With news that the redesigned, second-generation 2007 BMW X5 sport ute was about to land in the driveway, I began thinking about my review of the first-generation X5, trying to recall why I didn't particularly like it.
So I looked up the review. I drove the X5 on a lengthy holiday trip during Christmas 1999, and the story appeared in the April 2000 edition of Car and Driver magazine.
Oh, my. I recall now that it was, at the time, the cruelest review of any BMW product the magazine had done. "Our $55,315 Titanium Silver Metallic BMW X5 certainly looked the part of a means-business sport utility vehicle -- square-shouldered, enormous 19-inch tires jamming the wheel wells, the prominent BMW twin-kidney grille. And as regular readers know, we like BMWs," the story began. "But early comments from staffers who drove this brand-new vehicle elicited very unBMW-like, one-word adjectives -- such as jerky, jumpy, and jiggly. It sounded as if we were naming the cast of the Seven Dysfunctional Dwarves."
After we put 2,500 miles on that 2000 X5 in four days, additional problems appeared -- a touchy throttle, an interior more cramped than the BMW 540i wagon, stiff steering, disappointing performance on slick roads, a "punishing" ride.
The summary: "Suffice it to say that the X5, which gamely attempts to be all things to all drivers, isn't."
These recollections did not prepare me for the 2007 BMW X5, the first BMW sport ute that I've really, really liked. It's 7.4 inches longer and 2.4 inches wider, meaning that suddenly, there's plenty of room inside, and even enough for a pair of third-row seats. Tiny third-row seats, but seats nonetheless. The 4.8-liter, 350-horsepower V-8 engine (the 3.0-liter six-cylinder is available in the base model) is matched to an excellent six-speed automatic transmission. The ride, typically BMW-firm, does not rattle your teeth, though handling is surprisingly good.
I say "surprisingly," as the X5 weighs 5,335 pounds. That's 200 pounds lighter than a Chevrolet Tahoe, but for a manufacturer known for building vehicles that are light on their feet, this is a porker. It's to the company's credit that it doesn't seem that heavy, likely because of a redesigned suspension.
As you would expect, the X5 is loaded with the latest safety equipment. Options brought the X5's $54,500 base price up to $64,895, and though that's expensive, it's competitive with other European-brand SUVs from Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Audi.
There is, however, one area in which this X5 is not an improvement from that original, and it's the "i-Drive" system, which uses a console-mounted mouse to control functions that include the sound and climate-control systems. BMW loyalists insist that the voice command function can effectively replace much of the i-Drive's duties, and that's true, but it's still a miserable system -- complex and anti-intuitive. Give up, BMW; nobody likes it.
Otherwise, the 2007 BMW X5 is a genuine and substantial improvement. Well done.
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