Sunday 17 December 2017

Battle of the big and bulky beasts

Range Rover Sport is the Swiss Army knife of cars, but X5 is bigger and faster than before, writes Geraldine Herbert

Geraldine Herbert

Geraldine Herbert

The X5 versus Range Rover Sport. Judging from its size and sheer bulk, you'd guess the new X5 is a big, thirsty machine designed for family space rather than sportiness, but car enthusiasts know otherwise. This is as much a performance car as any other BMW.

Longer than the model it replaces, BMW have finely tuned the X5 rather than redesigned it. Restyled headlamps now slide the whole way across the front and the chrome-slated kidney grille has been adjusted in keeping with the rest of the family. Overall, though, it's not as well-proportioned as before and the effect is quite drab. The macho bulging wheel arches and wide tyres that gave the previous model an almost menacing presence have given way to a more estate car-like stance, a look designed to appeal to American and Chinese buyers, the two biggest markets for the new model.

What the X5 lacks on the outside it makes up for on the inside – sit behind the wheel and the dashboard is beautifully uncluttered with a variety of materials and textures that exude quality. From the black gloss and white leather to the ambient lighting our M50d test car is pure luxury. Room is good front and back and even middle-seat passengers won't feel like they have drawn the short straw.

The 40:20:40 split in the middle row is new and allows for much greater flexibility than before. With the seats upright there is 650 litres of luggage space. While this is not class-leading, it is 30 litres more than the current X5 offers, but Land Rover's Range Rover Sport offers 784 litres. There is also an optional third row of seats making it a seven-seater.

In contrast, the new Range Rover Sport is strikingly different from the model it replaces. With styling details borrowed from the Evoque and full-size Range Rover, the chiselled exterior gives it a hot hatch-like stance while the aluminium body shell means its 420kg lighter than before.

The inner beauty of the Range Rover Sport nearly eclipses its stunning exterior. The seating position is lower than the model it replaces but every bit as commanding. For the first time there is also an option of two extra seats in the back. Overall, it makes passengers feel a little more special inside than when in the X5.

Armed with a stunning 510bhp 5.0 litre V8, the Range Rover Sport shoots from standstill to 100kmh in just over five seconds. There are three other engines in the range; two three-litre V6 diesels (TD and SD) and a 340hp, three-litre V6 petrol. A hybrid will join the range next year.

The X5 range starts with a 215bhp BMW X5 sDrive25d, powered by a four-cylinder diesel, there is also a four-wheel-drive option of the same. Those looking for more power should opt for the 254bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder xDrive30d. BMW also offers a 5.0 litre petrol, the xDrive50i, that bolts from standstill to 100 kmh in five seconds.

The on-road manners of the X5 are subtly different from the Range Rover Sport. It feels more like a performance model and almost defies gravity with no body-roll in the corners. On the downside the steering fails to impress.

Press the start button on the Range Rover Sport and the exhaust delivers a deep and resonant note that pairs beautifully with the car's excellent acceleration and overall performance. Beautifully controlled on bends, the suspension is transformed and is both forgiving and stiff in equal measure. On the road, the Sport feels nothing like its predecessor and while it is still a huge vehicle and tips the scales at about two tonnes, it is light and agile.

Off road, the Range Rover Sport is mind bogglingly good and is unmatched by any of the German competition. At the launch, the X5 reassured through a wet and slippy forest and over small hill dunes but while it was all accomplished with ease , we were left unconvinced that a road car wouldn't have achieved the same. But it is on road which is the true battle ground and despite the very similar weight of both vehicles, the X5 feels the lighter and is the most agile of the two.

The BMW X5 may be huge but it's deceptively frugal. On a mix of urban and motorway it will return 42.2mpg. The Sport, with a 3.0 litre turbo-diesel, returns 37.7mpg.

The BMW X5 is available in a variety of trim levels, the basic being the €67,380 SE model. Three packages can be added to SE version to add a variety of interior and exterior trim finishes. BMW also provides an M Sport package. Our range-topping test car, the M50d, costs €109,630.

Prices for the Range Rover Sport are still unconfirmed due to supply restrictions, but we expect the starting price to be in excess of €80,000. It is available in four trims: S, SE, HSE and Autobiography.

For so long, Land Rover played catch-up to BMW's performance machine and just as it was about to pull up alongside its German competitor, BMW changed the rules. Recognising that it is on-road handling and good looks that woos buyers, this is the most road-focused X5 that BMW have produced.

So if you were buying a premium SUV, which would you choose? If elegance is defined by speed, power and space then the answer is probably the BMW X5. But if I was opting for a remote rural idyll, the muscular Range Rover Sport is engineered to take on the most gruelling off-road travel you can imagine.

The Range Rover Sport is the Swiss army knife of cars, but in reality most of us will never appreciate its endless mud-plugging abilities. The X5, on the other hand, has everything you will need – it is slightly bigger, faster and more efficient than before and, crucially, it does it all for less.

Sunday Independent

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