BMW joined the luxury sport utility vehicle ranks in the 2000 model year with its car-based X5, challenging midsize SUVs from Infiniti, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Even though it had permanently engaged all-wheel drive, it wasn't really intended for off-roading. BMW calls the X5 a sports activity vehicle.
The American-built X5 initially came with only a 4.4-liter V-8, but a lower-priced six-cylinder model, dubbed X5 3.0i, arrived later — as did a high-performance 4.6is, which was upgraded to a 4.8is starting with the 2004 model year.
The 4.8is has a 355-horsepower, 4.8-liter V-8. Some previously optional items have become standard. Automatic climate control is now standard on the 3.0i, and the 4.4i adds front and rear obstacle detection. Xenon headlights, now standard with V-8 power, are linked to the steering mechanism.
The X5 exhibits a more distinctive, eye-catching shape than most other SUVs, but the front end is strictly BMW with its twin kidney-shaped grille. At nearly 184 inches long overall, the X5 is an inch longer than the Mercedes-Benz M-Class but shorter than the Lexus RX 330. The two-way tailgate has a top portion that swings up and a swing-down lower section.
An optional load-floor extension slides out on tracks. The six-cylinder 3.0i model comes with 17-inch tires, the 4.4i gets 18-inch tires and the 4.8is rolls on 20-inch rubber. A Sport Package, available on the 3.0i and 4.4i, features high-performance tires and a firmer suspension. Automatic rear leveling on the 4.4i is standard. An adjustable ride-height suspension is optional.
Seating for five people 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 and 4.8is. Options include heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a moonroof and a DVD-based navigation system.
Under the Hood
The X5 3.0i uses a 225-hp, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder, while the higher trim levels use V-8s: a 315-hp 4.4-liter version in the 4.4i and a 355-hp 4.8-liter in the 4.8is. Either a six-speed-manual or a five-speed-automatic transmission may be installed in the 3.0i, but the 4.4i and 4.8is come only with a six-speed automatic. Permanently engaged all-wheel drive automatically apportions power among the four wheels. Hill Descent Control maintains constant speed and grip on steep downgrades.
Antilock brakes, stability control, side curtain-type airbags and side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard. Side-impact airbags for the rear seats are optional.
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, which 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.
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