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Date: 15 November 2006   |   Author:

Category: Large 4x4
Prices: £40,085-£49,945
Key rival: Range Rover Sport

It might look the same, but BMW's X5 is bigger and better than before, with the new second-generation model boasting an optional third row of seats and increased specification.

Despite not boasting a radical new look, BMW is keen to point out how different the new car looks. While it's undeniable that they are different when parked next to each other - the new car makes its predecessor look a little saggy and aging - it's not easy to pick out instantly the differences when viewing the latest model in isolation. The powers that be didn't want to change a winning formula, and BMW has employed much the same tactic with the new Mini, which was equally successful in its first incarnation.


So we get a car that looks pretty much the same, with the biggest difference being the rearmost 'D' pillar, which is now more sloping than before, creating a more sporty appearance, and which also hides the rear row of seats from outside view.

The new X5 is 187mm longer than its predecessor, mainly to house BMW's first ever seven-seat interior. The rearmost two seats are small, however, but the carmaker has deflected criticism of the £1000 option by claiming they were only developed for people up to 5ft 7in tall. As well as the extra expense, opting for the third row of seats also means the loss of an 80-litre under-floor storage area in the boot. The middle row does, though, slide forwards and backwards to allow for more legroom in the rear.

Up front, the big news is the introduction of BMW's much-maligned iDrive system, first seen in the 7-series before making its way across the company's model range. The system cleans up the dashboard by running the climate control, audio and optional satnav functions through a single rotating controller and a screen. Although more recent incarnations are a vast improvement over the early system, iDrive is still more clunky and complicated than rival systems such as Audi's MMI, and the X5's application is no exception.

Despite the extended dimensions, BMW has kept the weight under control; the diesel, expected to account for up to 90% of sales, actually weighs the same as its predecessor.

On the road the X5 feels just like its predecessor, in that it's the most capable driver's 4x4 on the market by some distance. It's pleasing that in terms of the driving characteristics there's been no move away from the sweet-handling off-roader that never feels as big as it actually is. The 3.0-litre engine is unchanged, too, and it makes light work of picking up speed.

The biggest worry about the new X5 is its ride, as the new model is the first 4x4 to be fitted with run-flat tyres. Although it negates the need for a spare tyre, the introduction of run-flats has been criticized on other BMW models because the harder tyre sidewalls don't absorb bumps in the way normal tyres would. The X5's ride has always been on the sporty side, unlike more comfort-orientated off-roaders such as the Lexus RX350, so this addition means bumps, particularly potholes or poorly surfaced roads, are more noticeable.

The 3.0d's pricing has risen by almost £3000 to just over £40,000, but BMW claims it's a rise of only around 1% over the old model. That's mainly because an auto gearbox and part-electric seats - items that virtually all buyers added as options -are now included as standard. Overall, however, BMW has stuck with the successful formula, and it's worked. The X5 is still the most sporting off-roader on the market, and is as desirable as ever.