SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide
The SUV: Large-and-in-charge, gas-guzzling, parking-lot--hogging, sight--blocking, lumbering blocks of metal and engine. The great Utility Vehicles, which only seem to have the word Sport included because of the vast abundance of mothers who tote soccer teams from one playing field to another, rarely get to showcase their innate potential. There's a comfort in knowing its latent off-road capability is there, but few actually use it since most drivers' experience with off-roading consists of trekking through under-construction zones
Of course, there's the age-old saying, "better safe than sorry". What if the "Big One" (earthquake) hits? What if there's a flood and the roads get damaged? Please --- there's a likelier chance of being hit by lightning than actually "using" a Sport Ute for its designed purpose.
Nevertheless, while the average Sport Ute is about as necessary as a pink Prada bag, sales and body styles continue to grow in line with and the consumers’ average income. In addition, with increasing demand product selection also increases. Nowadays, a consumer is able to select a size ranging from compact to gigantic (think: Ford’s Excursion!). So, it’s only natural that premium brands are starting to enter the Sport Utility market. Mercedes was the first of the high-performance Autobahn trio, with their M-class for 1998, and Lexus was the first manufacturer to introduce a smooth-riding, nimble handling car-based SUV: The RX300.
So what compelled the Ultimate Driving Machine company to enter the rather fad-ish SUV market? Indeed, it would seem that SUV's are the very antithesis of the BMW philosophy. Nevertheless, according to BMW AG Board Member, Dr. Helmut Panke, BMW "found a gap between the conventional sport utility vehicle and the typical sports sedan." It's this delicate gap that BMW seeks to fill with the X5 --essentially striving to realize the perceived freedom of a SUV with the road handling and comfort of a premium sedan. It's a gap that has yet to be filled by a manufacturer, a gap that promises outstanding financial rewards.
According to theX5’s Marketing Manager, Bert Holland, BMW has been "observing increased sales of SUV's for a long time." However, while consumers continue to buy off-road capability, their true motivation stems from the basic desires of freedom, security, adventure, and control, all of which, by nature, the typical SUV promises to offer. Yet, while the typical SUV is built for an active lifestyle, a number of contradictions present themselves. The main one, statistically speaking, is that few SUV owners actually utilize their vehicles for their traditional off-road capabilities.
The dash houses an abundant array of controls that are easily operated. The optional navigation system sits above the climate controls and to the right of the radio. This makes passenger accessibility convenient and cuts down on dash clutter, enabling stylish wood enhancements to be displayed throughout. Nice touch.
Upon turning the ignition key, I notice how well insulated we are. Despite the significant size of the 4.4-liter V-8 engine beneath the hood, the interior remains comfortably quiet. However, for those who derive great satisfaction from a substantial engine, there remains an audible growl.
Pleased thus far, I glide into reverse and immediately discover the optional Park Distance Control, which emits a rather unpleasantly pitched electronic warning. As I inch back the beeps increase their frequency, alerting me to the closeness of the vehicle that’s parked behind me. Unfamiliar with its temperament and unwilling to accidentally bump the vehicle behind me, I opt for a multi-shifting exit (back and forth, forward and reverse, etc).
However, I soon experience the X5's encouraging agility. Getting out of the snug parallel parking space, squeezing through the narrow street, and finally flipping a U-turn proved a cinch. Already I’m impressed by the X5’s maneuverability.
So far, so good. More "Activity" than "Utility!"
The drive test, however, is the most important and the X5 must past three critical categories that BMW has arranged throughout the day. First is an off-road course, then it's off to a racetrack, and finally there's the ever-critical freeway endurance test.
Armed with 282 horsepower, 324 pounds-feet of torque, and a pleasantly warm autumn day, my partner and I were off to put the X5 through the paces.
Pulling out of the parking lot onto a busy street, I realize that despite the impressive size of the X5 (4828 lbs., curb weight) its alacrity is almost palatable. Men and women alike will appreciate it's quick reaction time in both safety and performance situations. En route to the off-road course, I find comparable maneuvering through both city traffic and country roads.
Upon arrival to the Little Creek Farm off-road course, we're prepped on the capabilities of the X5. While lacking low-range transfer case for true off-road capability, it's equipped with a plethora of features that make it plenty off-road-worthy. Full-time all-wheel drive, All Season Traction (AST), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) for all-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension, and a rigid body with optimum weight distribution are a few things that make the X5 mechanically capable.
Specifically, once exclusive feature derived from Land Rover that proved to be most impressive, is the Hill Decent Control (HDC). Activated at speeds below 30 mph by a simple press of a button, HDC assists the driver in maintaining downhill speed and control, eliminating the need to "ride the brakes" and risk losing necessary traction. As tested on the off-road course, the HDC was used in steep-hill situations, where the X5 gently "walks" down the incline sans driver assistance. Without pressing the accelerator or brakes, the X5 automatically creeps along at 6mph, increasing stability and control. Once clear, the driver has the option to either de-activate via pressing the button again, accelerating quickly, or simply "driving out of it."
Two steep hill descents, one steep rocky ascent, one stream crossing, and almost eight miles later, the X5 passes its first important test.
Delayed briefly while the X5 receives a quick scrub-down, we're soon en route to Road Atlanta. Approximately an hour and a few stops later, we reach the racetrack's entrance. Moments later we sign our releases, are handed tickets good for three laps, and are free to drive on the track.
In the BMW pit area, the only track prep we receive is a warning from a fellow journalist that turn seven is a doozie. Thanks!
Within minutes we're charging around the track's vast variety of ups, downs, and curves. The first lap is somewhat unnerving. Unfamiliar with the track and hindered by the mindset that the X5 is a high-riding off-road vehicle, I take it easy. Second lap is a bit more aggressive. By the third, I push a little harder. Still, I'm left with the feeling that the X5 could've handled so much more than I dished. Luckily my co-driver is a bit more confident and pushes harder. Yet, only after a few more ride-alongs with different drivers does it sink in, yes, the X5 is really capable! According to BMW, the X5 uses a lot of passenger car technology. Equipped with a rigid body, the X5 maintains the same level of stiffness as both the 5 and 7 series sedans and joins the Mercedes M-Class in providing a five speed automatic transmission.
Now, the last test: Extended freeway driving. Tired from the day's activities, and I dare say, weary from driving for the better part of the day, we head off for a two-hour excursion to another state. Once on the freeway, the radio is turned on and the speed is increased. Suddenly aware that we're flying past all surrounding objects, we slow it down to 80mph and settle on 75mph. However, easily gliding along at a mere 75mph proves to be more difficult in reality. Not wanting to feel complacent during the last crucial test in the all-new Ultimate Driving Machine SAV, I refuse to use cruise control, opting to simply keep an eyeball on the speedometer and glide along.
Still comfortable after what turned out to be less than two hours, we roll into the hotel parking lot, effortlessly park, and pry ourselves from the heated seats with reluctance. Unloading our suitcases from the nearly 16 cubic feet of cargo area via the two-piece tailgate proves easy. The top glass portion effortlessly glides up while the bottom half is released with a medium touch for self-lowering. Comfortable, capable, and stylish, the X5 contains a comprehensive number of features and functions.
Well, BMW has certainly set a new standard. While still a little skeptical about the label, Sports Activity Vehicle, the X5 is by no means the SUV we know today and it should not be classified as such. So, was BMW AG Board Member, Dr. Helmut Panke correct in declaring that the, "X5 forms the synthesis of an off-roader with all the qualities for rough terrain and an on-roader with all the power and performance for superior motoring?" Absolutely. Will it be a consumer success? Without a doubt. The product is quality and the market is ready.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 49,970 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 32-valve, V-8 with variable valve timing Engine Size 4.4 liters / 268 cu. in. Horsepower (SAE net) 282 @ 5400 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 324 @ 3600 rpm Transmission 5-speed automatic with Adaptive Transmission Control and STEPTRONIC Wheelbase / Length 111 in. / 183.7 in. Curb Weight 4828 lbs. Weight Distribution 50.3/49.7 (front/rear, %) Fuel Capacity 24.6 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium (91 octane) for best operation Tires All-season, 255/55 R-18 H Brakes 4-wheel disc brakes Suspension Front: Struts, double-pivot lower arms, coil springs, twin-tube gas-pressure shock absorbers, anti-roll bar Rear: 4-link Integral suspension w/ aluminum Integral Link, upper lateral arms & wheel carrier; self-leveling air springs, twin-tube gas-pressure shock absorbers Drivetrain Front engine/full-time all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 13 / 17 / 15 0 to 60 mph 7.5 sec Top Speed, mph 128 w/out Sport Package 143 w/ Sport Package Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.36 OPTIONS Sport Package: -19' wheels w/ 255/50R-19 front and 285/45R-19 rear performance tires -Sport Seats -Sport Suspension -Shadowline exterior trim -Black Headliner -White Blinkers & Side Marker Lights -Black Chrome Exhaust Pipes -titanium-colored grill insert in front bumper Activity Package: -Heated Front Seats -Headlight Washers -Rain Sensor -Ski Bag Heated Steering Wheel Rear Side-Impact Airbags (Special Order) Power Glass Moonroof Retractable Load Floor Rear Side Window Shades Self-Dimming Interior & Exterior Mirrors Lumbar Support for Front Seats Park Distance Control Xenon Headlamps Multi-Information Display w/ Upgraded Onboard Computer BMW Navigation System Radio w/ CD player Premium Audio System w/ DSP & 12 speakers Privacy Glass