YOUR CHOICE: An optional off-road package includes an active rear differential along with four driving modes.
YOUR CHOICE: An optional off-road package includes an active rear differential along with four driving modes.

BMW timed the launch of the original X5 to perfection. The market was ripe for an SUV-like vehicle without the off-roading paraphernalia that most SUVs owners didn’t really use anyway. BMW’s reward was 617,000 units in worldwide sales.

Generation two and three were even more successful. X5 sales total more than 2.1-million units worldwide. But the time has come for version 3 to bow out, which is why I found myself in Atlanta, Georgia, US to sample, first-hand the new fourth-generation X5.

The new model is immediately recognisable as the lead member of the X family (that is until the larger X7 arrives in 2019). It is 36mm longer, 66mm wider and 19mm taller than its predecessor. An extra 42mm has been added to the wheelbase.

The shape retains proportions that go back to the progenitor of the family. The most interesting feature to grace the side view is a rising belt line that forms an "S" on the rear door and terminates in the tail lamps. The rear lights are slim, three dimensional and stretch quite far into the rear door emphasising the width of the car. The overall appearance is fresh and clean but clearly familial.

A rising belt line forms an ‘S’ on the rear door and terminates in the tail lamps. Picture: SUPPLIED
A rising belt line forms an ‘S’ on the rear door and terminates in the tail lamps. Picture: SUPPLIED

Inside, the newcomer is also fresh and neat. Two colour display screens handle vehicle information and infotainment duties. The latter has been redesigned and features BMW’s latest 7.0 operating system. New software allows for more customisation. The raft of optional electronic systems range from passive and active safety systems to a light form of autonomous driving (only available in the US and China) to BMW’s Connected Drive functionality.

A newly designed centre console has flat-surfaced, high-gloss buttons. Premium materials abound and owners can option everything from open-pore wood to metal for the trim. The wheelbase extension does create more rear legroom. BMW claims boot volume of 650l, expandable with the 40:20:40-split rear seats stowed. An additional pair of seats can be added.

When the model is launched in November only two derivatives will be available: X30d and X50d, at R1,194,296 and R1,502,582, respectively. Both variants feature turbo diesel engines that displace 3.0l. The 30d produces 195kW with 620Nm torque while the quad-turbo 50d punches out 294kW and 760Nm. Power is delivered to all four wheels via an eight-speed auto transmission.

We drove the X30d to our midway point. With more than 600Nm the motor is a peach. Speed limits in this part of the world are quite low so the punchy motor was hardly doing much work as max torque is delivered at just 2,000r/min.

The infotainment has been redesigned and features BMW’s latest operating system. Picture: SUPPLIED
The infotainment has been redesigned and features BMW’s latest operating system. Picture: SUPPLIED

A new addition for the fourth-generation X5 is the option of an off-road package. This includes an active rear differential (the same one as in an M-sport package) with four modes with preset algorithms for aspects such as the transmission, ride height and dynamic stability control. Through the wooded countryside we got to utilise the limited slip differential, adjustable ride height and hill-descent control.

Even muddy slopes were handled with ease, on road tyres, thanks to the variable all-wheel drive torque split. At times we even had to call on the active rear-wheel steering to negotiate obstacles. I suspect few owners will ever venture far off the tar.

We swapped over to the 50d for the return journey, which consisted of a circuitous route and a variety of roads through "Middle America". The 50d feels mightily quick. Despite weighing more than two tonnes the 760Nm version feels hot-hatch quick in a straight line. It can tackle corners with verve. With active rear steering and the limited slip differential the X50d can be hustled along through twistier turns. The power delivery is so strong you often find yourself in a higher gear than expected.

BMW has managed to attain its conflicting aims of making the fourth-generation X5 more comfortable and more capable. These improvements, with the tech-heavy mod-cons, do come at a price.