Vehicle Overview
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 (4WD), BMW says the X5 is suitable for “any road, any time, any reason,” but it isn’t 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 BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, S.C., alongside the company’s Z3 sports car (which has been renamed to Z4 for 2003). Sales of the X5 in 2001 totaled 40,622 units, according to Automotive News.

The X5 initially came with only a 4.4-liter V-8 engine. A lower-priced six-cylinder model, dubbed X5 3.0i, arrived later and carried a 225-hp 3.0-liter power plant. 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 4WD security.

In December 2001, BMW added a high-performance X5 4.6is version with a specially tuned 340-horsepower V-8 engine, which the automaker says can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than 6.5 seconds. BMW’s Aero Package, a sport suspension, a sport interior and 20-inch wheels are included. This high-performance version is meant for the “SUV owner who is looking for the ultimate in performance,” says Product Manager Martin Birkmann.

BMW’s Rear Head Protection System and a Brake Force Display will be standard for 2003, and the available navigation system gets an upgrade to DVD operation. Adjustable Ride Height is available on X5s equipped with the Sport Package.

The X5 exhibits a more distinctive, eye-catching shape than other SUVs on the road. Just a glance at the X5’s front end reveals that it’s a BMW. It has classic styling that is highlighted by the familiar twin kidney-shape grilles. At nearly 184 inches long overall on a 111-inch wheelbase, the X5 is a few inches longer than the RX 300 and 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 3.0i model comes with 17-inch tires, and the regular 4.4i V-8-powered model sports 18-inch tires. A Sport Package for the 4.4i features 19-inch high-performance tires and a firmer suspension. On the high-performance V-8-powered 4.6is, the tires measure 20 inches in diameter.

Seating for five occupants is available in the X5. It features 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 BMW’s navigation system. The cargo volume with the seats folded down is 54.4 cubic feet.

Under the Hood
The X5 4.6is tops the performance spectrum by packing a 340-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 engine, while the X5 4.4i carries a 4.4-liter V-8 that develops 290 hp. The X5 3.0i uses a 225-hp, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. Six-cylinder models may have either a five-speed-manual or five-speed-automatic transmission, while the V-8 X5s team only with the automatic gearbox. Permanently engaged 4WD 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. The automaker’s Rear Head Protection System has been added for 2003.

Driving Impressions
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. The X5’s performance is impressive — especially models equipped with the V-8 engines — and it can accelerate almost like a muscle car.

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. Although the Sport X5’s ride is tolerable on smooth pavement, just a few imperfections yield a jarring experience.

If anything, 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. Its acceleration ranks close to startling. Despite extremely low-profile Michelin tires, this model rides nicely on smooth roads. 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’s satisfying in nature. Its seats are very supportive and appealing for a long journey.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide
Posted on 8/28/02