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Review: BMW X5 4.4i

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SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide

By Annabelle Frankl

Given the amount of vehicles I get to drive, I’m always asked what I would choose for myself. Well, I hate to have to choose, and it rather depends on the day of the week, weather, mood and so on! But, if I had to, then the X5 would be very close to the top of my list. I’ve always liked the idea of having an SUV, but their lack of handling ability is such a detriment to driving enjoyment. Well, finally, I have found one that handles like a car, and a luxury car at that.

Actually, BMW prefers that the X5 be referred to as a SAV – Sports Activity Vehicle – but whatever you call it, you’re going to have fun driving it. Powered by a gutsy 4.4 liter, DOHC, 32 valve, V8, with Vanos steplessly variable valve timing, you’ll do 0-60 in 7.4 seconds, which is pretty impressive given a curb weight of 4824 lbs. Smoothly and quietly producing 290 hp at 5400 revs, and 324 lbs-ft of torque at 3600 revs, the X5 accelerates effortlessly from a stop or whilst traveling at speed; there’s never a lack of extra horses to whip into shape. Teamed with a five-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, with adaptive transmission control, and engine-speed-sensitive, power steering, the X5 is extremely responsive.

However, the steering was surprisingly heavy at low speeds or when trying to park. This may have been due to being equipped with 19” alloy wheels and 255/50R-19 front, 285/45R-19 rear performance tires, but it proved to be rather unmanageable and, frankly, if I want an upper body workout, I’ll go to the gym! One is, at least, provided with a comfortable driving position, with all necessary gadgets within easy reach. The power tilt, telescopic, leather-wrapped M sport steering wheel, with audio, cruise and accessory phone controls, allows one to attain the perfect arm-to-foot ratio, when teamed with the 8-way power driver’s seat. And the 8-function mini-computer can be accessed by a button on the wheel, giving appropriate speed, fuel, date and trip information.

Heavy steering aside, the tires add even more stability to an already great-handling package. The X5 is equipped, as standard, with full-time all-wheel drive, with all-season traction, and dynamic stability control with cornering brake control. It also includes hill descent control, which reduces speed to a walking pace when doing a sharp descent. With double-pivot, strut type suspension at front, teamed with a subframe with dual hydraulic mounts, and aluminium 4-link integral rear suspension, teamed with a subframe on 4 rubber mounts, plus front and rear anti-roll / stabilizer bars, twin-tube gas-pressure shocks, self-leveling rear axle with air springs, and sport suspension calibration, this baby gives one, smooth, firm ride. Actually, extremely firm – so much so that, one particular bump in the road (and not a big one either) caused me to be wearing my coffee, despite a ‘spill-proof’ lid. I’m all for stiff, sport suspension and the responsive ride that results from that, but there is a limit! (Also, there’s only room for one cup of Joe in the cup-holders at any one time, so someone always runs the risk of t-shirt a la Latte!). Apart from coffee mishaps, I really enjoyed driving the X5. You can throw it around like a sedan and not be fearful of lurching round corners, losing grip with the road or reducing vehicle stability. Cosseted inside BMW’s classy interior, A-to-B need not be done as quickly as possible, as one glides around town, or bombs along the freeway. Things get a little noisy if traveling at speed with the moonroof open, but one could hear a pin drop with it closed (although you’d quickly lose it amongst all that luxurious leather).

Seating 5 in comfort, with leather seating surfaces, heated seats, automatic climate control, front and rear, with micro-filter and air re-circulation, plus one-touch up and down windows, and roof (all with anti-trapping feature), and beautifully designed dash layout, trim (light Poplar) and finishes, the boys at Bimmer have, as ever, put together a truly classy vehicle, both inside and out. The cargo area is accessed by a flip-up, fold down split door, and can be equipped with a retractable load floor and electric, adjustable rear seat. Extras include Xenon headlights, park distance control, auto-dimming mirrors and a Premium sound system with DSP and 10-speakers (standard). Surprisingly, mine only had room for one CD at a time, but there was ample in-door storage for one’s CD supply, and more.

Receiving one of the best crash-safety ratings in its class, the X5 offers almost 50-50 weight balance. This, along with BMW’s Head Protection System, plus dual-front impact airbags, and side airbags as standard for the front seats, optional for rear seats, reassures the driver that this sturdy-looking SAV also delivers in the safety department. Nothing worse than a ‘truck’ with the rigidity of a tin can.

This was truly one of those weekly tests I simply did not want to end. All friends who got in, didn’t want to get out (and most wanted to ‘borrow’ it…but how could I possibly let it out of my sight, when our time together was so short!) Superior handling, responsiveness, comfort and looks, the X5 is in a class by itself. No other SUV I’ve driven has even come close in ride quality and handling ability (and I could say the same for quite a few sedans, too). It’s certainly a case of quality over quantity, since the X5 can’t compete in the size category as compared with the Escalades or Navigators, but where their size and apparent luxury may be impressive, there is no comparison when it comes to performance.

MSRP $49,400
As Tested $58,975

Cold Weather $750.00
Premium $2,100.00
Rear Climate $400.00
Sport 1,600.00 19”
Alloy Wheels $950.00
Retractable load floor $380.00
Heated rear seats $350.00
Park Distance control $700.00
Xenon Headlights $500.00
Premium sound $1,200.00
Destination charge $645.00

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