If you truly hate the SUV’s that have been flooding the automotive market for years now, this is the car to blame. The BMW X5. When it went into production at the end of the 1990’s, the Mercedes ML and Range Rover already were on the market, but they were terrain cars which drove pretty well on tarmac as well. BMW did the opposite. They built a high, robust, luxurious 5-series, which was also able to go offroad. That was the birth of the term ‘sports utility vehicle’. Other manufacturers which mattered, followed very quickly. Porsche with their Cayenne, but Volkswagen with their Touareg as well. The Touareg was on those big 90’s-projects from Volkswagen. It was one of the more successful ones though, because where the Phaeton unfortunately flunked, the first Touareg was quite the success. That might’ve been because it was quite a modest car. That modesty has gone, and a lot of things have changed since 20 years. On board, the relatively old-fashioned interior of the old Touareg has been replaced with a high tech dashboard with a huge touchscreen. It’s one of the biggest available on market today, and you control pretty much everything with it.It’s incredibly big, so there’s a lot of space. It works pretty good for being a touchscreen. You can add favorite functions as well, so you can keep your most used functions near. It works pretty well, but I do have to say that the physical i-Drive button in the BMW just works better. Especially when you’re driving. That makes it easier to control. The BMW’s voice command works better as well. It immediately gets the right address, whilst… you have to repeat yourself sometimes in here. The BMW just is more user friendly.Also, it’s easier to customize. If you don’t want adaptive cruise control but just regular cruise control, you just hold down the button. And it will switch to the regular cruise control. You can also save your preferred safety systems in a setting, so you’ve got everything you want turned on and everything you don’t want turned off. In the Volkswagen however, whenever you shut the engine off, the lane keeping assist is switched on again. You can’t choose normal cruise control neither. It’ll always be adaptive or speed limited. Something you have to turn on and off everytime. It all works fine, it’s qualitatively on par with the BMW, with the latter being more of a matter of taste. With its glass gear knob and all. But the Volkswagen is a tad harder to
make your own really. It does have some pro’s though, because the second seating row is incredibly spacious. Also, you get a adjustable rear seat for free and… the luggage space is even bigger than the BMW. On the other hand, you’ve got to be really big to really need…That extra space, and the BMW is available with a third seating row. So yeah, it’s all pretty similar. Until we get to the price that is. All dressed up, this costs €119.000, but the BMW will set you back a whopping €134.000. And they’re diesels producing a small 300 horsepower. And that’s a lot of money. On the other hand, if you do get the BMW, you can laugh at the peasant driving the Volkswagen. He doesn’t have a heated steering wheel, no vented seats, no laser lighting, and he’s got 20-inch wheels. Pff, the BMW has 22-inch shoes… In those 22-inch wheels, you’ll find M-logo’s. And you’ll find those logo’s everywhere on this car. In the exterior, in the door pillars, on the steering wheel… That’s because it’s an M-Sport package. Funny enough, that doesn’t immediately mean you’ve got an incredibly sporty chassis. You can get it, but it doesn’t have to. This has adaptive air suspension combined with four-wheel steering, and that makes for an incredibly comfortable car.It’s funny to see that BMW chooses for a dynamic strategy with the lower cars, like the 3-series, 8-series and Z4. But this X5… If you leave everything in Comfort-mode, it’s like a water bed. If you put it into Sport-mode however, it’s still a water bed, but with more water in it, so the springs are stiffer. It doesn’t get very dynamic, and it doesn’t have to. If that’s what you’re looking for, you would’ve gone for a 5-series. But despite that, there’s still a lot of grip.When you corner, it’s done very quickly because of the four-wheel steering. And it remains very stable. There’s always more grip than you think, and that’s quite the achievement. Sure, it’s been fitted with an LSD on the rear axle and big M-spec brakes, so it has the lot. And that’s something you can expect from a car which costs €144.000. But it’s still an achievement. Having said that, I wouldn’t call it a truly fun car to drive. When you’re pushing it at 75%, it’s very nice, but when you’re looking for the limit, you’ll notice that the mass is too much and that you’re to high… up to have fun driving it. It’s willing though, and that’s a good thing. The engine fits the car very
well. It’s the 30d, so a turbocharged inline-six producing 265 horsepower and…620 Nm of torque. That’s nice, because you’ll have a lot of power at low revs. The engine never has to work too hard to deliver its performance. It’s connected to an 8-speed ZF-automatic which fits the car as well. BMW has a lot of experience with that gearbox, and the software is nicely tuned to the personality of the engine. With that, you can easily steer it with your throttle. You’ll always know how far you can go before it changes back, and that’s how it always answers your demands. Also, it sounds very good, the gearbox is smooth, it’s quick when you need it to be… In short, it’s a true allrounder. It’s a lot of money, but you get a very nicely finished and…Incredibly good car in return. Just like the BMW, this Touareg has quite a sporty look to it. It’s called R-Line at Volkswagen, but it’s even less of a sporty car than the X5. The X5 is too big and to heavy to be a drivers car, but it likes to tackle corners. This Touareg however, which has winter tires by the way, which doesn’t help. But in the summer, I drove this exact car with summer tires, it remains more distant as a car.The understeer comes quicker, the steering is less direct, even lighter, you barely feel it really… So it’s not a car which you want to take for a nice drive. On the other hand, like I said with the X5, if you want that, you’d be looking for a different type of car. Fact is that this Touareg is even more comfortable than the X5. If you put it in Comfort-mode, it’s like you’re driving on clouds. It heaves, the dampers don’t seem to do anything. When you put it in Sport-mode, it all tightens up, but it never gets as willing as the X5.And that’s not a bad thing. Enginewise, it’s pretty similar to the X5. It’s powered by a 3.0-litre V6 TDI-diesel, producing 286 horsepower. That’s more than the X5, but it also ‘only’ produces 600 Nm of torque, which is less than the X5. The performance is pretty much the same. This is a tad quicker, but it goes for both that it’s the bizarre… torque which makes it easy for both cars to speed up pretty quickly. And that’s very nice. It has the same gearbox as the X5, but because BMW has so much experience with ZF, the software in the X5 feels better. In this, if you drive off for instance, there’s a small delay before you get all of the power. It’s almost like the gearbox waits a little
before it releases the power. Also, it doesn’t always know how to find the right gear. If you put your foot down, you have to wait before anything happens. Those are small differences, but these are cars that cost a lot of money. So you’re allowed to pay attention to the details. I think the differences are so small that I can only declare a winner…when I fill in the AutoWeek-magazine scorecard. Based on my experience, I think the X5 has the edge. The differences are very small, except for the price. That’s a very big difference. And that might be the advantage this Volkswagen needs… .