The BMW X5 sDrive25d represents a significant shift in dynamic thinking from the German car maker in an effort to make the large SUV greener.
As the sDrive tag suggests, its rear wheels are driven rather than all four, as with xDrive versions. It also uses the four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine found in other BMW models, albeit with 215bhp, and an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard.
The same 2.0-litre engine is also available with four-wheel drive, but the rear-drive version weighs 45kg less and puts out 5g/km of CO2 less, which may not sound much but drops company car drivers into a lower tax bracket (a 40% tax payer will owe £353 a month, compared with £387 for the xDrive25d). Add the fact it’s up to £3070 cheaper to buy in sDrive guise and it looks very tempting to private and business drivers alike.
What’s the 2014 BMW X5 sDrive25d like to drive?
BMW used to be at the forefront of four-cylinder diesel refinement, but we were rather concerned when we heard the X5 sDrive25d was getting a similar unit to that used in the 2 and 3 Series. It's gruff in those cars and vibrations make their way into the cabins.
Start the X5’s engine, though, and things are much more refined. It’s still obviously a diesel, but engine is noise is quieter than in its saloon and hatchback siblings.
Put your foot down and engine noise remains acceptable. Sure, there’s some background ‘dirge’ but it’s well muted, even under hard acceleration, there is quite a bit of wind and road noise at higher speeds.
At 2070kg, the sDrive might be lighter than the xDrive, but it’s still a weighty thing. Fortunately, the engine has enough poke to keep the X5 moving along at a respectable pace; the excellent auto ’box shifts gears so slickly you rarely need to take control via the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
Our test car did without the optional Adaptive Comfort Suspension, and still did a respectable job of keeping body movements in check and stop poorly surfaced roads upsetting occupants, so we'd suggest you're better off leaving that box unticked.
In day to day driving you’re unlikely to know that only the rear wheels are driven. Traction on dry roads rarely becomes an issue, although off-road ability is likely to be compromised.
If anything, the steering – which fails to impress in four-wheel-drive X5s – is slightly improved as it feels crisper on turn-in.
What’s the 2014 BMW X5 sDrive25d like inside?
It’s business as usual, which is good news. Rivals such as the Range Rover Sport offer slightly more space for occupants and their luggage, but lanky adults will still have enough room to sprawl out.
The driving position is hard to fault. All-round visibility is decent and the standard leather seats are comfortable and supportive. True, taller drivers may wish the steering wheel dropped a little lower, but there's plenty of headroom, so you can jack the driver's seat up enough for this not to be an issue.
Cabin quality has been taken up a notch, too. Some of the switchgear has been carried over from the previous X5, but the interior plastics and optional extra leather feel that bit classier.
The X5 also gets BMW’s latest iDrive system. This features a large, easy-to-read display and an intuitive rotary dial controller. Sat-nav and a 20GB hard drive for music are fitted as standard.
Entry-level SE models come with all the kit you’re likely to need, including climate and cruise controls, a DAB radio, metallic paint, front and rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, and xenon headlights. M Sport trim adds bigger (19-inch) alloys, adaptive sports suspension, electric front sports seats and sportier styling.
Should I buy one?
Until the sDrive25d came along, the cheapest X5 you could buy was the xDrive30d SE, at £47,900. That’s £5305 more than the new entry-level X5. Lower running costs boost its appeal for private buyers, while the tax benefits for company car drivers (£92 per month less for 40% BiK) are obvious.
The fact that the 2.0-litre diesel engine is much more refined in the X5 than in other BMWs – and doesn't feel underpowered – seals the deal for us. If, like most SUV drivers, you rarely venture up the kerb, let alone down a green lane, the sDrive25d is the X5 for you.
What Car? says...
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £42,595
Torque 332lb ft
0-62mph 8.2 seconds
Top speed 136mph
Fuel economy 50.4mpg
CO2 output 149g/km