BMW joined the luxury SUV ranks in the 2000 model year with the X5, a car-based sport utility vehicle created to challenge the Infiniti QX4, Lexus RX 300 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Equipped with permanently engaged four-wheel drive, the X5 is suitable for any road, any time, any reason, says BMW, but it isnt really intended for use as a true offroad vehicle. Instead, BMW calls the X5 a sports activity vehicle. The stylish and sporty SUV is produced at BMWs plant in Spartanburg, S.C., alongside the Z3 sports car.
Initially, the X5 came only with a 4.4-liter V-8 engine. A lower-priced six-cylinder model, dubbed X5 3.0i, came later, which carried a 225-hp 3.0-liter engine. Although the unibody X5 is built on a passenger-car platform, BMW says the chassis is unique to this vehicle. The automaker promises the driving dynamics of a car with the X5, coupled with four-wheel-drive security.
In December 2001, BMW added a high-performance X5 4.6is version with a 347-horsepower engine said to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than 6.5 seconds. BMWs Aero Package, a sport interior and 20-inch wheels are included. For 2002, the regular 4.4-liter V-8 gets a boost to 290 hp.
More than most SUVs, the X5 exhibits an eye-catching shape. Just a glance at the X5s front end reveals that its a BMW, with classic styling highlighted by the familiar twin kidney-shape grilles. At 184 inches long overall, the X5 is a few inches longer than the Lexus RX 300 or Mercedes-Benz M-Class. The four-door SUV 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 that are built into the cargo floor. The six-cylinder version comes with 17-inch tires, while the V-8 model sports 18-inchers. A Sport Package in the V-8 features 19-inch high-performance tires and a firmer suspension.
Seating is available for five occupants, with a high position for the driver and a 60/40-split, folding seat in the rear. Standard X5 amenities include a leather-trimmed interior, heated front seats and familiar red instrument-panel lighting in a carlike dashboard. Options include an in-dash CD player, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a moonroof and BMWs navigation system.
Under the Hood
The new X5 4.6is packs a 347-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 engine, while the X5 4.4i carries a 4.4-liter V-8 that now develops 290 hp an increase of 8 hp. The X5 3.0i uses a 225-hp, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. Six-cylinder vehicles may have either a five-speed-manual or five-speed-automatic transmission, while the V-8 teams only with the automatic gearbox. Permanently engaged four-wheel drive automatically apportions power among the four wheels, and Hill Descent Control maintains a constant speed and grip while going down steep grades. Antilock brakes, side-impact airbags and curtain-type airbags are standard.
Like BMWs coupes, sedans and wagons, the X5 excels in handling skills. Steering is tight and precise and produces an appetizing level of control and confidence. As for performance particularly with the V-8 engine the X5 can accelerate almost like a muscle car rather than an SUV.
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. Although the Sport X5s ride is tolerable on smooth pavement, just a few imperfections yield a jarring experience.
The X5 4.6is model may be a tad too powerful, but many performance-minded owners may consider such a statement to be a virtual sacrilege. Acceleration ranks close to startling. Push hard on the gas pedal either at a standstill or while cruising, and this SUV literally leaps ahead. Automatic-transmission shifts are noticeable, crisp and quick. Some engine roar is evident when starting off, but it is satisfying.
Despite extremely low-profile Michelin tires, the X5 4.6is rides nicely on smooth roads. The seats are very supportive and appealing for a long journey.