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2003 BMW X54.4i Review

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SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide



ENGINE: 4.4-liter DOHC V8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 290 hp @ 5,400 rpm/324 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 111.0 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 183.7 x 73.7 x 67.5 in.
STICKER PRICE: $52,900 (est.)

When BMW announced that it was getting into the sport utility market, everyone wondered just what that vehicle would be like. The original 4.4-liter V8-powered vehicle proved to retain BMW's sporting heritage, but in a new format.

The 4.4i now has two brothers, a six-cylinder-powered X5 3.0i, and the "super performance" X5 4.6is, with a 340-horsepower DOHC V8.

Our tester is the original X5 4.4I, powered by a 4.4-liter DOHC V8 that delivers 290 horsepower, which is more than enough for any driving conditions except for racing, and not too many people are racing SUVs these days. In fact, we often found ourselves spinning the tires, even on dry roads, when we accelerated away from stop signs.

The engine connects to the drive wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox has a manual Sport mode, which allows the driver to shift manually. However, there's enough power to make the manual shifter unnecessary. I believe that manual-mode automatics are best used in lower-powered cars, where you have a greater need to shift more often. Hey, but what do I know.

The X5 is a BMW through and through. There's wood trim inside, for example, including a wood trim-covered door over the CD insertion slot. The paneling was in a light color, which contrasted nicely with the wood-and-leather steering wheel.

One feature I especially liked about the X5 was the abundance of storage areas throughout the cabin. Inside the glove box is a CD with operating instructions on how to use the features of the vehicle. In the driver's door was the standard owner's manual. There were cupholders, storage compartments, two storage areas in the center console armrest.

There were also power outlets all over the place to power cell phones and other 12-volt accessories.

Rear seat legroom is excellent, which is nice when you have passengers to carry. There's a power outlet in the rear as well, as well as an arm rest that serves as a push-through if you want to carry skis or other long objects. The rear seat also folds flat to create a better cargo area.

I used the X5 to pick up pizza. Normally, this isn't a newsworthy event, but there are two elastic straps on the floor of the cargo area that are excellent for holding a pizza box in place. I'm sure they are there for other more serious reasons, but holding a pizza box can be serious, too.

As with all BMWs, the X5 has a dual kidney-shaped grille and is extremely aerodynamic. I liked the headlight washers popping out of the front bumpers.

Cargo capacity is measured at 16.4 cubic feet to 54.4 cubic feet, depending on how you shift the seats. Our tester had a shade over the rear compartment that sometimes made it difficult to put objects in there, but we coped. A retractable load floor, that allows the carpeted floor panel to roll out on ball-bearing rails to facilitate loading objects into the cargo area is a nice feature.

The rear deck is a two-piece affair. The window glass lifts separately from the lower section, which drops down. This arrangement makes it possible to have a choice in how you load the back. Of course, with the shade pulled all the way back you can't load with just the window open.

Driving the X5 is a pleasure, as is driving most BMWs. The ride is extremely comfortable. My wife liked it because of the relatively high riding position. She doesn't like cars that ride close to the highway. If there's a choice of vehicles, we often have a "discussion" as to which car we take.

She also likes SUVs because I tend to drive them less vigorously than sportier vehicles, whether they have sport shift or not.

Our tester was almost classic. It had an ice blue metallic paint. The winter has left us so we didn't have opportunities to test the four-wheel drive capabilities of the X5, and I didn't go looking for trouble, as I might in warmer weather.

The BMW X5 is a true Bimmer in that it offers comfort, luxury and performance. Only this time, BMW does it in a sport utility (or sport activity) vehicle chassis.

© 2003 The Auto Page Syndicate