- Published: Friday, 09 December 2016 01:31
Diesel-powered BMWs are beginning to catch on, but only with smaller cars. Can this new X5 change that?
SINGAPORE — Before we consider the BMW X5 xDrive25d and its diesel engine, a moment to remember poor Rudolf Diesel, who was murdered by agents of the oil industry. That’s my theory, anyway.
The official version is that he simply vanished one night during a ferry crossing, either falling or leaping overboard. But Diesel designed the engine that bears his name to run on peanut oil, and having invented a biofuel alternative to petrol in the early days of the automobile era, he probably wasn’t popular with Big Oil execs.
Diesel engines didn’t perish with their creator, of course, but perhaps that’s because the industry came up with a way to distill a fuel from crude that could run on them. Thus, diesel fuel was born after the diesel engine, and after decades of steady refinement for both of them we have this X5.
Its 2.0-litre turbodiesel is as good as it gets, busting out 231hp at just 4,400rpm. That’s serious clout, and it comes with a 500N slug of torque between 1,500 and 3,000rpm.
The X5 is a big, heavy car, so even with all that grunt it’s never going to feel like a hot hatch, but boy the the diesel engine moves it along smartly. Despite the engine’s small size the BMW picks up speed like an elephant with its tail on fire. Overall it just feels like BMW snuck an extra litre of engine under the bonnet.
Mind you, the strong acceleration doesn’t last long before the eight-speed auto has to change up. There’s not much added oomph when you rev the engine hard, so the X5 is most at home in urban traffic. That suits the car anyway, because it doesn’t have a sportcar’s handling.
Even with the optional M Sport suspension fitted, our test car didn’t feel particularly sharp or eager to change direction. We’d skip the option ourselves, and enjoy a smoother ride over bumps in the process. Who buys a seven-seat Sports Utility Vehicle to throw into bends?
It does make you wonder whether the xDrive35i model, with its 3.0-litre petrol engine, is now obsolete. About the only reason to choose that is if you want the high-rev performance (pointless, given the handling) or the stirring howl of a six-cylinder engine.
That latter feature is a hell of a thing to pay an extra $32,000 for, mind you. And anyway the diesel X5 doesn’t sound bad. It has an obviously different voice from the petrol model, but it’s not offensive unless you’re the closed-minded sort.
Another reason to go diesel is to reap savings at the pumps, and sure enough the X5 xDrive25d is rated for a teetotaling 5.6L/100km. That’s about as optimistic as it gets, really, and translates to more than 17.8km per litre.
But after tiptoeing like an underwear thief and doing our best to avoid heavy traffic, the best we managed was 14.1km per litre. That’s still damn good, even if we have to say so ourselves, and anyone who’s used to feeding a petrol X5 would be purple with envy.
It’s enough to make the X5 xDrive25d our variant of choice, unless you do big miles in Malaysia where diesel quality is still iffy. Otherwise it’s cheaper to buy than the petrol, cheaper to run, and better to drive in town. It has the same spacious seven-seat body with the same clever fold-up third row chairs, and the same giant boot (575 litres, expandable to 1,870 litres).
It’d be a shame to disregard all that just because diesel engines haven’t taken off here yet, at least not in this end of the market. But BMW has found surprising success with diesels lately, thanks to the 116d and 216d models. Those have helped the brand put more than 1,500 diesels on the road here this year, which is more than a dozen times the figure that dealer Performance Motors expected to sell.
For all that, diesel is beginning to get a bad rap overseas. The mayors of Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City want to ban them altogether by 2025, and those of other major cities are bound to follow. The problem is that while petrol engines do more harm to the climate (because they emit more carbon dioxide), diesels do more harm to human health (thanks to other emissions).
If diesel really is a dead end, BMW is already hard at work on an electrification strategy; the brand has a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid version of the X5 set for launch in early 2017. But until then, this turbodiesel is the pick of the range.
And if BMW’s growing success with diesel engines here is anything to go by, unlike poor Rudolf they aren’t quite dead in the water yet.
NEED TO KNOW BMW X5 xDrive25d
Engine 1,995cc, inline 4, turbodiesel
Power 231hp at 4,400rpm
Torque 500Nm at 1,500 to 3,000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed auto
Top Speed 220km/h
Fuel efficiency 5.6L/100km
Price $322,800 with COE