“Bloody hell, that Bimmer is good,” enthused Tim van Duyl after stepping out from behind the wheel of the BMW X5 xDrive 30d, fresh from a 600km towing stint. Days earlier we’d been debating the towing credentials of the German luxury SUV, specifically whether it had the goods to mix it with the likes of LandCruiser, Patrol and others. We agreed that, while it would probably drive better than just about anything else on the market, it may not have the requisite grunt and towing stability to handle mid- to heavy-duty haulage. Now, having returned from a two-day jaunt towing a 21-footer to Victoria’s Otways and back, we had the answer.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
The BMW X5 is one of Australia’s most popular large-premium SUVs, notching up just under 3000 sales as at the end of November 2021, meaning it’s bettered only in its category by the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class wagon. With a recommended retail price of $121,900, this X5 xDrive 30d model sits just above the entry level xDrive 25d ($104,900), the latter packing a smaller 2L turbodiesel engine versus the 30d’s 3.0L six-cylinder. Between them the xDrive 25d and 30d make up the entirety of the diesel offering in the seven model X5 range, with other variants equipped with either an inline 3L petrol six-cylinder turbo, or a 4.4L twin turbo petrol V8. At the top of the X5 family tree sits the X5 M Competition, with its eye-watering $212,900 price tag and bristling 460kW/750Nm outputs from a thunderous twin turbo V8 — although BMW makes no claims about this variant’s towing credentials.
This last fact would barely raise an eyelid usually, given that BMWs have long been known for their performance, luxury fit out and dynamic handling abilities, but far less commonly for their ability to haul a load. That all changed in late 2019, however, when the German car maker began offering a factory-designed and installed towing system for several of its X5, and larger X7 SUV models.
The factory towing hitch requires no removal of parts, ensuring seamless vehicle integration, according to BMW, and comes with a specific multi-function control unit that offers an additional zoom function for the rear camera, as well as a trailer stabilisation system. At a cost of $2500 fitted, the tow hitch is rated at 2700–3500kg braked, depending on the model, and comes with an integrated hitch receiver, bespoke control unit and specific vehicle wiring harness. BMW says its Australian dealers can supply and fit an approved tongue kit and adapter wiring harness, at a cost of $700 including GST.
Thus equipped, the X5 xDrive 30d rolls out of the showroom with a 3500kg braked towing capacity and a 280kg maximum down ball load, which we figured would be a reasonable complement for the Jayco Silverline 21ft Touring caravan we had back at the office. The 2.47m wide, by 2.95m tall Silverline has a travel length of 8m and weighs in at 2500kg empty, with an ATM of 3000kg. That’s safely within the X5’s braked tow capacity and it’s worth noting that, with the BMW’s 750kg payload and utilising its full 280kg tow ball rating, there’s still a healthy 470kg of payload remaining.
This latest version of the X5, codenamed G05, is the fourth generation of the BMW SUV and launched here in 2018. It’s longer, wider, more powerful, and more hi-tech than the model it replaced, but there’s nonetheless something reassuringly familiar about its wedge-like profile.
With its clean, strong lines and well-balanced proportions the X5 looks muscular and assertive but not so large as to be intimidating in tight car parks. Its short front and rear overhangs merge into a stylish character line that runs from just behind the front wheel arch, through the centre of the door handles, all the way to the rear end, where it kicks up over powerful haunches. Up front, the famous BMW kidney grille has never looked bigger or bolder and is finished in a classy satin alloy, creating a powerful, angular graphic that’s flanked by the standard LED headlights and large cooling intake ducts.
After being left behind in the interior design stakes by rivals Audi and Mercedes-Benz for a few years there, BMW has moved away from its somewhat austere interior style to something notably more luxurious. A 12.3in high-resolution colour display dominates the centre fascia, its functionality underpinned by the quick and efficient BMW Operating System 7.0. There’s another identically sized screen in front of the driver, housing a crisply rendered and configurable digital instrument display.
The various buttons and controls have all been nicely simplified into a clean and elegant interface, with BMW’s intuitive Live Cockpit Professional system ensuring the various systems can be controlled via touchscreen, the iDrive rotary Touch Controller, Gesture Control, or voice activation.
You sit up high on excellent sports front seats that are electrically operated and trimmed in supple and aromatic ‘Vernasca’ leather, with a commanding view out over the road and good all-around visibility. The interior is light and airy, thanks in large part to the sizeable panoramic sunroof, which it should be noted may become a liability in hotter climates.
The rear pews offer good space for two large adults or three kids, with generous head and legroom, plus individual climate controls for passengers and twin USB charge points in the front-row seat backrests, which are also designed to include tablet mounts.
The sizeable 645L boot can be expanded to 1860L with the second row folded, with the two-piece electric tailgate offering hands-free opening by waving a foot under the rear bumper.
WHAT’S IN THE KIT?
Luxury car makers competing in this market have long known that Aussies like their prestige vehicles highly specified, hence why BMW offers the X5 xDrive 30d exclusively with its so-called M Sport Package. The latter includes a range of tasty extras that enhance the already generous equipment package of the entry level xDrive 25d.
The extras include M Sport brakes with blue painted M-branded callipers, Adaptive M Suspension with selectable Comfort and Sport modes, stitched ‘Vernasca’ leather upholstery, electrically operated sports front seats, M branded door sill finishers, aluminium mesh effect interior trim, M leather steering wheel, 20-inch M light alloy wheels, panoramic glass sunroof, and M roof rails.
Other standard features of the X5 30d include adaptive LED headlights, LED fog lights, ambient interior lighting, dual zone climate control, parking assistant Plus, 360-degree cameras, head up display, comfort access system, DAB+ digital radio, an excellent 10-speaker 205W audio system, hill descent control, and wireless smartphone charging, to name just a few.
As with most prestige models there are ample options to choose from, some of which BMW has handily bundled into the xOffroad Package ($6307) and the Indulgence Package ($6001). The former is likely to be of most interest to caravanners, as it includes additional aluminium underbody protection and a self-levelling pneumatic suspension setup that can be adjusted to five different ride height levels, with a total sweep of 80mm (40mm higher or lower than standard height).
On the safety front, in addition to the expected plethora of front, side and full-length curtain airbags, there’s a bristling armoury of the latest active safety features, including Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, front and rear Cross traffic warning, Steering and Lane Control Assistant, Lane keeping Assistant with Side Collision and Crossroads warning, and Evasion Aid.
Naturally, there’s also a range of driving stability systems including Dynamic Stability Control, ABS and DTC (Dynamic Traction Control), CBC (Cornering Brake Control), DBC (Dynamic Brake Control), Fading Compensation, Start-Off Assistant, ADB-X (Active Differential Brake), HDC (Hill Descent Control), and Dynamic Damper Control.
Among the reasons for Tim’s resounding endorsement of the X5 after this test was the smooth and gutsy performance of the turbocharged 3L inline six-cylinder diesel, and its impressive fuel-efficiency. It’s undoubtedly one of the best drivetrains we’ve driven to date, and comes wrapped in that handsome metal skin and cosseting interior.
Featuring a variable inlet geometry turbo and common rail direct injection the engine delivers remarkably crisp response, as well as strong performance and efficiency. Outputs of 195kW/620Nm are channelled through an excellent eight-speed ZF auto and on-demand all-wheel drive system, a combination that propels the unladen X5 from 0–100km/h in a brisk 6.5 seconds.
It should be noted though, that the xDrive 30d M Sport Package X5's performance orientation carries into its tyres which as standard, are highway terrain and odd-sized front to back. As standard, they are 275/45ZR20 front and 305/40ZR20 rear. You can, at no cost, option on 19-inch rims with a square set of 265/55R19's which will allow more choice in replacements and safer use of a full-sized spare front or back.
It’s not just the unladen performance that impresses, either, because we can’t recall driving anything this side of a RAM that pulled as hard up a freeway on-ramp, the silky inline six swiftly getting into the meat of its torque curve, the big Bimmer piling on the pace from 40 to 100km/h as the auto seamlessly served up the cogs.
Of course, this sort of performance usually comes at a cost at the bowser but over the course of our towing loop we saw average fuel consumption of 13.8L/100km. That’s not bad, but more so when you consider that it included numerous stop-start short runs where we were accelerating from standstill for the video cameras, and a more aggressive drive up and through the Otways than the average tourer would contemplate. Perhaps the more accurate metric is the X5’s indicated freeway towing figure, which at a constant 100km/h was a very respectable 12L/100km.
Climbing up from scenic Apollo Bay into the dense eucalypt-clad ranges of Victoria’s Great Otways National Park, the auto transmission’s manual mode and steering wheel mounted paddles added an extra level of control, allowing the driver to manually hold a gear for extra braking when rolling into a corner, or when ascending and descending the area’s many hills.
Other towing-related features we liked were the trailer sway control, and Tow Mode function, the latter coming on automatically when a hitch is inserted. We also appreciated the sure-footed stopping power of the four-wheel disc brakes, while the HD cameras with 360 degree and ‘zoom’ tow mode were excellent when hitching and unhitching the caravan.
On the flip side, the autonomous emergency braking system, which admittedly plays a vital role in the X5’s comprehensive safety armoury, was a real pain in the rear when reversing to hitch up, as it kept kicking in and stopping the vehicle, even when in Tow Mode. It’s no great inconvenience, but had to be disabled each time the caravan needed to be reversed.
THE WRAP UP
Tallying up the ledger at the end of this test we find many more ticks on the positive side of the ledger than the alternative, including impressive fuel efficiency, the smooth and super responsive engine with its muscular 620Nm of torque, and the slick shifting eight-speed auto.
The driving position is excellent, too, with the electrically adjusted seats offering a wide range of adjustment, and a driving position memory function that ensures swapping drivers doesn’t require endless readjustment. There are many other little details that add to the overall enjoyment of the X5, including its terrific in-car entertainment system that connects phones seamlessly, the operating system’s lightning-quick response to commands, and the practical and easy to live with interior layout and design.
The lows are fewer but worth noting, including of course the price, which at an estimated driveaway in Victoria of $136k is hardly cheap motoring, and enough to fund both the Silverline and an Isuzu MU-X, should you choose a more budget-friendly approach. That said, the latest LandCruiser 300 Series Sahara ZX is slightly more expensive again, so it’s not like the X5’s pricing is off in the stratosphere.
We’d also have to say that despite the X5’s impressive performance with 2500kg in tow, we aren’t entirely convinced that it will be up to task of hauling the full 3500kg it’s rated for, mainly on the basis that at 2100kg the vehicle feels relatively light. The lowish GCM figure of 6360kg will also limit the X5’s overall capability when hitching up to bigger vans.
Despite these criticisms, our overall impression of the X5 as a luxury tow companion is overwhelmingly favourable, and we’d have no hesitation recommending it to anyone towing up to around that 2500kg mark, or a bit beyond. In fact, so impressed were we with the German wunderkind that it now has us pondering what the larger BMW X7 and respective rivals from Mercedes-Benz and Audi might be like in the crucible of a Caravan World tow test. Based on what we’ve seen with the X5, the Germans might yet spring a few surprises.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Width (excluding mirrors) 2004mm
Ground clearance (unladen) 214mm
Kerb mass 2110kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 2860kg
Gross Combined Mass 6360kg
Towing capacity unbraked/braked 750kg/3500kg
Towball (max) 280kg
Engine 3L inline six-cylinder turbocharged diesel with variable inlet geometry, common-rail direct injection with piezo injectors
Transmission Eight-speed automatic
Power 195kW at 4000rpm
Torque 620Nm at 2000–2500rpm
Fuel Consumption (Claimed)7.2L/100km
Fuel Consumption (on test) 13.8L/100 km
Gear ratios 1st 5.500, 2nd 3.520, 3rd 2.200, 4th 1.720, 5th 1.317, 6th 1.000, 7th 0.823, 8th 0.640
Final drive 2.929
Fuel capacity 80L
Suspension Independent, double-wishbone axle in aluminium construction (front); five-link axle in lightweight steel construction (rear); with coil springs and Dynamic Damper Control (f&r)
Brakes Single-piston fixed-caliper disc brakes, vented (fr); Single-piston floating-caliper discs, vented (rr)
Wheels 20in alloy (19in a no cost option)
Warranty 3 year/unlimited km
Roof load 100kg
Metallic paint $2000; Trailer Tow Hitch $2500
PRICE AS TESTED
$126,400 (plus on-road costs)