DRIVEN: BMW X models revisited – X3, X4, X5 and X6

BMW X Drive Chiang Rai 12

Life is a party at this club, without a doubt the most happening place in the city right now. There were a few rooms in the club’s previous location, but today’s impressive building houses multiple venues for varying tastes, and there are no shortage of patrons swiping cards and throwing cash at the house every weekend. Queues are normal.

No, I have not been to the new Zouk KL, but the talk of the town has similarities with the party that every motor industry player wants to be seen at – the SUV party.

Certain types of vehicles are endemic to a region – Europeans are fond of wagons and small hatchbacks for instance, while Americans regard the Camry/Accord as mid-size; in ASEAN, trucks are big in Thailand but Indonesia is an MPV-dominated market. But there’s one type of car with universal appeal – the SUV.

BMW played a big part in popularising the premium SUV genre. The original X5 fused the brand’s dynamics into a traditional 4X4 body in 1999, inspiring Porsche to diversify. Ten years later, the X1 brought down the premium SUV’s size and price to a new level, creating a sub-segment that till today, others are scrambling to get a piece of. The big-bottomed X6, much-derided by car enthusiasts and commentators, “coupefied” the SUV and is enough of a sales success for Mercedes-Benz to follow suit.

It’s a crowded field today, and it’s easy to be distracted by the young and flashy. BMW knows this, and recently whisked us to Chiang Rai for a refresher drive of its X range of SAVs and SACs. Where do they stand?

BMW X Drive Chiang Rai 14

Situated in the northernmost part of Thailand near the Thai-Myanmar border, Chiang Rai’s cool weather was a pleasant change from the heat of KL. The laid back city and the hilly region that surrounds it was also a good canvas for the range of X cars we were to drive. On call were the facelifted X3, X4, X5 and the new X6.

That’s the whole family, except for the X1 – there’s not much point in driving the superseded E84 (it was there as a crew car), and the freshly baked F48 is yet to reach the shores of Thailand and Malaysia. No matter, as we’ve already driven the new baby of the range – much improved, very impressive, read our review of the second-gen BMW X1 here.

Ironically, we started the “xDrive Adventure” event with the only car in the fleet without xDrive, and it’s a very unlikely candidate for rear-wheel drive, too. It wasn’t in the plan, but issues with logistics meant that we had to settle for an X5 sDrive25d.

BMW X Drive Chiang Rai 24

The combination of a basic powertrain on a flagship SUV was quite a novelty for this writer – in Malaysia, the F15 X5 is available as an xDrive30d and xDrive35i, and sDrive is usually reserved for the base X1.

Off we went, and although it was is my first time in the third-generation X5, it felt instantly familiar. That’s often the case with BMWs, thanks to same-same cabin design and the consistent delivery of a certain standard of drivability.

Some would dismiss the interior as boring – and it’s true that there are more delightful designs out there – but it’s hard to fault the comfort and ergonomics from the driver’s throne. A tip for those who can’t tell BMW cabins apart – look out for the double-volume air vents on the sides; these are unique to the X5 and X6.

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The 25d engine is a 2.0 litre turbodiesel with 218 hp and 450 Nm of torque from 1,500 to 2,500 rpm. A two-litre engine versus the X5 may conjure images of a bantamweight squaring up against a heavyweight, but there’s no KO – the oil burner’s ample torque manages to haul the two-tonner along without feeling strained, and a glance at the spec sheet shows 0-100 km/h in 8.2 seconds and 220 km/h max, which is fast enough for most urban users. It had to earn its keep on our hilly route, but performance was adequate.

It had rained overnight, leaving a slick surface ideal for xDrive, except we weren’t in an xDrive car. No serious traction issues with the RWD X5 however, and our only oversteer moment was out of deliberate provocation – I found a mid-corner sandy patch and couldn’t resist.

Yes, DSC is there as a safety net, but big SUVs are often used as family cars, and 450 Nm could potentially get an unsuspecting (or overenthusiastic, but most likely the former) driver into trouble. Such a car needs all-wheel drive.

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The snaky climb to Phra Boromathat Chedi on the hills of Doi Mae Salong was interesting, and the vantage point breathtaking, but our xDrive adventure begins here.

BMW included a mild off-road course around a tea plantation that the rear-driven X5 had to sit out of. The rain had made it a little more muddy and challenging than the last time the instructors were here, we were told, but all cars cleared the course with high-performance road tyres and big wheels.

Hill Descent Control was used (crawls downhill as advertised), and one climb was steep enough to require all-paw grip, but these are no Land Rovers. Having said that, while motoring journalists are used to bigger obstacles, our little trek would probably be considered “hardcore” by BMW’s well-heeled X customers. Even if the only bukit you climb is Bukit Damansara, it’s still good to know that your xDrive SUV is capable of more than a grassy field.

BMW X Drive Chiang Rai 41

Back on the road and we’re in the new X6. The second-gen “X5 Coupe” was launched in Malaysia at BMW World in April, and this is our first go at it. The evolutionary design of the F16 might not be able to match the impact created by the original X6 back in 2008, but that’s only because we’re already familiar with its shape and size. The new X6 is 23 mm longer and 51 mm wider than the X5, but 60 mm lower than its upright sister. Bold, without a doubt.

We had the X6 xDrive30d, the base diesel variant with performance that’s anything but base. How about 218 hp (Thai-spec, 258 hp elsewhere), 560 Nm of torque from 1,500 to 3,000 rpm and 0-100 km/h in a hot hatch beating 6.7 seconds?

Now, “25d” and “30d” may only be five numbers apart, but the gulf in performance is bigger than the branding suggests. No lag, just a big kick in the back, plus a snarly accompanying soundtrack. It’s a brute, this X6, and I can’t imagine anyone making good use of the grunt of a 40d (630 Nm) or M50d (740 Nm) on our narrow mountain route.

BMW X Drive Chiang Rai 37

While the X5 was a little ponderous in response and in corners, the X6 felt more hunkered down, resisting roll very well for something so big, and providing extra cornering ability. Perhaps that’s the reason for the extra knee padding on the centre console. There was a harder edge to the X6’s ride, but that could be down to our unit’s 20-inch M alloys (an inch larger than the X5’s) with a staggered setup.

After the short but wild ride delivered by the X6, it was good to wind down and settle into the X3 LCI for the long final leg back to base. You’re expecting an anti-climax, but it turned out to be the best for last, and here’s why.

The Plain Jane of the family – in modest xDrive20d spec – was surprisingly serene and effortless; its 2.0 litre turbodiesel noticeably quieter than the X5’s for reasons unknown. Leisurely 110 km/h cruising at an inaudible 1,500 rpm, ample reserves (190 hp, 400 Nm from 1,750-2,500 rpm, 8.1 sec) and a managable size were plus points for me.

BMW X Drive Chiang Rai 36

Comfy it may be, but the X3 is still a good steer thanks to a slick powertrain (fantastic eight-speed auto never puts a foot wrong, whether charging down a hill or mixing it in traffic) and well-judged ride and handling balance, things that Munich gets right more often than not. The X3 is a more satisfying drive than an Audi Q5, Lexus NX, Volvo XC60 or Range Rover Evoque, although you can’t say the same about the F25’s dowdy cabin design.

What about the X4? It’s also a xDrive20d, but with an M Sport package that includes more aggressive styling, exclusive Melbourne Red paint, 19-inch M alloys and a fat M steering wheel that I still can’t get to grips with, pun intended. More frills and less practicality than an X3, but if you like the looks…

The xDrive Adventure wasn’t such an adventure into the unknown after all. The two days of driving the latest iterations of the X3, X4, X5 and X6 merely reminded us that BMW’s SUVs – square or sloping – are right up there in driver appeal, despite the influx of rivals over the years. Include the new X1 and Munich’s line-up is formidable, with strength in depth and consistency across the squad.

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Danny Tan

Danny Tan loves driving as much as he loves a certain herbal meat soup, and sweet engine music as much as drum beats. He has been in the auto industry since 2006, previously filling the pages of two motoring magazines before joining this website. Enjoys detailing the experience more than the technical details.



  • seancorr (Member) on Aug 29, 2015 at 12:56 am

    I see the sentiment is still the same in this review when compared to the last one in the e-mag edition and the SUVs got a lil more playful yet composed when tackling some difficult roads.

    I think in Bolehland 99% of the owners will never take it into the jungle but its good to know that the xDrive system will help a lot when the roads are slippery.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
  • Chinsoo lim on Aug 29, 2015 at 3:19 am

    Seriously , expect on the coming up driven clips, this articles wasn’t bad but just spend more time to reach the info from Paultan . Clips please .. At least it’s interesting then words . I guess

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
    • Are Malaysians Cheated? on Aug 29, 2015 at 11:39 am

      X1 is USD34k
      X3 is USD38k
      X4 is USD44k
      X5 is USD52k
      X6 is USD59k

      This is before the discounts you get. If you bargain well, you can get an X5 fr even US45k.Brand new but 2014 model can even get US$39k.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
      • tishaban on Aug 30, 2015 at 12:02 am

        It’s the same guy with the same argument. All those prices are base prices without options, and not OTR prices ie. without state sales tax or insurance. We don’t get to choose options in Malaysia, so compare the optioned up BMW in the US plus all the OTR costs, with the optioned up BMW in Malaysia and the difference is less. Don’t forget BMW Malaysia gives 5-year warranties compared to “only” 4-year warranty by BMW USA :D

        I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’d rather have higher pay than lower car prices. Bring up the Malaysian salary standard to Singapore level, no need for EU or US level and I’ll be happier.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2
  • VW_rocks on Aug 29, 2015 at 8:04 am

    Exclusive and terrific review.
    Big applause to Danny and members!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
    • Ketuk Ketuk MAlaysia on Aug 29, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      You should also review the price and ask why BMW ketuk Malaysians gila gila. X6 is US60k but here nearly RM900k

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
      • Ricardo68 on Aug 31, 2015 at 12:19 am

        Please get your figures correct before you post. The new X6 is RM720k. The X6m is over a million.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  • BMW is visionary leader, Mercedes and VW(Audi & Porsche) are only good enough as a follower.
    BTW Lexus at least has it own director, Bravo!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1
  • idealtech on Aug 29, 2015 at 9:43 am

    Nice review, very straight forward. Surprised to know that X3 drivability is better than those aforementioned in the segment. People often judge exterior too highly rather than the mechanics of a machine.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
  • X3er JB on Aug 29, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Thank god i made the right decision by buying the X3 320d n not Q5 or Evoque….8 months already and still have no regrets….not a bit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4
  • I ate on Aug 29, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    I wish the x3 had the 28i option here

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  • sudonano (Member) on Aug 29, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    Really wish BMW will bring in the 28i variant for the X3, not all of us want the diesel…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
  • tokmoh. on Aug 29, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    Meh, Volvo XC90 is better. Jeremy Clarkson, the hard-to-please critic, bought three of them in a row. That’s enough indication how great it is. Safer, more comfortable, spacious, etc, the entire packaging is the best for real world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5
  • comparo on Aug 31, 2015 at 11:28 am

    GLC and GLE seemed better still

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7
  • Delan on Aug 31, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    I like how Danny brings us the introduction story before going into the rather short article. Keep it up!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  • tiffany on Aug 31, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    all also same face.

    I wish BMW come with several designs rather than just shape and size alone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

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