David Motton
Tow Car Editor

See other tow car reviews written by David Motton

Past versions of the X5 have made very able tow cars. Does this latest model live up to its predecessors by combining a sporty drive with stable towing?

Overview

BMW's X5 is on its fourth generation. It's always been at the sporty end of the SUV spectrum, driving with a verve and agility that most rivals struggled to match.

We've also found that past versions of the X5 make very able tow cars.

The latest X5 is bigger than its predecessor, and promises greater efficiency and more high-tech driver aids.

It's a big and heavy car, and kerb weights north of two tonnes make it a match for just about any van you might want to tow. We're testing the 30d M Sport.

Is the new X5 practical enough?, we ask. And does it live up to its predecessors by combining a sporty drive with stable towing?

Towing

BMW X5 buyers have a choice of petrol and diesel engines, ranging from the 265hp (261bhp) 30d to the 400hp (395bhp) M50d.

You might be thinking 261bhp sounds plenty, and you'd be right - especially as the engine also produces 457lb ft of torque. That's around double the pulling power of a typical 2.0-litre diesel family car.

This makes for effortless towing, even when pulling a large, heavy caravan.

We matched the BMW to a Swift Elegance 650 with a MiRO of 1670kg. That's a 76% match for the BMW, and not even half the 3500kg towing limit. But note that the 3.5-tonne maximum applies to cars with factory-fit towing gear. For cars that have a retrofitted towball, the limit is 1900kg.

Acceleration is quick and confident, so any safe gap for overtaking is easily exploited. The big X5 has no trouble holding speed on hills, and powers up steep slopes with very little apparent effort.

The excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox plays its part, always making the most of the engine's considerable reserves. It changes gear promptly and smoothly.

Yes, there are paddles behind the steering wheel should you want to take charge, but there's very little need to overrule the quick-thinking auto 'box.

If you have to stop on a hill, it will need to be very steep indeed to give the X5 trouble. We've tried starting on 1-in-10 and 1-in-6 gradients, and the big BMW handled both with ease.

The electronic parking brake held firm and then released smoothly, and the X5 pulled away with no sign of any strain or wheelspin. Head out onto the motorway and it's easy to reach the legal maximum long before the end of the slip road.

Once up to speed, the X5 feels as if it will happily tow at 60mph all day, tracking straight and true in still air.

Only when caught by the bow wave of a highsided vehicle did we feel the slightest side-to-side movement. Although they were never alarming, these gentle bobbles when overtaking HGVs deny the X5 the full five stars as a tow car.

Otherwise there's really very little to complain about. Arrive at your campsite and you'll find the X5 easy to manoeuvre, helped by the rear-view camera.

When it's time to hitch up again, the towball simply deploys from under the car at the push of a button.

There's no need to secure it by hand - it motors all the way into place and locks in position. There's plenty of clearance around the ball, and the electrics are mounted on the side of the towbar where they are easy to access.

Everyday driving

If you have driven one of the earlier generations of X5, you'll know they're impressively agile for a big 4x4 with a kerb weight the lardy side of two tonnes.

The new model continues in the same vein, but if anything, this is the most rounded X5 yet. It combines a sporty drive with comfort and a relaxed demeanour when you're not in a hurry.

Adaptive air suspension is standard, and lets the driver tailor the car's responses. In 'comfort', the ride is mostly supple, only thumping into really sharp imperfections in the road surface. Switch to 'sport' mode and any slight flatness over dips and crests disappears, and the car is firmly tied down. This setting also tweaks the engine note - a feature you'll love or hate.

Changing mode alters the throttle, gearbox and steering. 'Sport' is certainly more engaging, but 'comfort' works better in most circumstances.

Whichever setting is chosen, the X5 steers accurately. It's responsive to the first roll of the wrist without feeling nervous or pointy. It helps make the big X5 (it's nearly 5m long) feel manageable.

Considering its size, the X5 is straightforward to drive in city streets, and with parking sensors and cameras, there's no excuse for ham-fisted parking.

But the X5 is at its best away from busy urban roads. It eats up motorway miles. It's quiet at speed, although there's more engine, wind and road noise than you'd hear in a Volkswagen Touareg. However, it's easy to hold a conversation at 70mph without raising your voice.

There's a lot to like about the X5. It might look a bit of a bruiser, but it's a smooth-riding and comfortable car.

Space

In isolation, the X5 is very practical, with space for five and plenty of luggage room. However, some of its key rivals offer more. You're unlikely to notice if you are riding in the front of the car. The driver and front seat passenger have plenty of head- and legroom.

With the driver's seat at its lowest level, you sit closer to the floor than in some 4x4s. It's almost a halfway house between a saloon and an SUV driving position. But raise the seat and you enjoy a commanding view. Our test car had comfort seats, a no-cost option. We found they lived up to their name.

The standard of finish is very high, with soft-touch plastics and quality leather upholstery. However, some might find the design a little ostentatious.

A six-foot passenger can sit behind a six-foot driver with room to spare in the back. Thanks to the car's width and the relatively small transmission tunnel, there's lots of room for three rear-seat passengers. The sunroof in our test car steals a little headroom, though.

However, the seats don't slide back and forth on runners, as they do in some rivals. What's more, a third row of seats is an optional extra, adding £1390 to the price.

Stick with space for five and with all seats upright, there's 650 litres for your bags. Most will find plenty of room for luggage, but there's more space in a VW Touareg (810 litres).

Levers either side of the tailgate lower the back seats, leaving 180 litres of space and just a slight slope to the floor.

The tailgate is split, so the lower half provides a perch for taking muddy wellies off.

Running costs

Judged against its premium rivals, the X5 30d M Sport is neither great value nor the most expensive of its kind. The list price of £61,020 compares with £57,565 for the equivalent Audi Q7 or £65,260 for a similar Land Rover Discovery.

Your money buys a long list of standard equipment, but be wary of the equally lengthy list of optional extras. Our test car came with nearly £15,000 of additional kit.

Safety standards are high, with lots of driver aids and the reassurance of a five-star rating from the experts at Euro NCAP.

Fuel economy is reasonable when you consider the car's power, performance and weight, with an official combined figure of 45.6mpg. As a rule, we saw around 40mpg or slightly worse in solo driving, and achieved 23.1mpg while towing.

When the time comes to sell on the X5, What Car? predicts that after three years and 36,000 miles, it will be worth 49% of the original price.

Technical specs

Engine size2993 cc
Kerbweight2185 kg
85% KW1857 kg
Towball limit140 kg
Maximum towing limit3500 kg
Power261.0 bhp
Torque457.0 lb ft
Official MPG45.6 mpg
Towing MPG23.1 mpg
CO2162 g/km

Verdict

The new BMW X5 is a very impressive vehicle. It goes toe-to-toe with some really excellent rivals, and can stand comparison with any of them.

From the driver's seat, the X5 is a thoroughly rewarding car to drive. Few SUVs are so adept at being dynamic and sporty one minute, urbane and relaxed the next.

And if the X5 were even quieter on the motorway, its credentials as an all-rounder would be stronger still.

As a tow car, the X5 has few weaknesses. In fact, other than a gentle sway experienced from time to time when passing HGVs and coaches, it didn't put a wheel wrong during our tests. It's quick, stable and easy to drive, and will handle hill starts with ease.

Inside, the X5 is very well put together, although there might be too much bling for those who prefer understatement to showy opulence.

It's a practical cabin as well as an upmarket one, but then there's no excuse to be anything else with a car this big. Judged against its peers, some offer more seats or a little more space for people and luggage, for similar money.

With a price tag the wrong side of £60,000, this is clearly a tow car for the very well off. Compare it with its rivals and it sits close to the middle of the class in terms of price, although it's also worth remembering that the Q7 offers seven seats as standard and costs less than the X5.

Even so, as a tow car and a driver's car, we would rate the new BMW X5 very highly.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Excellent at hill-starts while towing
  • Towbar electrics easy to access
  • Very high standard of finish

Cons

  • Some rival vehicles offer more luggage space
  • Seats don't slide back and forth
  • Could be a little quieter on the motorway