The BMW X5's arrival in 1999 was hailed as an icon due to its unique twist on the sport utility vehicle theme. But with the competition - such as the Audi Q7 and the Mercedes M-Class and G-Class - gaining ground quickly, the icon needed to show the premium segment that it is still the standard.

Longer in length, width and wheelbase - by 165 mm, 60 mm and 110 mm, respectively, to 4,854 mm, 2,197 mm, and 2,933 mm - this new version of the X5 (specifically, the P5.6M 3.0d seven-seater) is an evolution of BMW's original sport activity vehicle (SAV) concept. Its look is familiar. The little ducktail detail on the tailgate remains, as do the tailpipes that exit from the rear bumper cover.

But now sharp creases break the flow of the X5's curved panels in a curiously pleasant way. This surface drama also gives the SAV more than a passing resemblance to a tomatillo with its husk still intact. As a result of the added length and wheelbase, a more planted, station wagon-like appearance is evident compared to the tall-and-tippy look of the first-gen X5.

The interior has a new design, handsomely appointed and comfortable, with a particularly nice driving position that is halfway between a Land Rover LR3 and a BMW sedan. The materials are of excellent quality, the craftsmanship is great, and three Filipinos of average size (and girth) will fit snugly into its second row.

The same cannot be said, though, of the third row that turns the X5 into a seven-seater. The two mini-seats (separated in the middle by cupholders and aircon controls) are perfect fits for kids and midgets ONLY. Fold the said seats flat, however, and the X5's cargo hold now becomes larger than that of the current 5 Series wagon, something that could not be said of the original. There is "U(tility)" in this SAV, after all.

When the new X5 takes to the road, it barrels down straights like its 3 (or even its 5) Series siblings. By 1800-1900 rpm there's a surge that snaps your head back, by 2700 rpm the variable geometry turbo wakes up, and by 3900 rpm you will regret stomping on the gas due to the savage top end thrust. The tested results are quite surprising - a 221 kph top speed and 7.73 km/l on four days of mixed driving.

Interesting when it comes to the transmission is the faux jet fighter a/t stick. The shifter operates something like the little spring-loaded stalk shifter of the current 7 Series. You toggle forward for Reverse, toggle backward for Drive and push a button on top for Park. BMW says that the shifter's shape allows for more center console space, compared to a conventional slushbox. The company says this made room for two sizable cupholders, which can fit two large McDonalds softdrink cups.

The X5 handles brilliantly. Normally, driving 5,000-plus lbs. (specifically, 5,335 lbs.) of SAV is like riding a pig wearing roller blades. Surprisingly, one could place the X5 with accuracy. The front end bites with unexpected tenacity and will hold its line without correction, with the Continental Contact SSR 255/55 R18 run flats giving up grip at 80-85 kph. It's easy to flow smoothly through transitions without the disconcerting weight transfers normally associated with SUVs. How much of this can be attributed to the new double-wishbone front suspension is unclear, though.

If the first X5 had a major fault, it was its sometimes flinty ride. This time the ride has somewhat improved, but rear occupants complained that ride comfort was too firm, especially at the third row. Steering at low speeds is heavy, though.

As expected from the X5 (and from BMW in general), safety is top-notch. To compensate for its heft, BMW has enlarged the X5's brake discs, by about half an inch up front and almost a full inch in the rear. The ABS wakes up when you need it and the foglights' beams can substitute for what emits from the headlights. The parking brake (similar to that on the Audi A6 and Audi Q7 SUV) located behind the a/t stick is easy to operate, and grip is strong.

In a class where there have been major changes of late, the BMW X5 3.0d returns to make itself an SUV icon. Still it's a high-revving saloon in a different getup, but now it has some real utility. Translation: it doesn't feel any bigger than the old X5; it just feels better.