BMW joined the luxury sport utility vehicle ranks in the 2000 model year with its X5, a car-based model created to challenge the Infiniti QX4, Lexus RX 300 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Equipped with permanently engaged four-wheel drive, BMW deems the X5 suitable for “any road, any time, any reason,” but it wasn’t really intended for use as a true offroad vehicle. Instead, BMW calls the X5 a “sports activity vehicle.”
The midsize X5 gets some exterior revisions and a new all-wheel-drive system for 2004. BMW has dropped the high-performance X5 4.6is edition, which was added for 2002. Initially, the X5 came with only a 4.4-liter V-8 engine, and then a lower-priced six-cylinder model, dubbed X5 3.0i, arrived later.Even though the unibodied X5 is built on a passenger-car platform, BMW says its chassis is unique. A smaller X3 SUV will join BMW’s lineup early in 2004.
The X5 exhibits a more distinctive, eye-catching shape than most other SUVs on the market. A glance at the front end reveals that it’s a BMW. The familiar twin kidney-shaped grille highlights the X5’s classic styling. At nearly 184 inches long overall on a 111-inch wheelbase, the X5 is an inch longer than the M-Class but shorter than the newly enlarged Lexus RX 330. The four-door X5 has a two-way tailgate with a top portion that swings up and a lower section that swings down.
An optional load-floor extension slides out on tracks. The six-cylinder 3.0i model comes with 17-inch tires, and the 4.4i gets 18-inch tires. A Sport Package for the 4.4i features 19-inch high-performance tires and a firmer suspension.
Seating for five people is standard in the X5, which features a high position for the driver and a 60/40-split, folding rear seat. The driver faces a familiar red-lit BMW dashboard. Leather upholstery is standard in the 4.4i. Options include heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a moonroof and a DVD-based navigation system. Cargo volume with the seats folded down totals 54.4 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
BMW’s X5 4.4i carries a 4.4-liter V-8 engine that develops 315 horsepower, and the X5 3.0i uses a 225-hp, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder. Either a five-speed-manual or a five-speed-automatic transmission may be installed in the 3.0i, but the 4.4i is available only with the automatic gearbox. Permanently engaged four-wheel drive automatically apportions power among the four wheels. Hill Descent Control maintains a constant speed and grip while going down steep grades.
Antilock brakes, side-impact airbags and side curtain-type airbags are standard. BMW’s Rear Head Protection System is installed.
Like BMW’s coupes, sedans and wagons, the X5 excels in handling skills. Its steering is tight and precise and produces an appetizing level of control and confidence. Performance is impressive, especially with the V-8 engine, and it can accelerate almost like a muscle car. The six-cylinder engine is energetic enough to satisfy most drivers. Automatic-transmission shifts are positive but curt.
Shoppers who are seeking a comfortable ride may want to think twice about the Sport Package, which should be tried on a variety of road surfaces before a purchase is made.