Let's set the record straight at the outset. Just because the all-new BMW X5 looks something like the Lexus RX 300 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class doesn't mean it's a sport-utility vehicle like its rivals.

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG won't admit it. Instead, the German maker of luxury sport sedans and wagons calls the X5 an SAV -- for "sports activity vehicle."

In developing the X5, BMW said that if it was going to build a vehicle with sport-utility ve-hicle characteristics, "that ve-hicle would have to offer the SUV's appealing aspects plus the exhilaration and driving pleasure only a BMW can pro-vide." The German automaker calls its product "the ultimate driv-ing machine," and that slogan rings true when you get behind the wheel of a BMW.

The X5 does have an exhila-rating ride. Like, you can get from zero to 60 miles per hour in 7.5 seconds, according to BMW data. I didn't have a drag strip to test that data, but I'll bet my 0-60 acceleration time onto Sacramento area freeways was in the neighborhood of 7.5 seconds.

That's not your ordinary sport-utility vehicle.And this is not your ordinary BMW.

The X5 has a 4.4-liter V-8 engine rated at 282 horsepower working through a five-speed Steptronic automatic transmis-sion that can shift for itself or let you take it through the gears.

The thrust of the 32-valve 4.4-liter V-8 reminded me of the propulsion of the Mer-cedes-Benz S500 that I tested a few weeks ago. The 5.0-liter Mercedes V-8 was rated at 302 horsepower -- 20 more than the smaller BMW V-8. Neverthe-less, the X5 seemed every bit as quick as the S500.

I feel safe in saying the X5 would win any drag race with anything else in its class.

The five-speed Steptronic gearbox lever is in a two-gate slot in the center of the drives-haft console. On one side are the traditional automatic transmission designations for Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. Slide the shift lever into the gate on the left, and you can upshift or downshift as you see fit.

The X5 employs full-time all-wheel drive. That in itself separates the BMW from conventional four-wheel drive sport-utilities. All-wheel drive has a single range of "high" gears, while a four-wheel drive's gears can be shifted between "low" and "high" range.

For rugged off-roading, having the ability to shift into "low" range four-wheel drive is imperative.

However, all-wheel drive is perfectly adequate for virtually all other applications where power is needed at all four wheels . . . Like, say, getting up to ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada.

Fuel economy in the X5 is about the same as its all-wheel drive rivals, the Lexus RX 300 and the Mercedes M-Class.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the X5 at 13 miles per gallon in city driving and 17 mpg on the highway. I averaged 15.2 mpg for about 600 miles of about 60 percent freeway and two-lane highway motoring and about 40 percent urban/suburban driving .

The fuel tank holds 24.6 gallons, and BMW recommends unleaded premium gasoline optimum performance. But, if one can afford the X5, one can afford the higher cost of unleaded premium.

Seating accommodations are for five adults -- two in the very comfortable individual front seats and three on the rear bench seat.

The rear hatch is a two-piece affair, which makes it easy to load parcels in the rear cargo area. The top part is the rear window, and the bottom part is a tailgate. Thus, the window portion of the hatch can be left open to accommodate a long object while the tailgate remains up to enclose any loose items in the cargo compartment.

The X5 should not be overlooked if you're shopping for a contemporary all-wheel drive rig and like the styling of the X5, RX 300 and M-Class.