Previous generations of the X5 may have tried to keep up the ‘sports SUV’ pretense by sitting the driver fairly low, but the new one has firmly gone for a commanding driving position. You don’t tower over other cars quite as much as in a Range Rover Sport, but the X5 immediately and resolutely feels like an SUV.
When we originally road tested the G05 X5, we said that its interior was “a luxury cabin of greater ambition than we’re used to from a big BMW” thanks to its electroplated chrome garnishes, its neatly corralled button consoles, its visually appealing trim and its imaginatively shaped features.
Much if not all of that remains true for the facelifted cars, which get an extensively redesigned dashboard that certainly looks fresh and more modern, but take a noticeable step back in perceived quality and usability. The old faired-in gauge cluster and multimedia screen annex have been replaced with a large curved display on top of the dash. It’s composed of a 12.3in driver display and a 14.9in multimedia screen and has swallowed up the row of physical climate control buttons at the same time. The line of configurable shortcut buttons has gone as well.
There are other signs of cheapening to be found: the redesigned air vents feel less substantial, the crystal gear selector has been replaced with a plasticky-feeling toggle and across the dash now runs a strip of clear plastic. This is still a convincing luxury car cabin, but one that is slightly less impressive and more gimmicky than before.
The transformation certainly hasn’t made this car any easier to use. The temperature controls are permanently on screen, but the heated seats require more than one prod. The idea is that they are adaptive and know when to heat up and cool down, but the system doesn’t always get it right, prompting more fiddling.
The gauge cluster has similar style-over-substance problems, prioritising flashy graphics over presenting the information you want in an easily glanceable layout. There’s not much in the way of configurability, and even scrolling between different screens is more complicated than it needs to be. It also insists on showing you a power gauge rather than a tachometer unless you’re in Sport mode.
Space in the rear is competitive with rivals, but not overly generous when compared with similarly sized EVs. In our test car, rear passengers enjoyed most of the luxuries of those in front, with heated seats and more USB ports than we cared to count. There are only the two usual Isofix points, rather than three like in the Audi Q7. A seven-seat cabin layout is available on the diesel at extra cost (the extra two seats take up the same space the hybrid’s battery pack might otherwise occupy).
The diesel model has 650 litres of boot capacity – fairly big, but not quite as big as in some of its SUV rivals (the Land Rover Discovery, Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 all offer more carrying space). In the case of the 50e, that shrinks to 500 litres due to the battery. It’s better integrated than on some Mercedes plug-in hybrids, however, retaining a flat floor and even a small underfloor compartment.
A split tailgate has been a feature on X5s since the beginning – a useful feature BMW borrowed from the Range Rover. It doesn’t just create a bench when down, but also makes it easier to open the boot in tight spots. We found that the hands-free opening function worked with unusual accuracy.
Multimedia system – 3.5 stars
BMWs used to get an almost automatic five stars here for their logical iDrive interface with both a touchscreen and a rotary controller. The iDrive 8 operating system that features on the facelifted X5, however, has been a source of frustration in several recent models such as the BMW i5. It looks great, but its interface no longer seems designed with the rotary selector in mind, and settings are divided between a number of different ‘apps’ that sit in a loosely organised ‘app drawer’ with every other function. There are too many submenus too, making specific information hard to find. Unlike the cheaper BMW X1, the X5 does retain the rotary controller and a few shortcuts for the map, media, home, etc. While they have a less central role than before, they are what keeps this system usable.