BMW X5 M50d

X5 M50d a technological tour de force

So, BMW reckons the boss is back. That’s how it billed the arrival of the latest X5. Brave? Perhaps, but we waited a while to finally get our hands on the new M50d and in many ways, it really was worth the wait. But spending a little more time with this marvellous machine also revealed some nuances that had us wondering.

Before we start, allow me to explain my affair with the BMW X5. We were never big sport ute fans back in the day, but I was quite smitten by the first edition E53, especially following a spin around a wet Nurburgring behind the wheel of a turbodiesel many moons ago. 

My mates at Midrand picked up on my newfound lust for that sports car among sport utes — so much so that they insisted that rather than let me have another M car for my next long-termer, I rather got a next-generation X5. I never batted an eyelid and was rolling in a 195kW 315Nm 2.1-tonne gold second-edition E70 X5 30si shortly after the new one arrived.

I really enjoyed that car, but I preferred the 173kW 520Nm 30d that replaced it, en main due to that car’s turbodiesel advantages, but even that had nothing on the 210kW 580Nm 2.2-tonne xDrive35d that followed. The naming convention change came along with that brilliant 3-litre bi-turbodiesel versus the single snail its predecessor packed. 

I loved that car — not only was the 7-seater we had perfect for our needs with that large panoramic sunroof in a splendid package, but it was dynamically so well sorted that I never quite missed that old V10 M5 so much anymore. That was also ten years ago, but hold that thought.

Roll on five years and the third generation 26mm longer, 5mm wider and 14mm lower F15 rocked up — I was never really as much a fan as somehow even with the likes of multi-mode Dynamic Damper Control, it never quite matched that 35d magic, except of course under the hood. The new 2.2-tonne 230kW 640Nm xDrive40d had three turbos as production cars followed BMW’s mad Dakar diesel development.

Another five years anon and here we have the 2.2-tonne fourth generation G05 X5 M50d now sporting a 294kW 760Nm quad-turbocharged version of BMW’s venerable straight six. The 36mm longer, 66mm wider, and millimetre taller new one nicks BMW's Cluster Architecture from the latest 5 and 7 Series with its five-link rear end and in this get-up, gains four-wheel steering. The reason I refer to all those specs will become clearer as this test progresses, but for now, back to the point.

BMW built over 2.2-million X5s over the last three generations and Munich promises that the new car lays down new design and technology markers. I was not so sure about than new knob-nose when I first saw it, both in images and the flesh, but it has grown on me and now even makes the older cars seem a little more mute. I enjoyed the BMW Adaptive Laserlight LED Headlights — especially how they dazzle-up a hidden pedestrian or dog.

Hop inside and M50d is quite sublime — from that Volvo-like gear crystal lever to the splendidly brown upholstered power heated pews to four-zone climate control, the next-gen instrumentation and infotainment to kill for and that familiar now 30% bigger panoramic roof. too It is tech and luxury rich as you will ever want in a truly superb driving zone — a certain step ahead too.

On the road, this engine has to be among the jewels in BMW’s crown right now — simply stupendous, it seems to have nuclear submarine levels of power and torque no matter where you ask it to excel in its power range. Mated to that good old BMW 8-cog auto and xDrive, M50d has to be the King of Diesels — supremely powerful, supercar fast and economical enough too — never mind a truly sublime reason why diesel actually has a future. 

BMW tells us that M50d’s 'Adaptive M suspension Professional with active roll stabilisation and Integral Active Steering endows the car with exceptionally agile and dynamic driving qualities’ that by turning the rear wheels in either the same or the opposite direction of the front depending on speed, ’not only facilitates agility and directional stability when turning into corners, it helps optimise traction when accelerating out of them too.”

So I was really looking forward to finally sinking my bum into that caramel-coloured body-hugging chair to finally wring the newest M5’s neck. Surely being so far advanced over my old 35d, it was going to be the sport ute drive of my life? To be honest I emerged a bit perplexed. 

What I valued most about that old 35d, was that you could just get in and drive — it was streets ahead of anything else in that neck of the woods — not to mention that the BMW of SUVs was as dynamically brilliant as any other BMW. Somehow that magic has eroded. I’m pretty sure that If I hopped into a 35d and took it for a lap around the Nurburgring, I’d enjoy that car more than I would a new M50d.

See, like so many modern cars, this X5 M50d is trying so hard to be everything to everyone, that it has eroded that brilliant driver focus its grandfather so excelled in. The new one seems vague — it does not feed much back through the steering and is almost sloppy on the road versus grandpa. Clearly that is not due to any weight issues — this one weighs about the same as grandpa and produces significantly more grunt, so were this engine in that chassis it’d be even greater to drive.

Yes, of course, fiddle around and select Dynamic mode and it all comes bouncing back complete with a contrived but still most engaging sporty soundtrack and M50d is probably even a bit better than 35d was. But that car did it all straight up —  it never needed me to struggle to find another button among all of those on the console or fish around three layers into some cyber system to find the right program to perk it up. 

It was brilliant all by itself — its everyday driving mode was sufficient and it never needed any race modes or skulduggery to make it work — it just worked. Hop in, fire it up and drive. All of which makes this new X5 just another SUV pretending to be a sportscar, instead of it just being the sportscar of SUVs it once was and which everyone else wished their SUVs could be.

To be honest, I am nitpicking here and this X5 M50d is a technological tour de force at every level. When you configure its gizmos right, it is quite sublime on the road thanks to an incredible engine, a superb chassis and a luxury and tech suite second to none, so I’d still say that it has a claim to be boss. 

I just find it a little hard to fathom why it is necessary to switch the magic on — especially when grandpa did it all, just like that. - Michele Lupini

Images - Michele Lupini

Engine: 294kW 760Nm 2996cc turbodiesel I6                
Drive: 8-speed manual AWD
0-60km/h:                2.11 sec
0-100km/h:              4.80 sec                      
0-160km/h:              12.01 sec       
400m:                      13.1 sec @ 167km/h            
80-120km/h:          3.11 sec
120-160km/h:          5.30 sec          
VMax:                      250km/h                               
Fuel:                        7.2 l/100km                         
CO2:                        191 g/km
Warranty/Service:  2y Unl/5y 100Kkm 
LIST PRICE:             R1.5M           
RATED:                    91%