A huge hello from the land where comic book hero Tintin's famous adversary Rastapopulous probably laid out his plans to dominate the world.
I'm here in Greece to unravel a far more interesting plot than world domination. This time, it's the mighty BMW that's doing the plotting and their tool for the job is the new BMW X5.
There is virtually no difference in looks between the X5 petrol and diesel. So, I picked the lusty 4.8 litre petrol first. The first big change for me is the 6P autobox, which comes with a joystick type electronic shifter and no mechanical linkage to the gearbox.
This means that if you want to go into parking mode, you just have to press the P button, if you want to drive off, just thump the starter, press the clutch button, pull it back once and you are soon in the drive mode and good to go.
Squint tight headlamps, a moustache shaped air lamp section and a scooped out bonnet, gives the X5 some chest-thumping attitude. The new X5 can hold its own in the SUV brotherhood and is a new chapter in the BMW design.
With 350 very eager horses dragging along the 2 tonne plus structure, it makes for slipshod handling. But the towering X5 drove us as flat as a go-cart. Add to that, a well rated variable rear wheel steering and chucking this monolith around corners brings out a smile. The car is so controlled on aggressive roads, it just feels phenomenal.
The X drive system, which transfers power to the front and rear wheels, seems to be working brilliantly, with under steer and over steer. The new stiffer suspension, the tires wrapped on 18 inch rims and the sporty set up combined together, lets you feel every ripple on the road at low speeds.
But at higher speeds, the X5 adapts and glosses over anything bigger than a small pothole. Impressed with the petrol, I headed back to pick up the diesel version.
Having somewhat quenched my pangs with the X5 experience, I now took some time to take in the new design. The new X5 has been stretched by 19 cms and broadened by 6 cms to fit the mould of the of the new age auto giant. But a strict diet plan has helped it to keep its weight almost the same.
So, the passengers at the rear can expect a comfy bench and the third row seats to strap the young brats into. This makes the X5 a far more practical proposition for large wealthy Indian families and the Yanky favourite with the split tailgate is meant just for bags and picnic lunches.
On the inside, the grey and beige interiors felt good. A friendly drive let me access my music at the push of a single button. Using the satellite navigation system I aimed to hit Cape Sunio, which is the southernmost point south of Athens and I felt so cool reading the directions on the windscreen using the 'heads up' display.
I got down to the business of exploring the abilities of the lighter but more powerful and more fuel-efficient engine by heading up some hills. The aluminium body makes this 230 BHP, 520 NM power unit, lighter by 25 kilos and this adds dollops to its handling prowess. I have been driving this diesel version all morning and this engine is just phenomenally responsive.
BMW claims that the shift times have been cut down by half and it really feels great because when you are going through the gears in the auto mode, you don't even realize its seamless and as you shift into manual, it just holds the gear until you hit the red line and then it shifts up.
But take it off-road and the X5 feels a little hard on the edges, but duly competent on its four-wheel rear system and its electronic system, which makes the X5 quite immensely competent. Though a boon on the road, the 11 cms wheelbase does limit the X5's offloading potency but that's a small price to pay. Here is the X5 in a nutshell for you. BMW says it's a sport activity vehicle and not a sport utility vehicle. Trust me, this thing is beautiful on the road.
It's just so like a car and a high performance salon. But that's not to say it's bad off the road. I managed to land in a ditch and the X5 managed to pull itself out without any help. So, if you happen to make any trip to the farmhouse, don't worry I am sure the X5 will be able to handle that.
Now if you do pluck for this thing, opt for the adapter drive or the rear view camera. They will pay themselves out soon enough. BMW says this thing will come to India only in the second half of 2007. The prices are not out as of yet but those who can afford to will not think twice before writing that cheque.