From its launch in 1999, the X5 has become the iconic motoring symbol of the boom in Ireland. X5, with its high SUV driving position, and, of course, BMW badges was - and still is - coveted. But with prices starting at over €67,000, the latest X5 is only going to be enjoyed by the few.

The biggest news concerning the new X5 is the availability for the first time of a two-wheel drive (S-Drive) version that has CO2 emissions of just 149g. The rear-wheel drive X5 S-Drive 2.5d is now the entry point for the range. Seeing as very few X5s ever get to see a muddy field it could be all that the X5 customers need.

Motors went to the UK recently to test the new X5 both on- and off-road. Our test cars were top-of-the-range tri-turbo, inline six cylinder diesel X5 M50d (sporty suspension etc) models that featured outrageous performance (381hp/740nm), sublime handling and a price tag to match of €109,630 (OTR).

So in what way is X5 different from the second-generation (2007-2013) machine? The front end is sharper with a more vertical and prominent kidney grille which, like a 3 Series, connects with the light clusters.

Side-on, X5's cabin has been pushed backwards to give X5 a more estate car look – similar to a look adopted by Range Rover. Distinctive 'Air Breather' slots feature (BMW 3GT/4 Series) to aid aerodynamics. The rear of the car looks as wide and squat as ever but the taillights are more distinctive.

Inside, you clearly know you are in a BMW. The switchgear is familiar and the dashboard more elegant thanks to layered styling. The cabin is simple and elegant without being flashy.

On the open road the X5 M50d accelerates with giggle-inducing gusto (0-100kph in 5.3 seconds!), while cornering is ridiculously composed and flat. Enthusiastic driving is encouraged and rewarded in this version.

At the Goodwood estate we took the X5 off-road – yes, actually off-tarmac! The car, as you'd expect, features a host of driving aids like clever traction control and hill descent control (with adjustable speed threshold). Despite being on massive 315/35R20 tyres – not ideal for off-roading – the X5 coped with greasy grass, a few steep climbs and descents on a firm clay surface and a meander through woodlands and all without a hiccup. BMW will always point out that X5 is not an Off-Roader but an SAV (sports activity vehicle). That said, the machine performed better than expected in relatively alien surroundings.

While standard SE specification is good, every extra you can imagine is available, either as an individual item or part of a pack. If money is no object you can easily spend an additional €50,000 more than the entry car on the 'xDrive50i' M Sport, and that brings you up to full fat Range Rover territory.

What surprised me most from the test drive was how different X5 is from its archrival the Range Rover Sport. Range Rover Sport is a brilliant, go-anywhere all-rounder, while X5 can go off-road but is at its best on it.

Michael Sheridan