Pricing for the M50d xDrive version of the new X5 starts at £63,715

Pricing for the M50d xDrive version of the new X5 starts at £63,715

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Imagine a big SUV that does 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds but returns an average 30-40mpg and handles like, well, like a BMW. Glenn Brooks has been driving the new X5 M50d.

Seventy six thousand pounds for an X5. Just let that sink in. I'm trying to. OK, it's not that bad. The standard M50d is only GBP63,715, to which you can add all manner of options and accessories which press cars tend to almost always be fitted with. In this case, things like Adaptive Dynamic Suspension (GBP2,495), Instrument Panel Leather (GBP1,195), 20" M Double-spoke style 468M alloy wheels (GBP1,200), and Panoramic Glass Sunroof (GBP1,295).

The interior of this one also came with GBP190 worth of American Oak interior trim, which is fitting, as for its third generation, the X5 is of course again manufactured in the US, at Spartanburg to be precise. The X6 and X3 are also made there, with the X4 joining them later in 2014, and if the rumours are to be believed, the 3- or 5-Series sedan in a few years' time. Unlike rivals Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, BMW doesn't build engines locally for its made-in-North America models but again, that might change, according to a recent report.

BMW's South Carolina plant is presently nearing the end of a USD900m expansion programme, with annual capacity having been lifted from 300,000 units to 350,000. Most of those extra vehicles will be the X4 but a second generation X6 is also on the way, and of course the arrival of the new X5 means an expected spike in global sales for that model too.

It shows how important the UK is to BMW that there was little if any delay in getting right-hand drive cars into production - not always the case with some rival brands. The model range for Britain consists of no fewer than 11 model variants, commencing with the two-wheel drive and GBP42,590 sDrive25d (160kW/218hp) - also available in all-wheel drive xDrive25d form - and rising to the as-tested M50d. In between, there are xDrive30d, xDrive40d and xDrive50i (330kW/450hp) derivatives. The 25d is, incidentally, the first four-cylinder X5 in the model's history.

So far, there's no news on a replacement for the mighty X5 M - that was the flagship of the second generation model, powered by a 408kW/555hp 4.4-litre biturbo V8 - but it didn't appear until more than two years after the launch of the E70 series model.

The new X5, developed under the F15 project code, uses an update of the previous E60 architecture as its basis, retaining the 2,933mm wheelbase of its predecessor, but differing in other dimensions. In some markets, notably the US, there is a third-row seating option but the test M50d was strictly a five-seater. Knowing that you can have this vehicle with up to seven seats explains why there is so much rear legroom, and despite this being one SUV which has what looks from the outside like a low roofline, there is more than enough headroom for all.

The tailgate opens via a button on the key remote, and just like a Range Rover's, it splits into upper and lower sections. Once the top bit swings open, it's easy enough to drop the lower part.

I love how this car looks - the enormous tyres, the low stance, the short overhangs - and it's amazing how it has instantly dated what had hitherto been to my eyes a still great looking second generation model. I passed a few of these on motorway trips and each driver checked out the M50d and you could tell what was going through their minds: "That's the new one then. Time I thought about updating".

The styling might be spot-on, but how does it handle? Amazingly, in a word. There is just so much grip you can't imagine how hard you would have to push this car to get it to misbehave. The bodyroll normally associated with large SUVs is something you forget about, much in the same way you do about this vehicle's size. It's 4,886mm long, 1,762mm high and 1,938mm wide.

I found myself surprised that the X5 is lengthier (by 36mm) than a Range Rover Sport, but it does feel narrower and lower, which it is, by 45mm and 83mm respectively. It's the width dimension which is critical, as you can place this car far more confidently on B roads compared to most rivals, and that includes the Porsche Cayenne S Diesel and Mercedes-Benz ML 350 BlueTEC AMG.

Another factor contributing to the sports car-like feel is electric power steering. BMW took a lot of flack from the enthusiast mags a few years back when it first began ditching hydraulic pumps in favour of electric ones. In the X5, the result is a near-perfect combination of feel and precision - and don't forget we're talking about something you could take into some pretty challenging off-road conditions and not get stuck there.

Weight distribution was clearly an essential to get right during the development programme. Lift the bonnet and you soon see a typical BMW engineering philosophy: the engine is mounted as far back as it's surely possible to have put it, while the packaging has been cleverly done - don't forget there needs to be room for three turbochargers. The gearbox in all X5s is ZF's 8HP70, which also featured in the Discovery I recently tested, as well as in the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. Just as in the Land Rovers, this eight-speed transmission can be controlled via paddle-shifters or left to its own devices.

I mentioned the potential for an even pricier model variant to come, the follow-up to the X5 M, but before then, BMW will add a plug-in hybrid. This was previewed by the Concept X5 eDrive which premiered at September 2013's Frankfurt IAA. This working prototype can reach speeds of up to 120 km/h (75 mph), its maker claims, and has a maximum range of 30 kilometres (19 miles) on electric power alone. Its average fuel consumption in the EU test cycle is rated at 3.8 litres per 100 kilometres (74.3 mpg imp).

The eDrive concept is powered by a TwinPower four-cylinder petrol engine and a 75kW/90hp electric motor. BMW has also learned lessons from the criticisms addressed to certain other PHEV vehicles: the lithium-ion battery is mounted under the loadbay so there is no loss of boot capacity. Expect to see the production model towards the end of 2014, with its motor show debut likely for Paris in September.

Will there ever be an X7 above the new X5 and next-generation X6? Something to take on the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and Range Rover? The answer is almost certainly. The codename is F17, and this project is said to be progressing towards a 2015 or 2016 launch.

In the absence of a theoretical X7, not to mention a high-powered turbo V8 version of the X5, the new M50d remains BMW's fastest (and sexiest looking) SUV, or as the company insists on calling it, SAV, for Sports Activity Vehicle. It has also just become my favourite car of 2014 - it might not have the grunting V8 of the Cayenne S Diesel but its rev-happy tri-turbo six-cylinder engine will for many buyers be an even more alluring attraction.