2007 BMW X5

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Tech Review: 2007 BMW X5

By Doug Newcomb of MSN Autos
Rating: 9

Bottom Line:

BMW's 2007 X5 exudes high-tech feel even before you hit the highway.
Pros:
  • Practical technology features that rarely feel superfluous
  • Rearview camera and Park Distance Control make backing up a breeze
  • Hassle-free hands-free phone system
Cons:
  • The dreaded iDrive controller
  • Cumbersome satellite radio tuning
  • Spotty voice-activated navigation controls

Maybe it's the tactile sensation of the heated and ventilated front seats with adjustable backrest width and thigh and shoulder support. Maybe it's the visual sensation of the rearview camera and its myriad guiding modes and Park Distance Control that made me feel in complete control backing up.

Or maybe it's the aural sensation of being able to talk hands-free after effortlessly connecting a Bluetooth phone. But more than likely it's a combination of all of the above—and then some—that made the 2007 BMW X5 4.8i (sticker priced at $55,195) more than the sum of its high-tech parts. And that was just while backing out of the driveway.

Tight Package
Once on the road, my overall satisfaction with the tech in the new X5 had a lot to do with the fact that it's wrapped in a tight package propelled by a peppy 4.8-liter 350-horsepower V8 engine. The X5 also has a refined ride that doesn't slam you around like lesser SUVs. And true to the X5's Teutonic heritage, its onboard tech rarely feels superfluous or showy. Most of its bells and whistles have a valid a reason for being in the vehicle and largely complement the overall driving experience.

Even the side mirrors, for example, play a more than practical role. Not only can they be automatically heated (a good thing where I live) and folded in at the touch of a button (an especially good thing with my tight carport), but the curb mode conveniently tilts the passenger-side mirror towards the pavement so you can see how close you are to scraping the vehicle's 18-inch alloy wheels when squeezing into a parallel parking spot. The Park Distance Control also saves on your insurance deductible since it uses color-gradient indicators on the 7-inch screen in the dash to indicate precisely how close you are to an object. It also beeps more loudly as you get closer to impact, which can get annoying, although you can turn off the PDC system via a switch on the dash.

iDrive You Crazy
Speaking of annoying, many of the features of the X5 are controlled via the dreaded iDrive controller in the center console. But BMW has gone to great lengths to improve the interface since the original version prompted an auto-press pile-on, and I found it quite intuitive to use—once I got the hang of it. My only real gripe is the voluminous information that is accessed by the system. While tech geeks may be able to wail through its menus, I fear the soccer moms that this vehicle is targeted towards may find the information overload overwhelming.

But the X5's high-tech emphasis is also balanced by a few almost low-tech touches. The tuning of the AM and FM radio, for example, is simplified by a on-screen graphics that mimic an old-fashioned analog-radio dial, and I like that adjacent stations are clearly visible when stations are manually tuned. And thanks to RDS capability, some stations' call letters are displayed along with their frequency, which makes it easier to zero in on a desired channel while driving.

Searching among the station presets is also straightforward since they're displayed in an easy-to-read pair of stair-step columns. The opposite is true of tuning in SIRIUS Satellite Radio channels. For one, you don't get adjacent-channel info, as with AM and FM, and in order to get artist and track information you have to go through a cumbersome backtracking process that I've also experienced on several other recent BMW models.

OK Audio
Overall, the optional $1,800 Premium Sound Package—which consists of an in-dash CD player that also plays MP3 and WMA files and 16 speakers (including a pair of subwoofer under the front seats) powered 600 watts—was very good. But low bass was slightly unnatural sounding and the overall tonal balance of the system was a bit lacking when I played my reference CDs.

In addition to the standard bass and treble controls the system uses a seven-band equalizer, but even with it I couldn't dial in the sound to my liking. An auxiliary jack in the center console along with a 12-volt outlet allows easily jacking a portable music player into the audio system (BMW's iPod Adaptor, which allows control of the player through the audio system, is available as an option, as is a rear-seat video system), and a six-disc CD changer was stashed in the glove box. Like the radio graphics, BMW's method of showing a CD's track listing in a semi-circular fashion on the dash-mounted screen is one of the best in the business.

No-Hassle Hands-Free
The same goes for the Bluetooth hands-free phone system. It was a snap to connect my BlackBerry 7130c to the system and then start dialing from my phone's address book. Even when I entered a number manually via the iDrive the display showed who I was calling. On the other hand, using the voice-activated system to speak the number one digit at a time was a painstaking process.

Entering a destination into the navigation system by voice was equally frustrating. While it recognized the city of "Topanga" as a destination, for example, it didn't recognize a street named "Oxnard." I found that the destination info was best entered using the iDrive. The on-screen and voice-prompted route guidance were both excellent, and the Real Time Traffic Information feature notifies you of congestion and gives you the option of detouring around it.

Long List of Tech
The 2007 X5 has such a long list of tech features—heated steering wheel, automatic liftgate operation from the key fob, programmable steering-wheel buttons, Hill Descent Control, a parked-car ventilation system and more—it's impossible to cover them all in this review. But in BMW's classic restrained style, it never feels like too much. It's just good to know it's there, even if you're just backing out of the driveway.

Doug Newcomb has been writing about car electronics since 1988, as editor of Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review, Mobile Entertainment, Road & Track Road Gear and as a freelance writer. His new book, Car Audio for Dummies, is available from Wiley Publications. He lives in Hood River, Oregon.

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BB03 - 7/29/2014 6:49:52 AM