When the 2002 BMW X5 4.6is was delivered, I stood there, looking at its tires. The sidewalls were as low as an elephant's toe. Up front were 275/40R20s, which looked massive. But they weren't nearly as massive as the rear 315/35R20s. Yow!
Couple that with the new number on the front fender -- 4.6 for the new performance-tuned 340-horsepower V-8 -- and you have an SUV that promised a lot more fun on-road than off. The X5 is available in three trim levels, 3.0i, 4.4i and 4.6is,
the last one being new for 2002. Actually, the big news is the new V-8 model, which takes the 4.4i's V-8 and enlarges the engine's size along with adding a host of performance enhancements. They include higher compression, hotter valve timing, an
increase in redline from 6,200 rpm to 7,000 rpm and a modified exhaust system. Hooked to a 5-speed ZF Steptronic automatic, this motor allows sportier shifting. Leave it in "D" and the vehicle feels responsive, but sliding the lever to the left
engages sport mode, which permits more aggressive shifting. For the ultimate in control, the vehicle can be shifted manually, with the ZF Steptronic being very obedient at holding its gear. Too many of these "manual" automatics override the driver's
wishes; this transmission doesn't. The 4.6is benefits from having the firmest suspension that one can get on an X5. It includes a self-leveling rear air-suspension system to keep rear seat riders on an even keel. Adjustable ride height, available on
lesser models, isn't available on this model. The ride is firm, but you'll never feel road shocks, because the fully independent suspension does an excellent job of absorbing them. There is some side-to-side pitching. Dynamic Stability Control
and Hill Descent Control are standard. They add a layer of electronic security to ensure control while rushing through corners or traversing steep grades. All X5s have full-time all-wheel-drive, with a power split of 38 percent to the front wheels, 62
percent of the power to the rear. This rear-wheel bias is what endows the X5 with its stellar handling. The speed-sensitive power steering was excellent, communicating the tiniest nuance in road surface, while being quick and accurate. The brakes,
already substantial in lesser models of the X5, are upgraded for the 4.6is. All the discs are ventilated and furnish outstanding stopping ability. You'll need the stopping power. The 4.6-liter V-8 supplies enough oomph to ensure big time thrills.
BMW says 0-60 mph comes up in a brisk 6.2 seconds. Believe it. You'll handily outrun many sports sedans. It's so quick, you'll wonder why other vehicles are driving so slow. Then you realize you're going twice the legal limit. Power is
instantaneous, as is fuel consumption. EPA rates this vehicle at 12 mpg city, 17 mpg highway. I easily matched the city figure, but o
nly reached 15 mpg on the highway. Overall mileage was 14.5 mpg on premium fuel. The X5 has a 6,000-pound trailer-towing rating. Inside, the X5 is premium BMW. Large analog gauges consisting of a speedometer, tachometer, engine and oil
temperature are clear and easy to read. That's more than can be said of the optional $1,800 navigation system, which also integrates the audio system and onboard computer. Navigating this digital quagmire is frustrating and counter-intuitive and
surprising for a company that prides itself on building ultimate driving machines. When a vehicle is capable of the speeds that the X5 can attain, the fussiness of this system stands out. The dual-zone climate control was effective, as were the
three- setting seat heaters, which are furnished at all points. The seats themselves are very firm, but do a good job of holding you in place. The front bucket seats even had seat extenders for longer-legged passenge
s. This is an idea more automakers should adopt. The cargo area is somewhat shallow, but it has a cargo cover and an optional slide-out tray that makes unloading cargo a breeze. It's also the location of the navigation system and 6-CD changer.
I never did make it off-road, I didn't want to. The X5 is such a delight, you won't want to either. One thing's for sure, you'll never tire of its siren song. BMW X5 4.6is Engine: 4.6-liter DOHC V-8 Transmission: 5-speed Steptronic
automatic Tires: 275/40R-20, front; 315/35R-20 rear Wheelbase: 111 inches Length: 183.7 inches Width: 73.7 inches Weight: 4,824 pounds Cargo volume: 23.8 cubic ft., seats up; 54.4 cubic ft., seats down Base price:
$66,845 As tested: Not available EPA rating: 12 city, 17 highway Test mileage: 14.5 mpg Fuel type: Premium Built in: Spartanburg, S.C.