BMW's X5 meisterwagens storm Moz

<b>GOING BUSH IN MOZ:</b> BMW launched its third-generation BMW X5 SAV range over a route through northern KZN and into Mozambique with an overnight at the awesome Indian Ocean resort of Ponta Mamoli. <i>Image: LES STEPHENSON</i>
<b>GOING BUSH IN MOZ:</b> BMW launched its third-generation BMW X5 SAV range over a route through northern KZN and into Mozambique with an overnight at the awesome Indian Ocean resort of Ponta Mamoli. <i>Image: LES STEPHENSON</i>
Les Stephenson
BMW SA has moved firmly into the lead in the South African family 4x4 business with the introduction (February 2014) of its third-generation X5 “sport activity vehicle” - BMW-speak for high-performance luxury SUV.

Three now less-thirsty yet more powerful engines for now (two more in the next month or so) and here's the line-up presented to local motoring media this week for the launch on the rugged roads of rural northern KZN and across the border into southern Mozambique with its deep-sand tracks and dunes:

BMW X5 xDrive50i with a new generation of the V8 petrol engine (330 kW)
BMW X5 xDrive30d with revised six-cylinder in-line diesel unit (190 kW)
BMW X5 M50d M Performance with tri-turbo six-cylinder in-line diesel (280 kW)

Still to come are the X5 xDrive40d and X5 xDrive35i but every model will now have all-wheel drive and an eight-speed auto/manual sequential gearbox with multiple drive modes and ride on high-tech driver-selectable and self-adjusting suspension systems that, working with a new range of large wheels, will sneer at the our nation’s acne-rash of potholes.

Image gallery: 2014 BMW X5

And there were plenty of those – not to mention free-range goats and cattle - to avoid on the ungraded back roads of Zululand as BMW SA’s dozen-strong vehicle launch convoy headed out of Richards Bay on a winding 400km route into Mozambique, via Kosi Bay, to the newish and utterly beautiful Ponta Mamoli White Pearl resort north of the already famous Ponta do Ouro.

Once into the real Africa that exists beyond Kosi that meant 25km through the maze of sand tracks (all-wheel drive only, thank you) to the gum-pole supported beach resort, its individual cabins, public buildings and sky walks almost buried in the lush tropical foliage of the Indian Ocean's coastal high dunes.

The rough route through Zululand and then the Mozambican sand was deliberately set by BMW to show off three sides of the new X-range: its much-upgraded ability to ride smoothly over rough and eroded rural roads with its high-tech suspension systems and big wheels in play, float over millennia-old sand trails that squeak beneath your (no, fully inflated) tyres and, on the second day, devour tar backroads and the northern end of the N2 back to what, compared to the Eden of Ponta Mamoli, was certainly not civilisation.


It was BMW's Plan A (there wasn't a Plan B) and it worked. The Gen-3 X5 is not only an on-tar muscle machine but also, thanks to what are possibly the most high-tech drive systems on the planet, a very competent off-roader. Only because of lack of ride height and wheel travel do these SAV's fail to qualify as rock-crawlers of the ilk of Land Cruisers, Jeep Wranglers and Land Rovers.

The test drive started from the car-rental car park at Richards Bay’s rudimentary airport with examples of each of the first three 2014 X6 units gassed up, provisioned with snacks and drinking water, and ready to rumble on the route along the R22 and N2 past Hluhluwe and Sodwana.

Magazine mogul Wynter Murdoch and I teamed up in the nearest unit to hand - a BMW X5 xDrive50i for the dice through the tribal hills en route to Mozambique...

Richards Bay to Phinda game reserve
BMW X5 xDrive50i
4395cc V8 petrol engine with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology (two turbochargers, direct injection, Valvetronic) capable of 330kW at 5500rpm/650Nm from 2000-4500 rpm.
0-100km/h in five seconds, top speed 250km/h, average fuel consumption (EU standard) 10.4-0.5 litres/100km.

Not a very long drive but a tough one on ungraded tribal tracks which quickly showed how good the suspension systems are on the new X5. BMW calls it 'Driving Experience Control' with Comfort, Dynamic and Professional adaptive suspension packages and Adaptive M suspension and it can be specified to enhance any model's sporty handling (unless standard) and ride comfort.

Both of us were amazed that any vehicle could ride those switchback roads with so little effect on body movement and vibration. Electric steering-assistance is standard across the range with Active Steering (ratios change according to speed for easier parking or faster responses at speed) an option.


BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system with dynamic performance control as part of the Dynamic and Professional adaptive suspension packages takes care of all traction demands and a new xDrive status display illustrates torque shifts and other traction adjustments on a 26cm widescreen colour display mounted centrally on the facia.

Negative is the lack of a 'parcel shelf' of any kind and the cubby is pretty much filled by the half-dozen driver's manuals and their hundreds of pages of tech talk. Why not just load all the info on to the car's computer and make it searchable* with a remote cellphone-sized keyboard? And please, will automakers start installing some kind of facia-mounted universal clamp to handle any cellphone?

Given that BMW has sold more than 1.33-million X5 units worldwide out of their Spartanburg plant in the US since the first version was launched in 1999 - 120 000 of them in South Africa. That overrall total is about one-third of all BMW units sold; given that you have the budget to buy one (prices range from R769 000 to R1 032 000) could this, I wondered, be the 'perfect' car?

While the profile of the X5 with its cD of 0.31 is little changed the cars have had a serious nose-job with a new grille, new headlight clusters, emphasised air intakes, LED fog lights and optional LED headlights over a huge underbody tray. The rear gets L-shaped light clusters but continues with the horizontally split tail hatch and its electric operation.

A choice of five or seven (the reat  two can be folded for luggage) seats is available;  boot space otherwise has increased by 30 litres to 650 litres or a whopping 1870 (up by 120) litres with all the rear seats folded.

Phinda game reserve to Ponta Mamoli resort via Kosi Bay border post
BMW X5 xDrive30d
2993cc six-cylinder in-line diesel with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology (turbo with variable inlet geometry, common-rail direct injection) and capable of 190kW at 4000rpm/560Nm from 1500-3000rpm.
0-100km/h in 6.9sec, top speed: 230 km/h, average fuel consumption 6.2 litres/100km.

Phinda game reserve is a magical place; we stopped for lunch at the Forest Lodge and it's a pity it wasn't overnight because BMW has come up with an amazing bit of kit - animal detection that can identify creatures (dog, rabbit, buck etc) with sensors and instantly illuminate it with the swiveling right or left fog light. The end of game-park rangers?

It's one of thev many innovations in the BMW Connected Drive range that adds a head-up display, night-vision (the buck-spotter which will also identify humans, by shape if not yet by name), lane departure and speed-limit warnings, the best on-screen parking assistant I've yet seen, collision warning and auto braking for pedestrians, 'SurroundView' for the whole vehicle in tight spaces such as parking garages, cruise control, stop/go fuel-saving in traffic and internet-based services for traffic info, emergency assistance call (if you crash) and in-car connection to Facebook and Twitter (oh dear, there's no escape now!) with voice recognition and a dictation feature.

After cheerful exchanges with the police and customs folk on each side of the border crossing into Moz (really, SA and Moz should get together and tidy up the place, it was a disgrace when I was there about 12 years ago and it's worse now!) the convoy headed out onto the maze of sand roads to Ponta Mamoli - the all-wheel drive systems treating the deep sand with the same disdain as they did the Zululand tracks.

Ponta Mamoli to Richards Bay airport
BMW X5 M50d M Performance
2993cc six-cylinder in-line diesel engine with M Performance TwinPower Turbo technology (three high-pressure turbos with variable turbine geometry), common-rail direct injection with piezo injectors maximum injection pressure 2200 bar) and capable of
280kW from 4000-4000rpm/740Nm from 2000-3000rpm.
0-100km/h 5.3sec, top speed 250km/h, average fuel consumption 6.7 litres/100 km.

This the last of the three legs of our two-day blast through northern KZN was back through Kosi Bay to Richards Bay airport. Close to 300km but a leisurely four hours to fill before the flight – but once again through a living minefield of goats and cattle wandering across unfenced tar roads leading to the N2 - and even there cattle were ignoring the rules of the road.

Congratulations to the KZN highways people for the general standard of their tar and road markings but the wandering herds called to the max for the excellent handling of the big tri-turbo diesel; the car became the cursor in a real-life computer game but at least KZN’s wide mowed verges made the “aliens” easy to spot.

X5 M50d M Performance has the same eight-speed auto/manual sequential box and all-wheel drive as the other models. Despite its size, it felt more like a nimble X3 as it soared up the Jozini mountain pass on the south side of the dam wall beyond the bustling town of the same name that's become almost indistinguishable from places north of our borders: a colourful bustle of free-for-all kerbside commerce.

We made the airport in plenty of time; an easy cruise that needed only 1800rpm dialled-in to hold the 120km/h limit and averaged (actual) 9.8 litres/100km for the trip. Pretty darn good for a 280kW straight-six.

While major competitors Mercedes and Audi have SUV’s of similar size and with comparable performance the 2014 BMW X5 range - at least for now - has the edge.

Perhaps we should just say it's all to do with the The X Factor...

*BMW later called to point out that indeed the owner's manual is installed on all BMW products with multimedia screens. My bad! Now how about the cellphone holder....
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