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The famed BMW propeller badge adorns both the X5 and the R1250 GS, but is that the end to their common thread? Our boys play adjudicators
The way you spell out Beamer or Bimmer defines you as a person. No, really. If you picked Beamer, you’re a bike guy and if you said Bimmer, then your wall must be plastered with M2 posters. We are not judging you. Pick any side and you won’t go wrong for anything with the BMW badge is always about the Thril of Driving/Riding. To prove the same, we’ve picked their on/off-road flagships. Both the R 1250 GS and X5 define their respective segments and can take you places, literally. But there’s a very thin line that seperates the two. It’s more than just the addition of two wheels for sure. Let’s find out.
AM: There’s a reason why SUVs sell. Not just one reason actually, there’s a whole list of reasons why these big boxes on wheels fly off the shelves, and how pretty they are is not one of them. The thing about SUVs is that they make your time on the road far more stress-free. Think about it – you’re sitting high up, you can see further ahead, you can hammer through our dismal roads, you can survive the annual floods in your city – they have plenty going for them. A sedan may look pretty neat, but you will look pretty stupid when it drowns in your neighbourhood parking lot during the next deluge. That is why you should choose the BMW X5 over the 5 Series.
The X5 is the baddest SUV in the BMW range, no doubt about it. Yes, the X7 exists but the X7 is a little too polished to play bad boy. The X7 is the overlord, the X5 is the gangster that goes out and does the dirty work. BMW has dialled up the luxury quotient more than ever. Yes, they have softened it up and it isn’t as dynamically sorted as the last one but it now gets tricks to take it further off-road. It won our comparison test, and is now looking for a new challenge. We found one a little closer to home. Maybe too close?
AW: If this is a sales pitch about pseudo SUVs (no ladder-frame, remember?), let me remind you of a very interesting fact. BMW Motorrad sold over 30,000 R 1200 GS’ in 2018 in Europe alone. And unlike the monocoque-based 5 Series on steroids, the formula of the GS harks back to the 80s when BMW actually invented the dual-sport motorcycle. It created a niche for itself, unlike anything the world had ever seen before – all at a time when the dudes who built the first-gen X5 were still in their school uniforms. Back in 2004 when Charley Boorman decided to take the Long Way Round of over 30,000km, the R 1150 GS was chosen for the task. In fact, over the past forty years the definition of adventure touring on two-wheels has been two words long – Gelande Strasse. GS for short, and off/on-road in English.
But instead of letting sleeping dogs lie, the Germans decided they can improve the all-conquering, all-rounder 1200 and thus, the R 1250 GS was born. The recipe remains the same, including the iconic horizontally-opposed twin-cylinder configuration that has consistently seen an increase in capacity. The power is up by 10bhp and the torque is the highest in its class. But the icing on the cake is the debut of variable valve timing also known as ShiftCam in the Beemer dictionary. Did someone say SUV?
AM: These bike guys spend too much time falling down to have all the screws in their head in place. Sure, the X5 isn’t an SUV in the traditional sense of the term and doesn’t get a ladder frame chassis. But time marches on and so does technology – the monocoque is inherently a better design. Go back to the sixties and kickstart your bikes if you like old-school so much, you closet masochist.
BMW has loaded the X5 with plenty of electronic trickery to bulk up its capabilities off-road. All-wheel drive is standard. There’s air suspension that can raise the SUV by 40mm, allowing it to clear obstacles better. Then there’s the suite of electronics like traction control and dynamic stability control that constantly monitors the grip levels at each wheel, and alters the throttle responses and gearbox behaviour accordingly. Hill descent control means I can sit back as the X5 descends slopes to the next obstacle. The best part? I can do all this without getting my boots wet.
AW: If adventure was about indulging in luxury, Kim Kardashian would’ve swapped roles with Bear Grylls by now. So my dear Kim, the R 1250 GS is not a closet off-roader like your modern ‘SUV’.
On aesthetics alone, the GS looks like a proper dirt-friendly bike. Big and wide ’bars, spoked wheels, a solid bash plate and massive crash bars add to the off-roadiness and the overall stance. And if you’re boasting about features, let me tell you about the granddaddy of ADVs. Just like the X5, it gets electronically-adjustable suspension, hill assist, riding modes, a 6.5-inch TFT infotainment cluster with telephony, heated grips, hill assist, dynamic braking assist, adjustable windscreen, cruise control, IMU-based ABS and traction control and much, much more. That’s not all! This is the fully-loaded Adventure variant which also gets a taller seat (890mm to be precise) requiring you to mount it like a horse, adjustable pegs and a massive 30-litre tank so that you can hop from one continent to the other. It’s a one-sided battle already.
AM: Are you done rattling off the spec sheet already? Battles aren’t won on paper, they’re won in the outdoors. And with the X5, the outdoors are your b*tch. In the city, where these bikes and cars spend so much of their time, the X5 is a bully. People in lesser vehicles part like the Red Sea, terrified of these twin-barrel headlamps in their mirrors. On the highway, it devours miles with a ravenous appetite. Okay, I’ll be honest, the ride isn’t as settled as I would like but it can still plough through our national highways at a scary pace. There’s an inline-6 diesel under the hood and it has these creamy reserves of torque that are liberally delivered to the blacktop at the behest of your right foot. I know, I know, there are jibes about diesels incoming, but the X5 is surprisingly refined and the cabin is really well insulated from the outside.
More importantly, the X5 holds its own where other SUVs tie themselves in knots. It can corner. The X5 has tremendous grip around bends – the fat tyres bending physics and turning all two tonnes of SUV at a frightful pace. I wasn’t pushing too hard today, just look how wet it was, but I was still faster than the GS on a winding road. Two wheels just don’t have as much grip as four! And again, I had dry underwear!
AW: Don’t forget that the GS is flanked by the same propellor badge on your X5, so tread carefully.
The Thrill of Riding is all about indulging in the elements and discovering new roads every day. And that’s what this Beemer is all about. The X5 may be a bully, but the GS makes you feel like a king. Especially when you’re wheeling down the road, which is the GS’ second nature. And that it does even in third! Now that you’ve mentioned torque, let me tell you that the engine is so tractable that even in sixth gear she pulls from 30kmph without any drama whatsoever. While your Bowers & Wilkins blares out your favourite boy band, my GS plays a unique orchestra through its pipes almost inspired by Rammstein’s heavy metal. There, I saved a couple of thousands on concert passes as well.
And when the going gets tough, the GS simply gets better. I simply need to toggle through the modes via the rich and vivid cluster that can put your OnePlus to shame. Heading off-road? Select Off Road Pro and she’ll happily oblige, wagging her tail at will. And mind you, the safety net will mollycoddle you like a mother and never feed you dirt.
Want to head to Goa quickly? Select Road mode and the suspension adjusts the sag, throttle response and ABS settings so that you, along with your wife, your dog, sleeping beds, tent and the house can get there comfortably. Really, the GS comes with truckloads of accessories to allow you to go all-out. Want to dial in fun round the Chorla ghats? Select Dynamic Pro mode and the surprisingly nimble GS will allow you to get your knee down in no time. Well, it’s nothing like a supersport but you can really chuck this 268kg monster around corners, one after another. Perhaps it’s because of the wide, big ’bars that offer plenty of leverage or the semi-active suspension, but the GS simply shocks you with its capabilities.
AM: There’s no denying the GS’ supreme capabilities. Looking at it out of the windscreen of the X5, I can’t help but think that the automobile has come so far. Bikes, cars – they started out as puny little things sputtering along at walking pace. Now we’ve got machines that can cross continents – what holds them back is you.
The GS and the X5 may seem poles apart – they share a badge and that’s it. But that’s not true. Both are icons in their own right, both carving out their distinct identities. The GS created the adventure-tourer segment, and the X5 laid the foundations for the sporty SUV. Both mavericks then, that carry on the legacies of the brand forward.