Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Entry-level models are badged xDrive30d and are powered by a 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine. Even this offers gutsy performance and is noticeably more responsive than the equivalent Audi Q7 45 TDI. It provides tonnes of punch low down in the rev range and is only likely to feel strained if you’re towing a particularly heavy load. For those who don’t fancy a diesel, xDrive40i models use a 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-turbo petrol engine. This pulls even harder at lower revs than the 30d does and feels more responsive from a standstill, with acceleration that grows even stronger as the revs rise.
If neither of those is powerful enough for you, the range-topping M50i petrol and M50d diesel provide some extra power for eye-widening performance. Of the two, we’ve only driven the M50d thus far; it responds instantaneously and gains speed so effortlessly that you’ll be hitting motorway speeds before you know it. On paper, though, the M50i is almost a full second quicker from 0-62mph.
Suspension and ride comfort
Apart from the M50i and M50d, every X5 comes with air suspension as standard. The system is very impressive, maintaining a super-smooth ride over even sharp-edged potholes and ruts without any of the floaty, wallowy sensation that such systems can induce. The plug-in hybrid has a slightly firmer edge to its ride than the standard X5s, but it still does a good job of keeping things comfortable, especially compared with the more brittle low-speed ride of the Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid.
The M50i and M50d, meanwhile, use an adaptive steel spring set-up and offer buyers the choice of M Sport Professional suspension as an upgrade. Both of these setups give the X5 a sportier and more nimble feel on the road, but are noticeably harsher and don’t absorb bumps quite as soothingly. Progress over imperfect surfaces is made still crashier if you engage Sport mode.
As well as for the comfortable ride it provides, the air suspension deserves credit on the handling front, too. It keeps body movements in check and prevents the X5 from leaning over too markedly, even when you push hard through a corner.
You get plenty of grip from the wide tyres, too, and with such tight body control, the X5 is an incredibly stable and reassuring SUV to drive along twisty roads. Factor in progressive, well-weighted steering and it’s easy, even enjoyable, to steer the X5 along your favourite country road. Okay, the Porsche Cayenne handles even more sweetly, but the X5 is among the best of the rest. Plug-in hybrid versions, meanwhile, may not quite have the tight body control of the standard X5s, but is still nice to drive, with accurate steering and tidier handling than the XC90 plug-in hybrid.
The X5’s off-road capabilities are also impressive, thanks to a selection of driving modes and settings that adapt the ride height and suspension settings to cope with different surfaces. You can take on sandy, gravel-strewn, snowy and even rocky terrain with a simple tap of the touchscreen.
Noise and vibration
The 30d has a surprisingly appealing, throaty engine note for a diesel, especially with the M Sport’s sports exhaust. Those who dislike the noise, though, will be dismayed that it never really fades away, even at a cruise. What’s more, when you select Sport mode, artificial engine notes are played through the car’s speakers to deepen the soundtrack. The M50d follows a similar formula with even fruiter sounds. Some will love it, some will hate it.
By contrast, the petrol-engined 40i is perfectly judged. It’s blissfully smooth and subdued when you’re simply pottering along, yet delightfully rorty when you decide to press on a bit. The M50i takes this approach, too, but things it up to 11 for a menacing sound when accelerating hard, yet still retains a subdued cruising sound. The plug-in hybrid xDrive45e is whisper-quiet at low speeds when running on just electric power, and, when the petrol engine does come in, it does so smoothly and without fuss.
Every engine comes with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard, and it’s delightfully smooth. It changes up and down through the gears almost imperceptibly and reacts quickly when you call for extra power. There are also steering wheel-mounted paddles through which you can make manual gearchanges, which are no less smooth than when the gearbox is left to its own devices in automatic mode.
It’s not all great news, though. While wind noise is well controlled, those big, wide tyres generate a fair amount of roar and this gets noticeably more pronounced over rougher, more broken asphalt. While the ride is generally smooth, coarser surfaces, such as concrete motorways and rippled tarmac, can generate a touch of vibration through the steering and chassis, but only in extreme cases.