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OFF-ROAD TEST

ROAD TEST: BMW X5 M50d





14 November 2016


BMW has certainly embraced turbocharger technology. In the X5 M50d though, the Aboard and installed no less than three turbos – and created a 740Nm blitzkrieg machine.

SO there we were, standing outside church, making small talk, just after receiving a sermon on coveting thy neighbour’s stuff. “Check out my new Ford Ranger, said a fellow churchgoer. “It’s the 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel.” “There must be lots of turbo lag,” said another. “The diesel engine in my Mercedes C220 has two turbos.

A small one and a big one.” There was a triple-turbo BMW X5 key in our pocket. And after all, the preacher had told us not to covet our neighbours’ things, but he’d said  nothing about being the neighbour with the things all others lust after. “Over there is our BMW X5, with three turbos. And 270kW and 740Nm,” we said. The turbo victory was ours, and should remain ours until a member of the congregation buys a Bugatti Veyron.

Three turbos, you say?
Yep. Three turbos for two reasons; performance, obviously, but also to eliminate turbo lag.  In essence it’s the same 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel found in the 30d and 40d offerings from BMW, but with an additional small turbo to further overcome turbo lag. That makes for a grand total of two smallish turbos to get it going, and a rather large one to determine how much you’ll have to fork over in speeding fines.

The X5 M50d is a special kind of diesel car. It’s the kind of diesel car that changes perspectives, in other words, if you still think diesel should be used only in farming equipment, you need to get behind the wheel of this thing. It’ll make you wonder why people still bother with petrol. That’s quite a controversial statement, but consider the performance figures. BMW claims that it can accelerate from a standstill to 100km/h in 5.3 seconds, which is more or less the same time it took the first generation biturbo V8 Mercedes E55 AMG to do the same.

But, as we all know, the run to 100km/h is actually meaningless. The only performance figures that really matter are the ones talking about 80km/h to 100km/h and, 120km/h and beyond.  And because it’s a diesel, it will happily idle along, delivering its massive amount of torque at 2 000r/min while using no more than nine litres/100km. We ran a X6 M50d for six months last year and, with a careful right foot, managed to get the fuel consumption down to 7.4l/100km. We tip our hats to BMW for being able to fit two very different and supposedly opposing characteristics into one singular car.

Is it a monster?
Honestly, no. It only comes alive when you poke it with a metaphorical stick, but in day-to-day situations it’s much closer to the average X5 than it is to the X5M. Think of it as slotting in perfectly between the average luxury barge and the monstrous X5M.  There’s a very good reason it fits in so perfectly. BMW designed it that way as part of its new M Performance range, which is meant to fill in the gap between the already fast top-of-the-line Beemers and the manic machines manufactured by the M department.

That makes it the perfect partner for every occasion. On the days you simply want to get home in sheer opulence, it cruises along silently and effortlessly. But, inevitably, at some point someone in a hot hatch who knows a bit about cars will pull in alongside you. He’ll want to take you on and obviously you won’t engage, because such behaviour is uncalled for and uncouth… but it’s nice to know you can. And win.

Tell me more about the luxury
As you’d expect, most of the luxury is standard. Everything is electric, it has every sort of connectivity available and the cabin is nicely insulated from everything but the noisiest exterior intrusion. The ride and handling hit that sweet spot BMW is renowned for. There’s enough feedback to connect you to the driving experience, but it never intrudes to the extent that it’s irritating. Obviously, one can delve into the options list, but there’s really no need. The basic car is fairly well specified, especially now that BMW has included most of its Connected Drive features as standard across its entire range. So you get fantastic seats, leather on just about every surface and everything that opens and shuts.

Having said that, there are two optional items we’d recommend. The first is the M steering wheel – and only because it’s such a lovely item to hold and look at. The second is radar-guided cruise control. These systems usually don’t work in Africa due to our definition of a safe following distance, but in BMW you get what we like to call the ‘tailgater’ setting. It’s just large enough to be safe, but not large enough to squeeze a car into.

Worth the cash?
At R1.3-million it certainly isn’t cheap, but it represents a massive saving when compared to the X5M’s price of roughly R1.9-million. Is it as fast and impressive as the top M model? Well, it’s not as easy as yes or no. It’s nearly as fast in terms of speed, but a performance car isn’t just that one thing. Performance is about handling, speed and noise and the 50d is about 20% less impressive than the M in two of those.

In terms of noise, that gap is even bigger. The M model is a raucous thing, while the 50d just makes a noise. It’s not an irritating sound, nor is it impressive. It’s just a noise. So what model would we go for? If you can afford it, the M is mighty. We’ve driven it on a few occasions and every time we’re left stunned at how stupidly fast it is. It used to be our favourite car in the local X5 line-up, but BMW recently launched the 25d and we spent a week behind the wheel. It’s basically everything you expect from an X5, but with a four-cylinder turbocharged diesel that delivers a 160kW/500Nm punch. And while it doesn’t deliver the same sort of performance as the other models in the range, it does rather well for itself.

Suffice to say that it moves faster than most, which is probably all you need anyway. The 25d also stands head and shoulders above the rest of the X5 range in terms of ride comfort. BMW obviously toned down the X5 to get the price below that psychological R1-million barrier and in the process improved the ride. It has smaller rims than any other model and it rides on higher profile rubber. The result is an X5 that is plenty fast and pretty much untouchable in terms of refinement. The fact that it’s the cheapest model is simply a bonus. For once, we’d recommend the cheapest model in the line-up.

Engine 2 993cc straight-six diesel, three turbos
Power 280kW @ 4 000r/min
Torque 740Nm @ 2 000r/min
Gearbox Eight-speed automatic
4×4 drivetrain xDrive permanent 4WD
4×4 driving aids DSC
Ground clearance (claimed) 209mm
Fuel tank capacity 85 litres
Range (@ 8.9 litres/100km) 955km
Price (standard) R1 311 000
HP per month R28 245