The fizzy darkness
Last Wednesday morning at precisely 03h24 I woke up to the sound of pelting rain and a startling realisation: the BMW X5 is a fantastic car. Note the use of the word “car” instead of four-by-four, SUV or other such descriptions.
The Bavarian behemoth is often labelled as one of the world’s most useless 4×4’s, a giant ego extension that can barely get itself up a wet sidewalk. BMW calls their X5 an SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) which should’ve been our first clue. The X5 isn’t rustic enough to be any good at utilitarian tasks.
Instead, it caters for a hugely popular market niche that BMW identified early enough to make some proper bucks. Upwardly mobile middle to upper class families who need space, versatility, luxury, speed and a light sprinkling of occasional off-road use.
The minute I stopped looking at the X5 as a 4×4 / SUV and measured it by these new standards, the penny dropped. Trying to conquer Sani Pass or the Richtersveld in an X5 is just as silly as people (like me) who believed it to be a proper off-roader. It isn’t. It never was and probably never will be.
To which we should quickly add that 4×4’s are only as good as their drivers and, despite the glaring absence of a low range transfer case or locking differential(s), an experienced Bundu Basher may guide the computer-controlled four-wheel-drive X5 further than most of us will believe.
Which still leaves us with a car that looks like a 4×4 but isn’t one – this being my initial gripe. I wanted to proclaim that its road holding is inferior to a similar sedan, but I’d be lying. The X5 is a modern marvel of technology and will, irrespective of trim or engine, probably out-manoeuvre 75% of all sedans on the road.
By now it was 03h26 and the relentless rain reminded me of how planted and responsive the X5 xDrive35i was on our drenched way home. The suspension is taught yet comfy, the interior is luxurious yet uncomplicated, and the engine powerful yet sparing.
Its bulky shape was recently updated and still cuts quite a dashing figure. In the darkness of Tuesday night, a neighbour even mistook my black press demonstrator with its gigantic glass sunroof, modern rear light clusters and blue angel eye headlights for a government car.
And you can’t blame the boys and girls in parliament for craving the blackness of an X5? It has presence, style, sophistication and a split tailgate. The blue propeller badges are just an added extra on a car that caters to your family’s every needs.
All X5’s come with an armada of safety items like ABS brakes with EBD, intelligent stability and traction control programs, hill descent control, brake energy regeneration, and other favourites like its iDrive infotainment system, auto lights and wipers, electric windows and mirrors, remote central locking, cruise and climate control.
Four additional packages and a comprehensive options list let you add (depending on the model) all sorts of gadgets like active steering, sports suspension, parking assist and/or cameras, sunroof, DVD, CD, Xenon lights, clever seats, head-up display, lane assist, lots of shiny metal and a multitude of wheels, trim and paint.
This overwhelming choice is balanced by the X5’s sparing line-up; there are only four (non-M) models to choose from: xDrive35i, xDrive30d, xDrive40d, xDrive50i. The middle models employ a 3-litre turbo-diesel (180kW or 220kW) while last-named uses a 4.4-litre 300kW petrol V8.
Our test model xDrive35i was powered by the now-legendary 3-litre twin-turbo straight six petrol unit churning out 225kW (306hp) or 400Nm. Power is fed through a smooth automatic gearbox with eight (yes, 8) gears to propel it to 100km/h in 6.2 seconds (which we matched) and a top speed of 235km/h.
Just like the double-turbo Z4, this engine reveals a slight turbo-and-auto’box-gap when going from little to full throttle, but once the revs pick up there’s no stopping it. The fizzy response is highly addictive, as is exhaust’s raspy trumpeting when the eager engine smoothly screams to within an inch of 7,000rpm.
All this fizzing didn’t always bode well for our weekly consumption, and although 120km/h means just over 1,500rpm in fifth gear, our average hovered around 13.5L/100km. That’s still impressively low for such a powerful machine and BMW’s claimed 10.1L/100km seems entirely plausible.
The xDrive35i costs N$670,500 excluding CO2 tax and including BMW’s 5-year 100,000km Motorplan and BMW On Call roadside assistance. That’s a lot of money, but the fortunate few who can afford it will enjoy a whole lot of big, versatile, impressive car. Plus the odd sleepless night.
0-100m: 5.8s / 95.7km/h
0-200m: 9.0s / 119.9km/h
0-300m: 11.7s / 135.6km/h
0-400m: 14.2s / 148.0km/h
1/4mile: 14.3s @ 92.2mph (148.3km/h)
Climate Cool, sunny
Road Dry tarmac, level
Occupants Driver, no passengers
Fuel level 1/4