2004 BMW X5

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2000 BMW X5

This 2000 review is representative of model years 2000 to 2006.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8
Pros:
  • Tighter handling than you're likely to believe possible
  • Silky automatic with Steptronic
  • Sporty power
Cons:
  • Funky rear tailgate
  • Noticeable wind noise at highway speeds
  • Pricey, even for an SUV

Is the X5 4.4i the latest evolution in the sport-utility market or a performance SUV/station wagon and status symbol for rich folks? The answer is likely to depend on whether you can afford this newest BMW model.

Familiar face
It sure looks like a BMW. In fact, the 2000 BMW X5 4.4i looks a lot like a BMW 5-Series car. No surprise.

Officials at the German automaker, ever faithful to their own sense of timeless design, couldn't agree on a better look than one of their own. So, the X5 is crafted lovingly with the same kidney-shaped grille up front, same style headlights, relatively restrained side sheet metal and no-nonsense rear styling that BMW is known for.

BMW genes come through
So now you can understand how I looked at the X5 and my mind instantly clicked "BMW." Yours will, too. Of course, if you're like me, you'll also quietly note how the X5 looks like a strangely tall, rather gangly 5-Series or maybe a BMW relative of the Lexus RX 300.

So, I got inside, expecting the familiar BMW environment. Yup, there are the traditional BMW gauges staring at me, and real wood trim. The steering wheel feels like the big ones used in BMW cars, too. But my seating position is rather van-like, far different than in a BMW car. And the vehicle and I sit so high up, I wonder what mad scientist has been at work.

I began to wonder even more as I drove the X5 4.4i. The 4.4-liter double overhead cam V8 is strong and sweet, as it is in the BMW 5-Series cars. The 5-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, also used in the cars, is silky smooth in the X5.

But most SUV drivers don't expect to find this kind of sports-car power and responsiveness in their vehicle, especially one weighing nearly 5,000 pounds. And I wonder how many really demand it.

V8 power only—for initial X5 model
This first X5 model—the 4.4i—has maximum 282 horsepower at 5400 revolutions per minute. While a 6-cylinder is planned for a lower-priced X5 sometime in calendar 2000, the X5 4.4i's power compares favorably with 235 horses at 4800 rpm in the Jeep Grand Cherokee with 4.7-liter V8 and 220 at 5800 rpm in the Lexus RX 300, which only has a V6.

The real fun comes from the V8's 324 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm. It's the same performance rating as in the BMW 540i Sport Wagon, but in the heavier X5, it really works well.

I passed other drivers with confidence on 2-lane roads as the V8 hummed strongly. The X5 quickly got me up to speed to merge with other traffic after I made turns. Actually, it was difficult to stay patiently in the 30-mile-per-hour range in this vehicle, even in residential neighborhoods. BMW reports a 0-to-60-mph time of 7.5 seconds in the X5. That's on a par with some luxury sedans.

No wonder company officials say the X5 has the true character of a BMW. The torque, by the way, compares with 295 lb-ft at 3200 rpm in the Grand Cherokee and 222 at 4400 rpm in the RX 300.

Mercedes SUV is power winner
But don't think the X5 is the end-all of SUV performance. Mercedes-Benz has an ML55 AMG that has even more horsepower—342—and torque—376—than this BMW.

It's the top of the line of the M-Class models and can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in even less time than the X5: Just 6.9 seconds, according to Mercedes.

Ready for inspired driving
Still, there's no doubt the X5, which is priced some $15,000 less than the ML55, inspires an unusual kind of driving confidence for a vehicle that can go both on- and off-road. And it's not just because of the X5's straight-line power.

This is an SUV whose body motions are controlled. Yes, there's some body sway in the sweeping curves—the vehicle has 7.1 inches of ground clearance under it for those off-road drives. But the X5 does a good job of containing wild weight shifts.

In fact, this is a vehicle where the weight is almost evenly divided, front and rear. Compare that with the RX 300 where 57.1 percent of the weight sits at the front of the vehicle and 42.9 percent is at the rear.

Good road manners come from more than arranging weight, of course. The X5 has a front strut suspension and a 4-link rear setup with self-leveling air springs. The all-independent suspension, more commonly found on cars, is attached to subframes, helping to provide a smooth, quiet, on-road ride, even over railroad tracks.

Sport package, too
The sport package on the tester added huge 19-inch tires and wheels and a stiffer, sport suspension.

I found myself pushing this SUV more aggressively the longer I was behind the wheel. Impressively, the X5 rarely seemed flustered. It clawed the pavement quickly in a sudden stop and went through a series of S curves with the grace that was uncharacteristic of a tall SUV.

But no matter what BMW says, it takes a while before a driver builds up the confidence to do some of those maneuvers in a tall vehicle like this.

All four wheels get power
Unlike the Lexus RX 300, where both 2-wheel-drive and 4-wheel-drive models are offered, all X5s come standard with full-time all-wheel drive. And because of BMW's tradition of selling rear-wheel-drive vehicles, the X5 travels in normal mode with a torque split of 38 percent to the front and 62 percent to the rear.

A driver doesn't have to do anything for extra traction. A standard traction control system automatically reduces wheel spin by cutting engine torque, applying brakes to the spinning wheel or both. It came on several times during my off-road drives.

Another electronic system, Dynamic Stability Control, works to keep the X5 on the path steered by the driver during cornering maneuvers.

And BMW borrowed technology from its Land Rover unit to make going down steep terrain safer. Called Hill Descent Control (HDC), it's activated by a button on the dashboard. At low speeds, HDC takes over, putting on the brakes subtly, as necessary, to slow the vehicle as it goes downhill without causing it to slide.

Safety isn't forgotten
HDC isn't the only safety feature on the X5. The X5 is the first SUV with inflatable head protection, because it includes BMW's tube system that deploys out of the ceiling in a side crash. Mercedes has an inflatable curtain system but hasn't installed it in its 2000 M-Class sport utes.

The X5 also has standard side airbags for the front seats; they're optional for the rear seats. Front airbags have 2-stage deployment—softer in low-speed crashes and more forceful deployment in more severe crashes in order to alleviate any airbag-induced injuries.

All five X5 seats have adjustable head restraints and 3-point shoulder belts, and anti-lock brakes are standard.

To help you maneuver this new Bimmer, the company offers an optional Park Distance Control system that alerts a driver when he or she is getting too close to an object in the back of the vehicle or in the front. The alerts come via beeps heard inside the vehicle.

Now, about those seats and handles
I could do without the super-firm sport seats that come with the optional sport package. Yeow, I hurt myself trying to get up and over the front seat side bolsters while scrambling inside.

Headroom seems plentiful, though if you get a moonroof in the X5, the headroom winds up being a bit less than what you get in a Mercedes M-Class with moonroof.

Rear seat legroom in the X5 is also less than that in the M-Class and the Lexus RX 300. A 6-footer in back would definitely need the front seat up a ways to have comfortable legroom in the back seat.

The X5's outer door handles are odd, with a rather abrupt shape that's not ergonomic for me. Doors on the test X5 opened stiffly and took some extra strength to open all the way. And watch as you brush past the rear wheel wells to get into the back seat.

Thank goodness BMW offers an optional cargo floor that pulls out and then can slide back in. Otherwise, I'd have to reach awkwardly over the tailgate to get at items inside.

I also noticed that with the rear opening designed with a glass liftgate and a lower tailgate, there's no way to stand under the liftgate—as you can with many other SUVs—and be sheltered from rain or snow while loading items.

Only one moonroof, not two, is offered on this premium vehicle, and it's an option. In the test X5, the moonroof began to rattle after my off-road excursion. I also noticed a good amount of wind noise at highway speeds in the tester.

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BB05 - 4/23/2014 10:12:26 AM