The luxury SUV segment has always found favour amongst Indian consumers. Those who can afford it, wouldn’t settle for less; and those who can’t, aspire for one with the hope of acquiring it someday. This has long been the preferred mode of travel for the reasonably wealthy tribe who tend to be on the road extensively – politicians, movie stars, sports stars, industrialists, corporate honchos and such. It is a symbol of power and prestige on the road, feels relatively safer, and offers spacious interiors that allow you to take your entourage along. And if you have a demanding lifestyle, you could also get a lot of work done comfortably while on the move.
In India, this segment is emerging to be one of the most lucrative for luxury car makers and hotting up with some exciting new options. While JLR’s Range Rover has set a new benchmark for luxury SUVs, it has out priced the segment; competing more with luxury limousines than its brethren, for what it offers. Volvo has recently unveiled the new XC90 which should hit the road later this year, and Audi is also expected to launch the all new Q7 around the same time. In this scenario, it is interesting to see how the BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class and Porsche Cayenne stay in the game and improve their respective market shares.
The X5 was refreshed in 2014 and is one of BMW’s best selling cars ever. This flagship SUV has always been the car of choice for customers who want off-road capabilities without compromising on-road driving dynamics. This was actually the first SAV – ‘active’ being the operative word, and built to deliver a lot more road sportiness than its competitors. We decided to check it out and took the vehicle on a road trip over a weekend; to find out if it has what it takes to challenge the competition head on.
Our test vehicle was the top end X5 xDrive 30d (7-seater) with the Design Pure Experience package. We drove from Delhi to Kausani via NH 24, covering a distance of 416 kms in 11:32 hrs (including stoppage time of 2 hrs). Driving through a mix of highways, back roads and mountain roads, we got an average fuel consumption of 8.9 km/l. Considering this was a brand new vehicle, the figure was likely to improve over time.
The highway out of Delhi was reasonably good, and excellent in some parts. We started at the crack of dawn and reached Haldwani by 10 am without a trace of fatigue or stress. It is always a good idea to cover as much distance as one can before day breaks, so as to avoid unnecessary traffic bottlenecks while crossing mofussil towns along the way. Once they come alive, these can get terribly congested with everything that crawls, walks or drives.
We had some clear wide stretches to test the performance and responsiveness of the BMW X5 at high speeds of up to 140 km/h, and the vehicle didn’t disappoint. There were a few bad patches before Haldwani, but thanks to the reasonable 8.2″ ground clearance and pliant ride, the X5 swallowed crater sized potholes and bumps with relative ease. Inside the cabin it was all calm, with absolutely no reason to complain whatsoever.
The winding mountain roads beyond Haldwani were particularly well laid out, and got better with altitude. We drove at a fairly leisurely pace across picturesque views of rolling hills, dense pine forests, blooming jacarandas and the Kosi river running alongside. The vehicle felt planted and stable at all times, and was quick to throw power at low revs while doing steep inclines. The leather wrapped sports steering wheel was direct and responsive and made managing a 2 tonne+ vehicle quite effortless. The excellent turning radius of 12.7 metres made hair pin bends a breeze. On many occasions we cruised along at 60-80km/h effortlessly on mountain roads without really feeling it.
Kausani is a picturesque hill station in Bageshwar district (Uttarakhand), at an altitude of 6,200 ft. It offers spectacular views of a 300-km wide panorama of the Himalayan range including the peaks of Trisul, Nanda Devi and Panchchuli. This is the only place where you can see the Baijnath Valley below at 3500 ft. and the Himalayan peaks at 26000 ft. above, in the same frame. That’s quite some vertical range. Mahatma Gandhi called it the ‘Switzerland of India’ and one would tend to agree that in its pristine form, there are remarkable similarities in the landscape.
We experienced traditional Kumaoni hospitality at The Buransh, a relatively new boutique resort just ahead of Kausani. The resort is at the forefront of promoting tourism in the region through the art and culture of Uttarakhand and offers stunning views of the Himalayan sunrise from all rooms. Ideal for bird watching, photography, tea estate trails, treks and jungle walks. Or just to put your feet up and pull out your Kindle.
After two nights at Kausani we headed to Almora, covering a distance of 57 kms in 2:56 hrs (including stoppage time of 30 mnts). This stretch had perfectly paved mountain roads slicing through beautiful pine forests and terrace farms, only to be interrupted by tiny fairytale hamlets where time literally stood still. Magical it was. During this leg, the fuel efficiency dropped further to 7.0 km/l and we realised we had little chance of getting anywhere close to the claimed 15 km/l during this trip.
Driving towards Almora, we stopped on many occasions to soak in a bit of the clear mountain air and admire the beauty of the X5 against the imposing landscape. The vehicle looked majestic with its oversized kidney grille in titanium finish and LED headlamps with four DRL light rings, and had a powerful feline presence. No way was it dwarfed by the mighty mountains. The automatic cornering headlamps and cosmetic enhancements like the B and C pillars finished in black high gloss gave it some added flair. At the back, the tail lamps featured BMW’s familiar horizontal LED strips and the 18″ alloys completed the handsome profile. Though in my opinion 20″ would have looked even better.
Another prominent feature on the exterior was the aerodynamic front apron and undercarriage. It integrated the Air Curtain to reduce air resistance and turbulence, and channeled air through two vertical air inlets and along the front wheel arches. Towards the rear, the roof spoiler and the Air Blades joined to it at the sides considerably reduced disruptive air swirl. All this Efficient Dynamics wizardry was meant to improve fuel efficiency as well. But sadly, it eluded us.
Overall, the X5 scores high on design without going over the top. It is mature and understated in aesthetics, and is a handsome head turner which can sit perfectly at ease against a rugged mountain terrain or the urban city skyline. It has a feline flair, preppy poshness and is ruggedly roguish; all at the same time.
The journey back from Almora to Delhi took us 9:24 hrs (including stoppage time of 45 mnts). A total distance of 361 kms was covered, with a slightly better fuel average of 10.1 km/l. The last leg of a road trip always tends to be the most tiring; you long for the comfort of home, home cooked food and your own bed. But I am happy to share that the X5 felt different. And that has a lot to do with the extremely well crafted and thoughtfully designed interiors.
The inside is soaked in luxury, with impeccably well crafted leather, wood trims and chrome linings. The all familiar dashboard console looks typically BMW, and some might find it boringly old fashioned. But if you have driven a BMW before, the familiarity is reassuring. It takes just a moment to get used to, and in an instant you feel at home. The electronically adjustable front seats are supportive and extremely comfortable for long journeys and the rear seats can also be reclined and moved back for extra legroom. The foldable third row seats are not very practical though; they are cramped and can only accommodate two small children. We folded them instead to get 1870 ltrs of luggage space, which is more than enough for an entire family’s vacation bags. The rear seat splits 40:20:40 for greater flexibility and the electronically operated split tailgate is a huge plus – very practical for loading heavy objects or just to sit out and relax while on a picnic. The door bins are large enough to hold 2 ltr bottles with ease, and there is enough storage space and cup holders around the cabin. The 4-zone automatic climate control allows you to customise the temperature to your preference and there is a lighting package with three different interior light colours to suit your mood. The panoramic sunroof tops it all, and illuminates the cabin beautifully while you enjoy a sunny drive or a dash under the moonlit night sky.
The X5 features the BMW’s latest iDrive system with a 26 cm display, handwriting recognition and an integrated hard drive. The car has a highly accurate navigation system and 3D maps, hands free bluetooth, USB and phone functionality with voice recognition, BMW Apps and a sublime 600W 16-speaker Harmon Kardon Surround Sound system that gives you an immersive music experience. The Park Distance Control in the front and rear, rear view camera, xDrive status with compass function, and cruise control with automatic braking function make driving stress free, engaging and immensely enjoyable. Secretly, you would wish the journey never ends.
Under the hood of the X5 xDrive 30d lies the familiar 3.0 ltr in-line six turbo diesel engine that powers a majority of BMW’s range. In this variant it is tuned to produce 258 bhp and a monstrous 560 Nm of torque. The BMW X5 comes with a launch control function, which propels the car from 0-100 km/h in just 6.9 seconds, a commendable figure for a car of this size. Our test car had the 8 Speed Steptronic Sports Automatic transmission, with paddle shifters for manual control. The gearbox was smooth, and the shifts were perfectly timed.
There are four driving modes to choose from – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+; and although the X5 is a humungous SUV, it felt agile, nifty and precise while driving in the performance modes. There’s minimal body roll while cornering, the car corners flat and clings to the road very well. There is ample power and torque on tap to really throw the car around tight bends.
This one has to be one of the most driver oriented luxury 4X4 in the market today. It didn’t disappoint when we decided to take the car off the tarmac and handled whatever we threw at it – slush, mud, dry dirt, gravel, and even navigated through the Kosi river. Although not meant for heavy off roading, this one did inspire a lot of confidence behind the wheel. The ride quality over a long range was superb for all passengers and there was no driver fatigue whatsoever, even after 10-hour long stretches.
The BMW X5 is equipped with top of the line safety features – 8 airbags, ABS, Dynamic Traction Control and Stability Control, Cornering Brake Control, Hill Descent Control and Run Flat Tyres with tyre pressure monitoring. The attentiveness assist system is another useful feature which detects driver drowsiness and promptly displays cafes & restaurant nearby where you could take a caffeine break. Brilliantly intuitive.
The luxury SUV segment is lined with similarly specced vehicles, but the BMW X5 shines through. At a price ranging between INR 68.90-75.90 lacs (depending on the variant you choose) it isn’t quite cheap, but at par with the Mercedes M-CLass and Audi Q7; both of which are trumped by the BMW X5 in driving dynamics and creature comforts. When you realise that this one actually manages to catch up with Range Rover on many performance and functional specs, it all starts looking like a reasonable investment that can be justified.
This one has the go-anywhere attitude you look for in an SUV, yet has a sublime quality of refinement that you seek at other times. Not quite Range Rover off roading capabilities, but one that does put up a good fight from the other side. The only niggle we came across was the fuel consumption. Let’s face it, ‘Kitna deti hai’ in India is a valid, pointed question that demands a satisfactory response.
If you are looking at buying into the segment, I suggest you test drive the mid tier variant of the X5 – the xDrive 30d Design Pure Experience, which has the same equipment levels as the top model, but ditches the third row seating for a bigger boot. And take the family along. Because if vehicle purchase is a family decision, then this one is most likely to make the cut. Every family member would find their own reason to love this vehicle and appreciate the tiny little details within.