IT continues to be a bumper time for off-roaders and one car emerging head and shoulders above the rest is the luxurious BMW X5 in diesel form writes Roy Lewis.

The new model has the stance of a mud-plugger but its real forte is on the tarmac where it produces a mighty kick, surging mid-range power and superb road-holding characteristics.

It goes like stink thanks to its three-litre, six-cylinder oil-burning unit fitted with not one but three turbochargers.

That's the M50d which carries the prestigious M badge and in BMW language that represents high performance at its best.

Consequently, the car is a joy to drive, offering a whopping 381bhp and an equally impressive 545lb ft of torque or pulling power. Virtually from any revs and at any speed there is tremendous shove, well controlled by a great chassis and suspension, a proven 4WD system and a smooth-acting eight-speed automatic gearbox.

However, it's a car for the well heeled, with the highly-specified M50d being the dearest in the current range and costing £63,725.

The diesel's good fuel economy of 42.2mpg overall helps keep down running costs as does the optional BMW service package. And comparatively low C02 emissions of 177 (g/km) also make it cheaper than some rivals as a company car.

Despite its bulk and weight, the free-revving X5 returns supercar sprint times with 0-60mph coming up in only 5.3 seconds. And when you are not racing around, the refined motor remains docile and fairly hushed. It's only when you put your right foot down fairly hard that the engine note becomes loud and gravelly - like that of Louis Armstrong.

Whether in sport or comfort suspension modes the car travels through urban areas with complete ease and becomes a refined cruiser in the comfort setting on the open highway. And for a diesel the throttle response is exceedingly sharp, producing bags of power for rapid changes of direction.

One niggle is that in sport mode at lower speeds you can feel the grip of the wide tyres on the big 20in alloys as you turn into a corner. The steering becomes eager to self-centre itself on the way out.

Don't buy the X5 if you want a proper off-roader. While the car will get you across a muddy field and cross rough ground easily you need a vehicle with a separate transfer gearbox when the terrain gets really tough.

Not only is the X5 a performance machine for the tarmac but also a head turner. With a more masculine appearance, it's the best looking X5 yet and the interior is probably more impressive. The new cabin is beautifully built, plusher and more spacious than the outgoing model. And BMW's latest iDrive easily sets the standard for in-car infotainment and ease of use.

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There is plenty of space for four or five adults and a very comfortable and supportive driving position with commanding all-round visibility. You can also add a third row of seats that fold away into the boot floor. The 650-litre cargo area may not be the biggest in the class but it is large and with the second row of seats folded some 1,870 litres of space is available. And there is the advantage of a flat load floor.

The car has steering wheel paddles, full leather upholstery, electric memory front seats, dual zone climate control, parking sensors, Bluetooth, DAB radio and a host of other goodies.

It's an exceptional crossover offering a super b combination of performance, practically, and running costs that rivals will find hard to match.


BMW X5 M50d 3.0-litre auto.

Price: £63,725.

Top speed: 155mph.

0-62mph: 5.3 seconds.

Fuel: 42.2mpg (combined figure).

C02 emissions (g/km): 177.

Verdict: Power and luxury, great fun to drive, highly talented, superbly built, well equipped, pricey.