By Jonathan Crouch

Models Covered

5dr SUV (sDrive 25d 2WD, xDrive 30d, xDrive 40d, M50d, xDrive 50i, X5 M 4.4 V8)


In third generation form, BMW’s X5 proved to be a luxury 4x4 that was bigger, safer, classier and came with a blend of performance and efficiency that some of its rivals could only wonder at. A 2WD option made the range a little more accessible and there were a whole series of dynamic suspension packages for those prioritising tarmac over tundra. The result was a car that, though no longer head and shoulders above the competition, could still set the standard most of them needed to aspire to. Let’ check out this ‘F15’-series model as a used buy.

The History

The BMW X5. It was the car that, back at the turn of the century, completely changed the way we thought about large, plush 4x4s. The car that, more than any other, defined the modern luxury SUV and the one that since the turn of the century, almost every other prestige brand has sought to copy. Without this Munich model, we probably wouldn't have Porsche Cayennes, Range Rover Sports, Volkswagen Touaregs, Audi Q7s or any of the other copycat offerings that now populate the premium SUV sector. And seek to steal sales from the car we’re going to look at here, the third generation ‘F15’-series X5 launched late in 2013.

BMW doesn’t actually like the term ‘SUV’ with its clunky connotations and has always marketed this car as an ‘SAV’ or ‘Sports Activity Vehicle’, though the tag never really caught on. It was justified though when applied to the original 1999 ‘E53’-generation model, introduced at a time when the 4x4 class was mainly populated by big, ladder-frame chassis vehicles that looked more at home on a farm. By the time the MK2 ‘E70’ model arrived in 2007 though, the segment looked very different, so it was just as well that in this form, the X5 had become larger, smarter and more efficient. Good enough in fact to boost global sales over 1.3 million mark and push the Munich maker’s total X5 profits up towards £20 billion.

As you’d expect, this third generation ‘F15’ version moved the game on a little further again, offering what BMW claimed was the best combination of performance and efficiency in its class. It sold only until 2018, when it was replaced by an all-new ‘G05’-series MK4 X5 design.

What To Look For

Our owner survey did reveal many satisfied users of this ‘F15’-series model, but inevitably, there were a few issues reported. We came across a number of reports of rattles from the tailgate. One owner noticed wind noise through the driver’s door seals. Another noticed a squeaking/fluttering sound from the steering column/instrument cluster. Another found the steering wheel rattling. And in one case, a vibration in moderate braking was reported. We came across a couple of instances of the rear view camera failing to engage. And in one case, the iDrive infotainment screen shut down while driving. Some owners have experienced spurious ‘Ad Blue low’ warnings. And in one case, the ‘bonnet open’ light kept coming on. One owner found his engine light continually coming on too. And there was a report of a failed EGR temperature sensor.

Obviously, a fully-stamped service history is vital. This car uses complex engines and only regular and appropriate maintenance will see them go the distance. Otherwise, it’s just the usual things. Insist on a fully stamped-up service record and check the alloys for scratches and scuffs.

On The Road

The X5 might have developed over its three generations but there's been one constant. It's always driven well. Actually, perhaps we’re understating things there. To be frank, the original MK1 model left us all a bit dumbfounded. How could something so big and high corner like a sporty saloon? Back at the turn of the century, we couldn’t quite understand it and not much has changed since. As a result, you now approach this BMW expecting it to be good to drive. To dilute that talent would be to lose the point of the car. It would be like an uncomfortable Rolls-Royce, a dull Ferrari or a reliable TVR.

Did that happen with this third generation version? Well let's consider for a moment what makes this such a good car to drive. Primarily, it’s got its priorities right, developed for tarmac use first and foremost, with BMW cheerfully emphasising the xDrive 4x4 system’s priority in maximising on-road traction at the expense of off-road capability. They’ll happily explain how, instead of mounting the engine and gearbox up high to be clear of water (as you’d get in any serious-minded SUV), they’ve mounted them low and as far back as possible for an aggressive centre of gravity to help spirited cornering. The result is a machine that on a twisting country road, really doesn’t feel very SUV-like at all – which is why the Bavarians call it an ‘SAV’ or ‘Sports Activity Vehicle’ instead.

Original buyers had lots of suspension choice. There was a passive coil-sprung set-up as standard but those who got a plusher model or resorted to the options list could really build quite a tarmac tool. ‘Active Roll Stabilisation’ reduces body lean through the bends. ‘Dynamic Performance Control’ shifts torque between the rear wheels through any given corner, depending on where it’s needed. Then there’s self-levelling rear air suspension to improve the ride and Variable Damper Control so you can stiffen or sharpen that ride to suit the road you’re on and the mood you’re in.

The final feature just mentioned – the Variable Damper Control – works through a system that was standard, BMW’s Drive Performance Control. It’s one of those set-ups you might be familiar with from other brands where a press of a button tweaks steering feel, throttle response and gearshift times to be either super-efficient, comfort-orientated or overtly sporty. Here, the requisite modes are termed ‘ECO PRO’, ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ or ‘Sport+’, all of them controlled via a rocker switch next to the shard-like gearstick for the super-smooth 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission.


This ‘F15’-series model was a more mature X5, this third generation design evolving into a larger, more comfortable and more efficient proposition. The more time you spend with it, the more you wonder whether any other competitor from this era really is better suited to the relentless kind of life that cars of this kind actually lead. It’s very special inside, you can have it with seven seats if necessary, it’s as good as it needs to be on the mud and it’s still a rewarding tarmac tool if specified properly. So yes, it can keep its rivals in sight in all these areas. They, in contrast, struggle much more to match this BMW’s class-leading economy, cleanliness and sprightly performance. Some competitors are much pricier too. Not without reason do one in every three X5 owners stay loyal to the range when the time comes to change their cars.