Versus the competiton:
The BMW X5 was one of the pioneers in the performance SUV segment when it was launched in the 2000 model year. Its focus on onroad excellence, as opposed to offroad capability, was a sensible move, considering BMW’s brand heritage and how seldom most consumers venture off-road in their SUVs. The second-generation, 2007 X5 continues in this vein but now comes with more power and can seat up to seven.
Our test X5 had the optional 4.8-liter V-8, and it’s a great engine for a few reasons. It makes plenty of power at low engine speeds and propels the X5 at will around town and on the highway. The V-8 is forceful in its power delivery but never becomes unrefined; this engine is smooth anywhere on the rpm range. In short, it’s an engine you can find yourself addicted to rather quickly, and withdrawal is hard.
|BMW X5 Engines
|Horsepower (@ rpm)
||260 @ 6,600
||350 @ 6,300
|Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm)
||225 @ 2,750
||350 @ 3,400
|Zero to 60 mph (sec.)
A 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder is standard, and both engines drive a six-speed automatic transmission that features BMW’s Steptronic clutchless-manual mode for driver-controlled gear changes. It’s a shame the X5 isn’t offered with a manual transmission like the smaller X3 SUV, but it comes down to demand. “The X5 buyer was less interested in manual shifting,” says Bill Scully, BMW product communications specialist, “whereas there’s still a market there in the X3.”
As automatics go, however, the X5’s is right up there with the best of them. Shift quality is excellent, and the transmission kicks down rapidly when necessary. In Sport mode, kickdown is swifter still, and the transmission doesn’t upshift as readily, providing decent engine braking with the V-8.
Even though the X5 is one of the better-handling SUVs available today, the characteristic driving experience that makes BMW’s cars so enjoyable feels a little watered down here. Instead of offering lots of feedback and a weighty feel, the steering system has more power assist and it’s not especially sharp. Hard cornering brings on body roll, but the X5 always feels stable and under control.
The firmly tuned four-wheel independent suspension makes rough roads a jostling experience, but the normal BMW payoff — outstanding handling — is missing. It goes where you point it, but there’s no sense of connectedness between driver and machine that’s present when piloting a 3 Series coupe.
Why are we talking about coupes in an SUV review? The answer is that even though the X5 competes against other luxury SUVs, like the Acura MDX and Audi Q7, it will always be held up against the capabilities of BMW cars because the spinning propeller logo on its hood brings with it expectations. Obviously, endowing an SUV with classic BMW dynamics presents challenges, but once you’ve experienced them elsewhere you wish the X5 had them, too.
Two chassis options not present on our test car were Active Steering and AdaptiveDrive. Active Steering is a variable-ratio system designed to make the front wheels steer more sharply at lower speeds than at high ones for a given turn of the steering wheel. (Navigating a parking lot, for example, requires slighter turns of the steering wheel than would be needed with the standard steering system.) BMW also says Active Steering can make minor steering adjustments on its own to keep the X5 under control. AdaptiveDrive, meanwhile, is an adaptive suspension system that features adjustable stabilizer bars and two modes: Normal and Sport.
Like other BMWs, the X5’s cabin is sleek and purposeful without a lot of extra frills to get in the way of driving. While the interior doesn’t look or feel as luxurious as the Q7’s, optional wood trim lends an upscale appearance, and there are thoughtful details, like real stitching on the door panels. Leatherette upholstery is standard and real leather is optional. Interestingly, the optional third-row seat is covered in leather regardless of what surface the first and second rows have.
The interior is not without some questionable elements, though. For one, there’s no excuse for a $40,000-plus luxury SUV to still have vinyl sun visors that aren’t extendable to better shield the driver’s eyes when the sun is shining through the side window. Trim-piece fit and appearance is good overall, but there are some unusually large gaps around the clamshell glove box doors — they’re so big you can see some dashboard innards through them. The front seat belt anchors aren’t adjustable for height, either. These are small things, to be sure, but when you’re spending this much, their significance increases.
Visibility from the supportive driver’s seat is good, but I found the cushioning too firm for my taste. Our test vehicle featured the optional multi-contour front seats, which include power-adjustable side bolsters and seat cushion length among their array of adjustments.
The split-bench, reclining second-row seat in our seven-seat X5 could slide forward and back to balance the legroom needs of middle and rear passengers. Moved to its rearmost position, the second row is a roomy place for adults. Other than its tad-too-firm cushion, center-seat comfort is decent and there’s no floor hump to crowd the middle passenger’s legs.
The second-row seat articulates forward with a pull of one lever to clear a path to the optional two-seat third row. Children will be the most likely occupants, and that’s a good thing, because there’s not a lot of room back there. Both the second and third rows can fold down level with the cargo floor for hauling purposes.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 2007 X5 a Good rating, its highest, for its frontal-offset crash-test performance. Standard are all-disc antilock brakes with brake-fade compensation and a brake-drying feature that keeps the discs clean during inclement weather. Side-impact airbags for the front seats, an electronic stability system and side curtain airbags for the first and second rows (but not the available third row) are also standard.
With all seats upright, including the available third row, the X5 has only 7.1 cubic feet of cargo room, which is less room than you’ll find in many compact sedans. Cargo capacity jumps to 18.5 cubic feet with the third row folded (plus more space if you don’t opt for that third row). With the second row folded flat, maximum cargo capacity totals 61.8 cubic feet. The inline-six and V-8 versions are both rated to tow up to 6,000 pounds when properly equipped.
Options include front and rear heated seats, front and rear parking sensors, Comfort Access keyless entry and ignition, a head-up display and a panoramic moonroof that’s made of two large glass panels and includes a power sunshade. The available navigation system can receive traffic information via a Clear Channel Communications FM broadcast that’s available in more than 40 metro areas. During route guidance, if the navigation system receives warning of a delay from the traffic broadcast it can recalculate the route to avoid the congestion.
A six-CD changer is optional, but it’s located in the glove box — an outdated design — as opposed to being integrated with the radio head unit. A rear-seat entertainment system with an 8-inch screen is also optional.
In addition to the MDX and Q7, the realm of performance SUVs includes the Infiniti FX45 and Land Rover Range Rover Sport. While the X5 doesn’t equal the driving performance of the FX45, which is more sports car than SUV to begin with, it holds its own against the others.
Beside the fact that it’s an SUV, BMW purists will take issue with the X5’s comparatively less accomplished handling performance, but the company sells coupes and sedans for those folks. If you’re searching for a sporty SUV that’s at home at the country club but can still tow your M3 to a weekend club race, the X5 won’t disappoint.