SOMEHOW, staring Mordor in the eye was serene.
Inching towards the doom and gloom of Middle-Earth was undertaken with a delightful spring in our step.
Perhaps it was because the site from Lord of the Rings in New Zealand was basking in a beautiful November day, or it could have been the plush outlook from the new BMW X5.
Yet the jewel in BMW's crown was shining in unnatural terrain.
You see, the X5 is not a sports utility vehicle. It is designed for the road, but can step off the bitumen - hence the Bavarian lot call it a "sports activity vehicle".
During the launch of the 'F15' X5 line-up, we tackled terrain the majority of BMW owners would dare not tread. A river crossing with water lapping at the doors, sharp climbs, difficult descents and all on dusty, slippery dirt roads were accomplished with ease.
The new X5 comes in a seven-strong line-up, but only three are currently available.
There will be the full complement in March next year, including a rear-wheel drive version, which starts from a sharp $82,900. For now, the entry-level offering is the $99,900 xDrive30d, with the range-topper the M50d that will set you back $147,900.
BMW has raised the quality bar with the finishes and inclusions, although the X5 continues to follow the typical propeller brand blueprint.
Offering space and grace, the X5 cabin is a wonderful place to spend time. Five adults can be accomm
odated with room to spare.
The pews are Dakota leather and feel supple enough. You can opt for the Nappa upgrade, but it will require some extra coin.
Brimming with high-tech gadgets, the iDrive system, which controls all sat nav, stereo and other wide-ranging functionalities, takes some initial tuition, although are easy to scroll through and operate once you know your way around.
There are buttons for the most used operations, including individual fan and temperature controls for the dual-zone air-con.
On the road
This new trio is faster yet more efficient than the outgoing models.
Sampling the three about to go on sale, all impressed with varying degrees of appeal.
During a testing off-road track, the 1984 LandCruiser parked in a nearby shed was a telltale sign of what is usually required to pass through the tracks. But the X5 surprised with its ability to negotiate the challenging conditions.
Most buyers would never dare step onto anything more challenging than gravel, but the experience did show off the X5's true ability.
Yet it was on the road that the high-riding wagon shone.
Easy to drive and luxurious, it's a joy to pilot on the open road or around town. For its size and weight, the X5 is a surprisingly easy car to navigate.
It seems to shrink around you when attacking bends with an impressive athletic ability, able to shift its hefty weight with aplomb.
The steering on both the 50i and M50d was interesting, with a strangely vague feel around centre. It was uncharacteristically BMW due to a weightless and artificial feel.
Our choice would be the 30d for its more direct steering, although across the range it feels far more sensitive than what we have seen previously from BMW.
Although, given this market is heavily skewed toward families and female buyers, many will like the lighter feel in the pilot's seat.
What do you get?
There are two no-cost internal and external Design Pure packages called Experience and Excellence. These alter the colours and finishes, depending on what floats your boat.
As always there are a host of options and packages available to create bespoke vehicles.
But on the standard features list are alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, leather trim, automatic lights and wipers, sat nav, two-zone air-con, smartphone connectivity also for audio streaming and internet access as well as a 26cm colour screen.
Visibility and awareness for the driver has been improved by the inclusion of Bi-Xenon headlights, LED front fog lights, high-beam assist (on models xDrive30d and up) and anti-dazzle interior and exterior mirrors.
Safety is well looked after with the head-up display, while there is also a Driving Assistant package, which includes warnings for lane departure, forward collision and pedestrians, along with a rear-view camera and 360 degree surround view. Expect a five-star rating.
Extra functionality comes courtesy of 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats. This is an awesome introduction for those who regularly carry large items.
The third row of seats (which cost between $4600-$3200 depending on model) provides enough room for those up to about 1.5m tall - so good enough for the kids or perhaps smaller adults for short trips.
Cabin storage space is excellent, with two cup holders in the centre, a massive centre console and space for bottles in each door.
Boot space has also been increased, up 30 litres to 650. With that seats folded that expands to 1870 litres - a 120 litre improvement.
With a broader kidney grille and new headlight design the X5 has a striking façade.
Its hulking dimensions are brimming with executive class. There is a great symmetry about the design, with dual creases in the bonnet and in profile. At the back the X5 does look quite square and blocky, but from just about any angle it remains a good-looker.
What matters most
What we liked: Improved cargo space and 40:20:40 split fold seats, striking good looks, luxurious and technology-packed cabin, cornering ability
What we'd like to see: More direct steering, extra sporting exhaust note from the V8 petrol.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. BMW has condition-based servicing, but intervals are usually annually or 15,000km.
There is little wonder the X5 is the premium SUV segemnt leader. BMW has added some important equipment while the exterior tweaks deliver even greater premium charisma.
The steering feels uncharacteristically sensitive for something wearing a propeller badge although we suspect the buyers of the big wagon will appreciate the lighter feel.
All three offerings now on sale deliver a great turn of speed with linear power delivery and a silky-smooth ride.
Model: BMW 'F15' X5.
Details: Five-door, large, luxury, all-wheel drive sports utility vehicle.
Engines: 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-turbo diesel generating maximum power of 190kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 560Nm @ 1500-3000rpm; 4.4-litre twin turbocharged V8 petrol 330kW @6000rpm and 650Nm @ 2000-4500rpm; 3.0-litre triple turbocharged six-cylinder diesel 280kW 4000-4400rpm and 740Nm @ 2000-3000rpm.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Consumption: 6.2 litres/100km (combined average); 10.5L/100km; 6.7L/100km.
CO2: 162g/km; 244g/km; 172g/km.
Performance (0-100kmh): 6.9 seconds; 5.0sec; 5.3sec.
Bottom line: 30d $99,900; 50i $133,900; M50d $147,900.