People love the BMW X5. It's the UK's most stolen car, and for good reason -- it's one of the finest sports utility vehicles on the planet. BMW actually refers to it as a sports activity vehicle, due to its remarkably car-like driving dynamics and spacious, practical interior. Now into its third generation, the latest BMW X5 promises to nudge the bar higher still, with increased interior space, a more efficient design and engines that are more powerful, yet more efficient. We took the high-end X5 50d in M Sport trim for an extended road test to see if the latest model Fosbury flops its way over the bar set by its predecessors.

The new X5 has a new face, and we're not too fond of it.
The new X5 has a new face, and we're not too fond of it.

Design

The BMW X5 is the UK's most stolen car, and for good reason -- people love it. The first time we clapped eyes on the new BMW X5, we thought BMW's designers had ruined it. The previous generation was the best looking model in the entire X line-up and the new car's exaggerated features didn't initially sit well with us. The headlights now bleed into the kidney grille, the central air intake has been made smaller, and the air breathers on the sides of the front bumper are now larger than ever.

All of this gives the impression of a once-pretty face that has been subjected to an ill-advised facelift. That said, darker colours hide a multitude of sins. It's attractive enough in profile, thanks to the twin horizontal creases along the front and rear doors, and the rear end is, with its split tailgate and squared-off exhaust tips, as imposing as an we'd expect an X5's backside to be.

The rear is pretty decent, though.

The BMW X5 has a drag coefficient of just 0.31cd so it's as slippery through the air as some hatchbacksThere are plenty of clever design touches that we welcome, most of which are aerodynamic. The X5 now cuts through the air like a hot knife through butter. An integrated Air Curtain system improves airflow by channelling air via slots in the front bumper through to a set of vertical flaps just ahead of the front doors. The main front air vent opens and closes to increase or decrease radiator cooling (increasing or decreasing drag in the process) and the rear spoiler makes a more efficient trailing edge for air to flow against. Even the undercarriage is aero-optimised.

The end result is that the new BMW X5 has a drag coefficient of just 0.31cd (0.35 in the 50d M Sport) – so it's as slippery through the air as some hatchbacks.

The X5 is well designed on the inside, too. Its cabin is comfortable, with soft, yet supportive seats, and the user interface is, for the most part, quite user-friendly. It doesn't have the chunky, no-nonsense buttons seen in some of its rivals, so you may struggle to turn the heating fans up when wearing big, chunky gloves, for example, but everything is well-laid out and easy to find. Customisable ambient lighting lets you bathe the cabin in a hue of your choosing.

We think it looks great in profile, particularly in dark colours. Or bathed in mud.

Practicality

The new BMW X5 is larger than its predecessors, and thus offers more interior space. Front and rear passengers have access to a wealth of leg and headroom, the X5 easily seating four six-footers with room to spare. It's relatively practical, too. The door bins, glove box and central storage cubby aren't what you'd call enormous, but they're fine for stashing all the odds and ends most of us hoard during our motoring lives.

Boot space is bountiful, too. The new X5 has a split-level tailgate, which lets you open the upper portion of the boot hatch to load shopping etc., or you can open the lower part too, which is handy for sliding flat pack furniture in and out. A total of 650 litres of storage space is available or, if you fold the 40:20:40 rear seats flat, you have an absolute acre of space to play with (1,870 litres, to be precise).

Performance & Handling

It's a muscular thing, make no mistake... it'll cover 1km in under 25 seconds from a standing start.The new BMW X5 will come with a host of engine options, from the entry-level, two-wheel-drive sDrive25d to the xDrive30d (likely to be the biggest seller), up to the 50d M Sport, which we've tested here. The 50d uses a 3-litre, 6-cylinder, tri-turbo diesel engine that produces a thoroughly impressive 381hp at 4,000rpm, and a frankly monstrous 740Nm of torque between 2,000 and 3,000rpm. It's a muscular thing, make no mistake, capable of 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds and 155mph. If you've got a clear road ahead it'll cover 1km in under 25 seconds from a standing start.

The 4x4 xDrive system means it'll happily plough through mud.

It acquits itself well during more sedate driving, too. Its steering is light around town, its engine is quiet, it has a decent turning circle and its 8-speed gearbox is smarter than most humans could hope to be. It shifts seamlessly, downshifts automatically to provide engine braking on hills, and – in its most sporty setting – will even hold gears until you're bouncing off the rev limiter.

​More impressive still is the X5's handling. It doesn't defy physics -- it rewrite the rules.More impressive still is the X5's handling – it doesn't so much defy physics as rewrite the rules. It corners like a car half its size. Scratch that – it corners better than many cars, of any size, staying remarkably flat through turns and displaying a level of agility that shouldn't be possible in a vehicle weighing nearly 3,000kg.

We wouldn't swap one for a Range Rover, but we doubt you'd get stuck anywhere.

Much of this is due to the Adaptive M Suspension, which is fitted as standard to the X5 50d. This setup uses variable damper control and air suspension on the rear axle, both of which adapt on the fly to suit the road conditions vehicle load and your driving style to deliver a sporty driving experience.

BMW also provides the option of four other suspension choices, including a basic package, which uses steel springs and shock absorbers. Sadly, we've no idea if it's any good, as BMW has a habit of providing test cars kitted out with the best possible spec.

The new X5 is comfortable both on and off road.

We've little experience with the X5 off road, though we did hoon it through the equivalent of slightly damp forest and its xDrive 4x4 system worked well. We wouldn't swap it for a Range Rover, but we doubt it'd get stuck on the local common.

Economy & Environment

The BMW X5 may be massive, with power routed to all four of its wheels, but it's relatively frugal. BMW claims 42.2mpg on the combined cycle, with 177g/km of CO2, which is pretty decent for a car that'll hit 0-62mph in just over 5 seconds. To put it into context, a Range Rover, with a 3.0 litre turbodiesel takes nearly 8 seconds to hit 62mph, returns 37.7mpg and spits 196g/km.

Equipment & Value

​The standard car comes with plenty of kit, including ConnectedDrive, which lets you surf the Internet.The BMW X5 is available in a variety of trim levels, the basic being the £46,940 SE model. The basic SE car comes with a healthy amount of standard equipment, including 18-inch wheels, dakota leather upholstery, front and rear parking sensors, high-end 'professional' navigation pack, automatic wipers and tailgate, extended lighting, part-electric front seats, xenon headlights, cruise control and a multi-function steering wheel, metallic paintwork, voice control, Bluetooth, DAB radio with 20GB hard disk drive memory and BMW's ConnectedDrive infotainment system, which lets you surf the Internet.

The car has more equipment than you'll know what to do with.

Buyers can add one of three packages to the SE car; Design Pure Experience (+ £2,760) Design Pure Excellence (+ £2,160) or Dynamic (+ £2,995). These add a variety of interior and exterior trim finishes (different alloy wheel styles, and touches of gloss or high-gloss on the B and C pillars, for example) but both are easy to do without in our opinion. BMW also provides an M Sport package, which blesses the X5 with more aggressive M-inspired body styling, sports seats, adaptive M suspension, quad exhaust pipes and lots of M badges on the exterior – all for the not inconsiderable sum of £4,700.

Safety has obviously been a top concern for BMW.

Safety

Though the BMW X5 is probably tough enough to put a dent in most things it comes into contact with, BMW has still equipped it with a host of tech features designed to prevent accidents occurring in the first place. The car comes with a traffic jam assist feature that accelerates, brakes and even steers the vehicle automatically at speeds of up to 40kmh – although you'll need to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel at all times. Forward collision warning, lane departure warning, preventive pedestrian protection and city collision mitigation also make an appearance ensuring the X5 does its utmost to keep you and your passengers in once piece.

There are few better 4x4s on the market.

Verdict

The latest BMW X5 had a huge task on its hands, living up to expectations set by the previous car, but BMW has delivered the goods yet again. The third-generation X5 is better to drive, more comfortable, more powerful, more efficient and comes with more standard equipment. It may be marginally more expensive than the outgoing car, but the increased premium is a small price to pay for what is one of the best SUVs on the market today.

Key Specs

Model tested: BMW X5 50d M Sport
Engine: 3.0-litre
Power: 381 bhp
Torque: 740Nm
Acceleration: 0-62 in 5.3 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 42.2mpg
Emissions: 177g/km CO2
Price: £63,715
Score: