Superb to drive on-road, despite its imposing size, but don't try any serious off-roading
Feels wonderfully serene inside, bar the glut of controls which can be confusing
Mostly top-notch, but no curtain airbags for optional rearmost seats
Beautifully built, but we've seen too many complaints in customer satisfaction surveys for our liking
Huge for five, with the option of two more seats in the back
You get all the latest high-tech stability and traction aids, plus the option of multiple parking cameras
Few big 4x4s drive as well as the BMW X5. It's much more agile than such a tall and heavy SUV has any right to be, and it doesn't lean over in the corners as you might expect. The drawback is a stiff, jiggly ride around town, but the optional Adaptive Drive suspension system improves things and makes the big BMW even sharper to drive. Just don't expect Land Rover levels of all-terrain ability; the X5 might look like a proper off-roader, but its talents lie firmly on the Tarmac. The cabin is impressively quiet to travel in; a bit of wind noise on the motorway is the only disturbance to speak of, although you will also get more road noise if you go for one of the sportier models. Unless money really is no object, you'll want a diesel engine rather than the V8 petrols also offered, and we'd recommend the 241bhp 30d. It's the cheapest version to buy and run, yet is plenty rapid enough. The 40d and M50d are more powerful and not much less economical, but they're much more expensive to buy.
BMW knows that many of us use our big 4x4s as MPVs, so offers five- and seven-seat versions of the X5. Space for the front five passengers is superb, and in five-seat mode there's a huge boot. The optional extra seats are big enough for small adults, so can easily manage a couple of teenagers. Whatever your size or shape you'll have no problem getting comfortable behind the wheel, and the lofty driving position provides a great view of the road ahead. Quality materials and classy layout make the X5's cabin one of the poshest in the large 4x4 class.
There's a big reliability question mark hanging over the X5, because owners reported a catalogue of faults in the latest JD Power ownership satisfaction survey, rating the BMW's mechanical reliability as 'below average'. There's less to worry about when it comes to safety, because all versions come with stability control and airbags for to protect the front five passengers. However, it's shameful that if you order an X5 with seven seats, the two people in the back aren't protected by the side curtain airbags.
The BMW X5 is big and posh, so it doesn't come cheap - but discounts are available and strong residual values mean you should get a good price for your car when you come to sell it on. Running costs are relatively good, too. The seven-seat version will cost you a bit more but turns the the X5 into a versatile people-carrier with a stronger image than most MPVs'.