Used car buying guide: BMW X5

Read ‘Buyer Beware’ further down this article and you might wonder why we’re spending time on this second-gen X5, launched in 2007. Weak timing chains, disintegrating swirl flaps, leaky suspension airbags… the list goes on. Specialists were unanimous in their condemnation of the vehicle, while one leading used car warranty company rates the vehicle as poor, with an average repair bill of £612. Axles and suspension attract the lion’s share of claims, followed by the electrics and the engine.

Why buy one? Good question, but people do, tempted by prices starting as low as £4000 for the 232bhp 30d diesel, but rising to £24,000 for the monster 547bhp X5 M. There’s a diesel M50d, too, with a triple-turbo 3.0-litre engine making 375bhp and 546lb ft – 45lb ft more than the petrol M. We found a BMW approved used 2013 example with 55,000 miles for £21,250. Late-plate cars like this one, or facelifted, with low mileage and a genuinely full history, is the way to go with an X5 of this generation.

The E70 capitalised on its predecessor’s success by offering more space (it was sold with an optional third row of seats), greater technical sophistication and a higher level of luxury. Power came from a range of petrol and diesel engines, the most popular being the 232bhp 3.0 diesel, and gearboxes were automatic only. A year after launch, the 3.0sd arrived with two turbos and 282bhp. Later, this model was renamed xDrive 35d, and the 232bhp version was rebadged xDrive 30d.

Petrols were a choice of 3.0 and 4.8-litre units and, from 2009, the mighty 4.4-litre twin-turbo in the X5 M, but they sold in small numbers. The petrols are potentially less troublesome and, if your mileage is low, could be a good, if thirsty, alternative to a diesel. We found a privately advertised one-owner, 2007-reg 4.8i SE with 55,000 miles, a full BMW history and the balance of a BMW extended warranty for £9995. Like the diesels, this and the 3.0 were later renamed xDrive 48i and 30i.

The facelift came in 2010. BMW called it a Life Cycle Impulse and, in the X5 world, E70s are either pre- or post-LCI. LCIs are distinguished by restyled bumpers and headlights; inside, the infotainment system was updated. Engines were also cleaned up (they all meet Euro 5 standards) and made more powerful, and some were renamed. For example, the 30d rose from 232bhp to 241bhp, while the 282bhp 35d went to 302bhp, in the process being renamed 40d. Among the petrols, the 350bhp 48i became the 402bhp 50i. In 2012, towards the end of the X5’s life, the M50d, one of a number of new M Performance BMWs, appeared.

The X5 has standard air-con, cruise control, leather trim, parking sensors and auto wipers and lights. M Sport trim is the most plentiful, followed by SE. Many have the optional panoramic sunroof. Make sure it works because, like the rest of the vehicle, sometimes it doesn’t.

How to get one in your garage

An expert’s view

Justin, Grosvenor Garage: “The X5 E70 is unreliable but people buy them because they’re so cheap. Some are over £20,000 but plenty more cost from £4000 to £10,000, which is where you run into problems. They look like value, but the next thing they’re spending lots of money on repairs. Some faults aren’t immediately obvious. For example, the rear suspension airbags perish on a routine basis but the air pump keeps working, so the bags appear to be inflated, but one day the air pump packs up and the owner has doubled their repair bill. Buyer beware, indeed!”

Buyer beware…

■ Engine: On LCI engines, listen for timing chain rattles from cold. On all engines, poor starting and rough running may be failing injectors. Exhaust smoke may be a failing electronic turbo actuator; listen for bearing noise, too. Later high-mileage diesels can suffer expensive DPF failure, which can also cause the engine manifold to melt. On early engines the glow plugs can pack up, requiring removal of the inlet manifold to replace; on later engines, they get stuck in the cylinder head. Injectors can fail on high-mileage cars.

■ Transmission: On early cars, check the front propshaft failure recall was actioned. It can snap, damaging the universal joint and puncturing the engine sump. The gearbox thrives on regular software updates. Earlier six-speed ’box suffers torque converter, mechatronic and clutch pack problems.

■ Suspension: Bushes need changing at 90k miles. Check rear suspension airbags and be sure the air pump hasn’t burned out.

■ Wheels and brakes: Check the electronic handbrake (it can lock in the ‘On’ position). Run-flat tyres are hard on the alloys – the inside rims fare worst. Check brakes and tyres because both are expensive.

■ Body: Check for off-roading and towing damage, and for misted-up foglights.

Interior: Make sure no warning lights are illuminated. The panoramic sunroof is very unreliable, so check it works.

Also worth knowing

The swirl flaps in the inlet manifolds fitted to early diesel X5s can break up. A revised version still failed. BMW specialists Grosvenor claim to have the solution in their custom-engineered swirl flaps made from aircraft-grade aluminium. It recommends replacing them every 60k miles or four years.

How much to spend

£4000-£6599: Early cars, some with up to seven seats and up to 150,000 miles.

£6600 -£8999: Some 2008 and even 2009-reg cars, and mileages as low as 80,000.

£9000-£10,999: Last of the pre-facelift cars here with up to 120,00 miles, plus lower-mileage earlier models.

£11,000-£14,499: Plenty more 2010-reg, facelift 30d and 40d cars from here, with up to 125,000 miles.

£14,500-£16,999: More 2011-12-reg cars with around 75,000 miles.

£17,000-£22,000: Late-plate cars with high specifications and no more than 50,000 miles.

One we found

BMW X5 3.0D M Sport xDrive, 2011/11-reg, 52,000 miles, £14,699: A full BMW history is the standout feature, and just two owners suggests it’s behaved itself. Tyres described as good. No panoramic sunroof but does ride on run-flats, so check the alloys.