,900 (X5 sDrive25d) / $87,900 (X5 xDrive25d)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Output: 160kW/450Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel: 5.8L/100km (X5 sDrive25d) / 6.0L/100km (X5 xDrive25d)
CO2: 152g/km (X5 sDrive25d) / 157g/km (X5 xDrive25d)
Safety Rating: TBA

What we liked:
>> Diesel’s power delivery
>> Agile handling on-road
>> Great presentation

Not so much:
>> Minor ergonomic issues
>> Minor trim rattles
>> Pricing once optioned

This story first appeared in motoring.com.au

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