Versus the competiton:
When BMW recently threw up its hands in surrender and decided to sell Rover and Land Rover, industry ‘experts’ quickly decided that BMW must be destined for takeover. Without the fat profits of Land Rover, BMW faces a rocky road.
But those pundits haven’t driven the South Carolina-built BMW X5, the Bavarian firm’s first sport utility vehicle.
Of course, saying SUV and BMW in the same breath strike some as heresy. They’d sooner be run over by a BMW SUV than drive one. To those purists I’d only say, drive it first.
One drive will bring on sudden revelations. First revelation: This is easily the sportiest of sport utilities, which is usually a category where the sport refers to the lifestyle attached to the vehicle, not the vehicle’s dynamics. Second revelation: BMW didn’t need Land Rover’s expertise to produce a killer SUV. Third revelation: It’s pricey, but there’s nothing like it on the SUV market.
What makes this vehicle such a kick? It’s the driving dynamics this vehicle has. It drives like a BMW car, albeit a big one.
Initially, all X5s will come with a 4.4-liter V-8 hooked to an automatic transmission. The double-overhead-cam, 32-valve engine pumps out a healthy 282 horsepower and 324 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm mated to a 5-speed automatic that allows for manual shifting. Unusual for a BMW: you won’t want to. This drivetrain is silky smooth with awesome amounts of power. With a curb weight of 4,828 pounds, this vehicle is quick for a sport utility, with a 0-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds, according to BMW.
It certainly felt that quick. The automatic transmission didn’t hinder progress. It always seemed to be in the right gear and in the right range for power. That’s why shifting wouldn’t help matters; there wasn’t anything to improve upon.
All the juice allows for pushing the car -um- truck’s handling limits. It takes sharp corners and curves that would put most SUVs tumbling head-over-heels. There was little of the pitching associated with trucks, except for closely spaced bumps at highway speeds. Thank electronics, especially Dynamic Stability Control, which helps keep things level in cornering or abrupt maneuvers by measuring steering wheel angle, acceleration and other measurements and then makes the vehicle respond to keep you on your intended path. It’s invisible in its operation.
This vehicle did an amazing job of balancing a compliant ride with traditional BMW handling capabilities. Most people will forget they are in a truck. They won’t forget they are in a BMW.
What makes this all possible are a few unique features for this class. The X5 is unit body, rather than the more traditional body on frame. This allows for a tighter feel for the vehicle, more akin to the rest of the BMW line. It also makes the vehicle lighter, while still endowing the X5 with the expected rigidity. It also allows BMW to meet car safety-standards.
The suspension is fully independent, rather than the more traditi onal rear beam axle, improving on-road ability, where this vehicle will spend most of its time. When the driver encounters a bump on the left side of the vehicle, the right side will be unaffected.
All-wheel-drive is standard, splitting torque 38 percent front/62 percent rear. Electronic traction control operates at all four wheels. When a loss of traction is encountered, the vehicle responds by reducing engine torque or applying an individual wheel’s brake or both.
There is no low gear, but rather Hill Descent Control, which helps the driver maintain low speeds when descending a hill. Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock are standard, as are a wealth of air bags front and rear.
If the performance isn’t enough to draw you in, maybe the looks will. The exterior is taut and muscular, with all the crispness inherent in current BMW design. The rear looks very wide, yet the stance of the vehicle is just right, showing off the X5’s standard 18-inch wheel a nd tires. It was nice nough to draw crowds when parked, earning a thumbs up from the backwards-cap crowd.
Inside the X5, you’ll find all the flexibility and luxury that you’d expect in this class. Standard luxuries include a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel with automatic tilt-up for exiting the vehicle, power front seats with memory settings, acres of leather and wood trim, dual automatic climate control, split folding rear seats, multi-function trip computer and a climate control system that recognizes high levels of air-pollution and adjusts the system accordingly by recirculating cabin air instead.
As expected, the seats were quite comfortable and firm. The wood trim was tasteful, warming the interior nicely. Cabin space was plentiful, although some will wish for more cargo storage. A cargo net is standard.
BMW always has great audio systems and this one was no exception. The only downside was the lack of a weather band, an unusual omission, especially for a vehicle whose specialty is foul weather.
Options for your X5 include a $2,470 Sport Package which upgrades the tires to 19-inch, firms up the suspension, adds sport seats inside and has a titanium color grille insert along with black chrome exhaust tips. Opting for the $850 Activity Package gets you headlight cleaners, rain-sensing ones, including Parking Distance Control (which uses front and rear sensors to detect when objects are too close to the vehicle) and an Onboard Navigation System using a GPS screen among many others.
This handsome, agile SUV has the sporting manners that should calm any enthusiast’s fears that BMW is going soft.
If the $49,970 base price and automatic-transmission-only doesn’t appeal, just wait. For 2001, BMW is releasing an X5 with a 3-liter double-overhead-cam in-line-six, 225 horsepower and a 5-speed manual for 10 grand less.
No matter which one you buy, this SUV answers the tug of heart most enthusiasts grapple with when facing a new purchase: sport utility or sports sedan? With the X5, you get both sports sedan manners and SUV practicality, making this one tops in its field.
>> 2000 BMW X5 4.4i
Engine: 4.4-liter DOHC 32-valve V8 with variable-valve timing
Transmission: 5-speed Steptronic automatic transmission
Tires: 225/55R18 H all-season
Wheelbase: 111 inches
Length: 183.7 inches
Width: 73.7 inches
Weight: 4,828 pounds
Towing capacity: 6,000 pounds
Base price: $49,970
EPA rating: 13 mpg city, 17 mpg highway
Test mileage: 12 mpg
Fuel type: Premium only