Cruising around in the new BMW X5 attracts a lot of attention.
The real once-over seems to come from BMW drivers who project a quizzical look asking whether BMW’s answer to the sport-utility craze is really one of us , a real BMW , or is an attempt to cash in on the automotive trend du jour.
Although there are plenty of BMW owners who opt for the German luxury brand for reasons of status, there’s a large body of buyers who are hooked on the company’s well-established reputation for building automobiles that are practical, yet inordinately exhilarating to drive.
To the real BMW aficionados, there is one message: The X5 is a BMW first and foremost with the brand’s characteristics foremost in the development of the model, and secondly, a new alternative for buyers in the SUV market. In fact, BMW refers to its new creation as a sports-activity vehicle. The X5 is intended for a vast variety of roads, from gravel paths to superhighways, but not for serious off-road excursions.
BMW is not trying to take on the truck-based SUV models. It is far closer in concept to the wildly successful Lexus RX300. The X5 is one of a growing list of practical vehicles that are often called hybrids, combining elements of traditional automobiles and truck-based SUVs.
Trucks and truck-like SUVs utilize body-on-frame construction, while the X5 deploys a construction method that combines body and frame into a single unit , an architecture that is almost universal in passenger cars. In the case of the X5, BMW claims the technique delivers exceptional torsional rigidity, or the ability of the vehicle to withstand twisting forces. And in fact, the X5 seems to possess an exceptionally rigid chassis , free from any jiggle or shudder as you traverse most any kind of road surface.
The X5 demonstrates an almost unique feeling that it is carved from a single block of steel.
The X5 also departs from conventional SUV design in the use of four-wheel-independent suspension, in contrast to the use of live axles. The use of live axles, while a more rugged type of design intended to haul huge loads, has serious limitations for both a vehicle’s ride and handling because a shock that affects one wheel is transmitted by the axle to the wheel on the other side.
There is no doubt that in the area of ride and handling, the BMW X5 comes across as a winner. The X5’s handling is almost at the level of contemporary sports sedans.
Handling capability is the essence of the BMW brand, and in this area X5 delivers. The vehicle has a nicely weighted steering feel that provides a lot of feedback.
The X5 is also responsive enough to allow the driver to easily and accurately position the nearly 5,000-pound vehicle when setting up for a mountain curve. The ride quality is also first rate for a utility vehicle. The X5’s handling could even be improved with the addition of the optional Sport Package that adds wide 19-inch wheels equipped with high-performance tires.
With BMW’s superb 4.4-liter V-8 on board, performance is a given. The robust engine is capable of launching the X5 to 60 miles per hour in 7.5 seconds, which puts it in the same league as many sporty sedans.
The power is smoothly applied with just a hint of healthy V-8 rumble. The slick-shifting five-speed automatic transmission with full-time all-wheel drive will keep you on the road even under the most inclement conditions.
The overall design of the X5 is almost as impressive as the performance and the quality of this made-in-the-USA vehicle is notable, even by luxury-car standards. The company has rendered a clean, contemporary design that has many BMW styling characteristics, including the twin-oval grille.
But it is the interior design that is the killer. With a wide sweeping dashboard, the new X5 may have the most distinctive interior in any current luxury vehicle. The design is contemporary in execution and seems to give the illusion of added width to the vehicle. The use of rich wood accents adds a note of warmth.
So, what’s not to like in the new X5? Well, many drivers may think twice about a utility vehicle with a $52,000 price tag. On the other hand, the luxury segment of the overall SUV market has been experiencing rapid growth and the $50,000 mark has been breached. Buyers on a tighter budget should be aware that BMW recently announced a six-cylinder version, which is said to undercut the price of the V-8 model by about $10,000.
The BMW rates a solid addition to my very short list of recommended sport-utility vehicles. The performance is outstanding and the overall design and quality of materials should keep owners delighted for years.
BMW X5–Price as tested: $52,345
Engine: Type: 4.4L V-8, Horsepower: 282 @ 5,400 rpm, Torque: 324 ft. lbs. @ 3,600 rpm
Fuel economy, manual transmission: City – 13 mpg, Highway – 17 mpg, Curb Weight: 4,828 lbs.