BMW New Zealand has all but abandoned the petrol engine for the third-generation X5. When the new model is launched here mid-November, it will be available in two versions, both compression-ignition: the mainstream xDrive30d and the high-performance xDriveM50d.
A 40d will follow in early-2014 and it's likely that there will be a new entry-level model to sit below the 30d - but that'll be diesel too. More about that later.
All this talk of diesel torque did render part of our trip to the international media launch for the X5 in Vancouver purely theoretical: half of our drive-time in the new car was allocated to the petrol-powered 50i V8, a model that is a recent casualty of BMW New Zealand's product planning. Less than 20 examples of the 50i were sold last year and so the decision has been made to leave the big V8 out of the lineup for the third-generation model.
But driving the 50i was not such a bad thing after all, because it did highlight the advances made in our second X5 of the day, the 30d. This is the model that has made up the bulk of sales in New Zealand to date and is expected to do so again in the new version.
There's nothing quite like the sheer grunt and soundtrack of a petrol V8, of course. But the 30d still has a lot of pulling power (up 20Nm in the new model to 560Nm) and what is genuinely surprising is the reduction in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) compared with the old car. Or indeed how the gap has narrowed between this and the super-smooth V8 model.
The distinctive clatter of the diesel engine has been toned down considerably in the new 30d. It's something you notice straight away, because the rest of the car is so quiet as well. Virtually every structural element has been reworked, adding strength and noise-deadening where possible, while still achieving a 90kg reduction in weight compared with the previous car.
We were certainly not left with the impression that the 30d was a poor cousin to the 50i. While the diesel six doesn't match the petrol V8's performance (they are at opposite ends of the X5 range, after all), it's safe to say that this improved refinement, matched with the searing 740Nm of torque in the triple-turbo diesel M50d (50i 650Nm) version, really does have the potential to render the 50i irrelevant. Just as well, because for us it is.
Ostensibly, the new X5 rides on the same platform as the old (the 2933mm wheelbase is the same), but so much of the car has been reworked that it deserves to be called a brand new model.
The engines are essentially carried over, but in the pursuit of that thing it calls EfficientDynamics, BMW has made the 30d's 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine more powerful (up 10kW to 190kW) and quicker to 100km/h (6.9 seconds, a 0.7sec improvement), while still improving fuel economy by 16 per cent: the 30d now achieves 6.2 litres per 100km.
As before, the X5 has an eight-speed automatic gearbox. However, for New Zealand it has moved up to a sports calibration with gearchange paddles as standard - the same setup as the current X5 M50d.
The xDrive four-wheel drive system is standard, but BMW has developed a quartet of suspension packages to choose from for the new X5. There's a default setup, but buyers will also be able to option in Comfort, Dynamic or Professional systems.
Comfort introduces adaptive damping, while Dynamic is conventionally sprung but stiffer and includes the Dynamic Performance Control system previously only offered on the X6 and X5 M: it can shift torque side-to-side on the rear axle for more cornering speed and stability.
Professional is pretty much suspension with the works: with adaptive damping like Comfort, but also with Dynamic Performance Control and Adaptive Drive, like the Dynamic package. Electric power steering is standard on all models.
While BMW has made strenuous efforts to stretch the boundaries of the X5's sportiness, it's also on a mission to make the car more luxurious. A styling package called Pure Experience will be standard for New Zealand. A more glamorous trim called Pure Excellence will be a no-cost option. Or if you prefer, you can mix and match the two levels: Experience outside, Excellence inside, or vice versa.
The dashboard styling is strangely familiar but completely new, featuring upgraded materials, a triple-layer design that lends itself to various trim options and even ambient lighting that can be configured in a variety of colours.
The X5 has picked up the clever 40/20/40-split rear seat from the 3-series Touring, which allows for a wide variety of people and load-carrying options.
First impressions are of a car that has benefited from a comprehensive evolution, but still sticks closely to the themes established by that very first X5 in 1999: a premium crossover with very sporty handling on-road. That's no bad thing when the whole package is this well executed: BMW has improved the quality and equipment of the X5 considerably, while also extending its on-road abilities.
If anything has been lost, it's some of the previous model's visual grunt. BMW has pulled off the neat trick of making a model that is slightly bigger than the one it replaces look a little smaller, by taking away those broad shoulders and bold angles.
But the design changes are not major and that's as it must be, for the X5 is one of BMW's most important and profitable global models - over 1.3 million have been sold since 1999 and its appeal (by which we mean selling power) has not diminished even in the twilight years of the second-generation model. So if you're disappointed that the new X5 does not look dramatically different from the old, that's why: it ain't broke, so BMW has no intention of fixing it.
BMW New Zealand will not confirm pricing of the 30d until next month. It says a small price increase is likely over the current $125,000 30d SE, but will be more than compensated for by a generous level of specification. The 30d will come as standard with the latest colour head-up display, satellite navigation, automatic tailgate (both up and down), reversing camera with 360-degree view, an Active Protection package, the Driving Assistant with features such as lane departure warning, and 19-inch wheels.
There is no direct equivalent to the entry-level X5 30d ES ($111,000) in the new range. At least not for now. BMW New Zealand is yet to make it official, but that's surely the cue to launch the first-ever four-cylinder X5, the 25d.
The new 2.0-litre turbo diesel 25d model is still no slouch, with 450Nm of torque, and could achieve two very important things for BMW here: generate even more EfficientDynamics-themed headlines for the marque, and plug that gap between the flagship X3 30d at $110,400 and the new X5 30d at around $130,000.
For those desperately needing a petrol fix, that will come in the form of a new X5 M.
But not for another year.