BMW X5 is a car for life: President Baertels

Interview/ Christian Baertels, President (Acting), BMW Group India

BMW X5 is a car for life: President Baertels Sachin Tendulkar during the launch of new BMW X5 in Mumbai | Amey S. Mansabdar

What can you tell us about the X-series in the BMW portfolio? How are they different?

Twenty years back there were some SUVs in the segment and BMW decided that the way we want to do business should be different, should be more in accordance with our brand values. So we said [our] car must have serious off-road capabilities, must also drive like a sports car, must handle like a BMW and this is why we insisted that we are not doing SUVs but we are doing SAVs (sports activity vehicles). You drive an X5, you drive an X6 and you will feel that claim is present in the way it handles and this vehicle for instance comes with a 2 axle air suspension which is a very sophisticated technology. You take the car really hard in corners, it would prevent the car from rolling and it would remain very stable. So, the handling is really impressive.

Also, the off-road capability when you take this car on a steep slope or a rough terrain, gravel, mud or whatever, it can do things. The technology and the design as a package is a brand statement and lastly, there is a global trend to this segment. If you look at what different segments are contributing to the entire market of passenger cars, SUVs, SAVs, SACs are actually trendy products that are finding aspirational customers and we think this is to continue. Sedan is slowing down and SAVs are picking up.

Could you tell us about what is different on the newly launched X5 as compared to its predecessor?

Everything. The list is long and if you see the spec list, you will see all that it offers. It is amazing and all of this you experience in half an hour, but just to give you a few highlights as Sachin [Tendulkar] also said the car is longer, wider and higher than the previous X5 which looks more muscular, gives you more presence on the road and looks like “I want to know more about the car.” Then you get into the car and you feel that the car offers even more space, headroom, it is fantastic on the rear bench, which in India is very important because many people are chauffeur driven. But then you put yourself at the steering wheel and you see the seating position, the steering wheel, the seat, comfort and space is just what it needs to be. You have the 12.3-inch screen, right next to it, the second screen, you can customize it according to your own preferences and have all kinds of information required at any time. Very modern, very advanced, and then again, the way the car handles, we have a panoramic sunroof, we have the sky lounge, and on and on. Driver assistance system, with fancy stuff like reverse assist is also available. I remember being in Udaipur, being stuck in a little market [thinking] how will I ever get out of this market again? That’s really the thing, you push a button and it takes you back.

Can you tell us about some intelligent stand-out features on the X5, considering everything out there is going the Internet way?

For me, as a driver, the thing I appreciate the most is the handling in terms of what the air suspension does. Typically, in the car, you have the 60:40 weight distribution and depending on the traction every wheel has on the road in a fraction of a second the car understands what is necessary to change, like the allocation of engine power to the wheels, not to the axle but to each individual wheel. So, whenever you are about to lose traction, the power goes to the other wheels which obviously gives you the best grip in every situation and the system would understand, on a slippery road, is it raining, is it freezing and there’s quite a lot of intelligence behind this tool to make it work the way you want it to work. The live cockpit professional that comes with our operating system 7.0 that comes with navigation professional, Apple CarPlay and all of that is available in the market. It is a wonderful system and it is extremely supportive. It gives you all the information at one glance, it doesn’t distract you from driving. The heads-up display is even more comfortable because its right in your line of sight.

Could you throw some light on the large kidney grille that we see on the X5? It really stands out and has been a big talking point among auto journalists from Asia to Europe.

If you look at the kidney as such, as to when and how it started to where we are now, you will not find a single kidney that was used twice. We have posters in our office, where we would put all the kidneys together and you will see from a large horizontal to a huge vertical one, you would find it all. I think there is a good portion of subjectivity. Also, what goes with what kind of car. A Z4, a very low broad froggy car, will probably have a different approach from an X5 or an X7. There’s always competition, right?

Design is a subjective thing, you cannot say that’s wrong or right but there is competition in BMW to make sure different teams come up with different ideas about how to design a car and then there is a very good discussion about what the market requires. These products are more relevant in Asia and in the US than in Europe so, maybe it is a good idea to listen to these markets and that’s also what we did in the 7-Series for instance, so that also influences these decisions and probably makes a lot of sense. Again, there is no right or wrong. My personal opinion is you look at the kidney grille for the first time and you say wow what is this? You look at it for the second time and you say why did we not do this earlier? It looks so great, we should have done this right from the beginning but again this is very subjective.

What is your favourite feature on the X5?

The air suspension. To me, while driving the car, the air suspension is adding really a lot of value and you can adjust the height of the car but I am saying this probably because I am so used to the other features and it’s a very versatile car, you can do everything with it. It’s big yet agile, it does it all, it is a car for life.