BBC Autos

For 2014, BMW X5 sends turbo twist to the rear wheels

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BMW has clearly been absorbing a little too much Top Gear.

Because what we have here is the brand new, third-generation BMW X5... now available with rear-wheel drive.

Wait, what? Aren't SUVs supposed to be 4WD school-run tractors? Well, yes. And for the most part, the new X5 is. But buried within the news release is this little line: "The all-new BMW X5 will offer a new model and a first for the original Sports Activity Vehicle, the X5 sDrive35i, which marks the first time that an X5 model has been offered with rear-wheel drive.”

Not quite the rear-wheel-drive monster we were hoping for, but no doubt a tuner is eyeing this up very carefully. The Big Daddy of the new X5 range is the xDrive 50i, with a twin-turbo, 4.4-litre V8 producing 450 horsepower, 479 pound-feet of torque and a 0-62mph time of 5 seconds. That's quick.

Elsewhere, there's the traditional 3-litre straight six diesel in the xDrive30d (258bhp, 0-62mph in 6.9s), and of course, the wonderful 3-litre, triple turbo straight six diesel in the M50d. It's not an all guns-blazing M-Power car, but an “M Performance” line model. Still, it produces 381bhp, 546lb-ft and accelerates from 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds. It's cleaner and more efficient than before: CO2 sits at 177g/km and the claimed mpg is 42.2.

In December this year, BMW will release the next raft of engines to complement the new X5: the xDrive35i (a 3-litre sixer with 306bhp), the xDrive40d with 313bhp, a 218bhp xDrive25d and the rear-wheel-drive sDrive25d. This last model gets a claimed 50.4mpg. Say what you will about the likely buyer of a two-tonne, 2-litre diesel, rear-wheel-drive SUV with a BMW badge, but it's the most frugal X5 you can buy.

All models get a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox, together with comfort, sport, sport + and eco modes (the latter adjusting ECU, throttle and ‘box characteristics for efficiency, yawn). Other green measures include brake energy regeneration, start stop, electric power steering and low roll-resistance tires. Couple this to the 90kg weight reduction over its predecessor, and, well, it's about as green as you'll get in a two-tonne SUV.

You can spec comfort, dynamic or professional adaptive suspension packs too, which ramp up the unease of your passengers' driving experiences. The key is in the names...

Exterior revisions include a broader-set kidney grille (how wide will this become?) and a new front bumper, side lines that rise up to the rear of the car, and “aero blades” at the back – black, air-channelling elements next to the roof spoiler that help with aero. Oh, and you can spec colours other than brown. As with most revisions, the changes are subtle, apart from that grille of course. Is it just us, or is this face just a little too aggressive, even for an X5?

Inside, there's ambient lighting, new trim and accent strips, high-gloss black surfaces, a 10.25in freestanding front display and a few leather options. The front seats have been redesigned (with the option of sports seats), and there's an optional third row to make it a seven-seater. These in turn can be folded, along with the second row, to create a load capacity of as much as 1,870 litres.

There's also a myriad of safety and driver assist options, lots of infotainment and even a “concierge service”, which dials up hotel reservations, searches for addresses and telephone numbers and displays real time traffic info.

A version of this story originally appeared at TopGear.com.