What image does BMW conjure up in your mind? A car that handles like a dream, that is fast and sporty yet luxurious and comfortable? Chances are that's exactly what you expect of a BMW. An SUV? It conjures up a rugged truck-like vehicle that goes off-road but does not deliver a smooth ride or good handling on the highway.
A sport-utility vehicle from BMW? Can it be? That's the question many have asked since BMW announced it was introducing a "sport activity vehicle." It's now on sale in the US and it promises to change the perception of the SUV. If you've been looking for a luxury SUV that is as pleasant to drive as a luxury sedan, the X5 might be just the car you're looking for.
To differentiate the X5 from the SUV pack, BMW has chosen to call its X5 a Sport Activity Vehicle or SAV. Although it's a play on words, BMW claims the X5 sets new standards in ride and handling. BMW aimed to make the X5 more enjoyable for highway use than the typical SUV but still maintain its capabilities for light off-road use.
The X5 is immediately recognizable as a BMW. In fact it looks like a 540i wagon on steroids - and it is remarkably close in overall size. The major difference is that it is 10 inches taller. This increased ride height is what makes SUVs popular with so many owners. There is no doubt that riding high improves visibility on the road - unless it is populated by too many other tall vehicles!
According to the government, the X5 is a light-duty truck. Most truck-based SUVs, including the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, are built with the body bolted onto a frame. The X5, however uses a monocoque body shell like that of a regular sedan. This uni-body construction provides a much stiffer body shell, which improves handling, reduces noise and allows better fit and finish. The X5 is not the first monocoque SUV; the Lexus RX 300 and the newest Jeep Grand Cherokee follow the same design concept. Because of this uni-body construction they share, the Lexus RX 300 is the X5's closest competitor in terms of ride comfort and handling.
From the front, kidney-shaped grille to the rear tailgate, the curvy X5 is all BMW. The slope of the tailgate is almost identical to that of the 540i wagon and it has a window that can be opened independently of the split tailgate that is useful when you want to quickly put something in the rear cargo compartment.
The X5 rides on bigger diameter wheels than other SUVs on the market. It has enormous 18-inch wheels with relatively low profile tires. This gives the vehicle a sportier look but also helps improve the handling. The optional sport package goes one better, offering 19-inch wheels as well as slightly firmer suspension settings.
The X5 comes with a permanently engaged all-wheel-drive system that is more akin to one found in sedans. It does not use a transfer case nor offer a low range setting. But the X5 is loaded with a host of electronically controlled systems to assist the vehicle in bad traction conditions: ASC (Automatic Stability Control), DSC-X (Dynamic Stability Control), CBC (Cornering Brake Control), DBC (Dynamic Brake Control), ADB (Automatic Differential Brake), HBA (Hydraulic Brake Assistant) and HDC (Hill Descent Control). There is not room to explain them all here but many of these are already found on BMW sedans while others are new to the X5. Although the X5's all-independent suspension is the key to the vehicle's ride and handling, an equally important part of the X5's capability is the use of these various electronic stabilizing systems. All these features are standard on the X5 4.4i.
The X5 is all BMW inside. A simple, uncluttered layout with touches of wood trim gives it an air of elegance. The door handles have a nice brushed aluminum finish and the soft plastic surfaces somehow feel more like leather. X5 comes with a long list of standard features and the one we drove had an integrated navigation system that was a little confusing to master in the short time we had the vehicle. The seats are excellent and the ergonomics are good. Despite the X5's greater height, inside headroom is all but identical to that of the 5 Series wagon, which is itself slightly better than that of the larger 7 Series.
Surprisingly, the cargo carrying capacity is no better than that of the 540i Sport Wagon. That's not to say it's bad but don't expect the X5 to be a substitute for a minivan or Suburban in the haulage business. A very sturdy rollaway cover that can be removed for a larger load carrying capacity covers the rear cargo area. The rear seats can be split 40/60 and can be folded down to provide a flat surface.
Passive safety has been a major part of the development of the X5. It can be purchased with no less than eight airbags to protect occupants in a major crash. Each front seat occupant gets a front airbag, a side thorax airbag and a side head bag. An optional side thorax airbag is available for the two rear-seat occupants. The airbag system is essentially the same as in the 7 Series; BMW claims its own crash tests indicate the X5 will obtain a five-star rating in the government's (NHTSA) crash tests. BMW claims the X5 is safer than a 7 Series and that it will set new safety standards for this class of vehicle.
There's no doubt BMW has achieved a hitherto unobtainable goal with the X5: It has managed to produce the smoothest riding and best handling SUV on the market, surpassing that of the Mercedes-Benz M-class. However, it's also true to say that other vehicles you drive will prejudice your opinion as to its handling. If you get out of a regular truck-based SUV and get into the X5 you'll be amazed at its handling. If you get out of a BMW sports sedan, however, you'll find the X5 is not as confidence inspiring. BMW says its test drivers have driven the X5 around racetracks at speeds close to that of the 328i sedan. This is probably true for experienced drivers, who know the limits of themselves and the vehicle's capability, but for ordinary drivers the X5 is a tall vehicle; it leans more going through corners.
X5's straight line and freeway manners are great. It feels stable; the steering is even better than in the 5 Series and the ride is smooth. The V8 engine provides plenty of power, making it faster in the race away from traffic lights than most cars. The automatic transmission offers the Steptronic mode, which turns it into a clutchless manual transmission. This is a wonderful system for those who want an automatic with manual control.
The X5 was not designed for serious off-road use but in a drive through a muddy course it proved capable of staying on the track and not getting stuck. Hill Descent Control controls the brakes automatically as the vehicle descends steep grades; this provides an eerie experience as you can steer the X5 down a slippery slope without having to touch the brake or gas pedal. HDC keeps the wheels from slipping and prevents the vehicle from going too fast for the conditions.
If you have to own a sport-utility vehicle and your heart is set on a BMW you'll love the X5. It offers the luxury and character one expects of a BMW. If you want a vehicle that can carry passengers in comfort and has reasonable cargo space you'll enjoy a 540i sport wagon more as it offers the same interior space coupled with better performance, better fuel economy and better handling, all for much the same price. If you want a macho SUV that will go rock climbing, the X5 is not for you. If you want to carry the contents of a small apartment you'd be better of with a minivan.
The choice is yours. But at least BMW has moved the needle by designing an SUV (or "SAV") that improves the breed substantially in terms of comfort, handling and safety.
Build and price your dream BMW X5 in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2013 BMW X5$52,380 | 12,574 mi
2013 BMW X5$52,992 | 7,880 mi
2013 BMW X5$55,888 | 13,142 mi
2012 BMW X5$36,956 | 37,349 mi
2012 BMW X5$41,888 | 34,072 mi
2011 BMW X5$37,488 | 47,835 mi
2011 BMW X5$37,888 | 49,492 mi
2011 BMW X5$37,981 | 49,730 mi
2011 BMW X5$37,988 | 59,541 mi
2011 BMW X5$38,988 | 44,324 mi
2011 BMW X5$39,988 | 48,862 mi
2011 BMW X5$40,888 | 34,417 mi
2011 BMW X5$41,988 | 40,036 mi
2011 BMW X5$42,247 | 30,075 mi
2011 BMW X5$42,988 | 42,112 mi
2011 BMW X5$42,988 | 45,620 mi
2008 BMW X5$23,353 | 66,669 mi
2008 BMW X5$25,500 | 66,640 mi
2007 BMW X5$18,575 | 95,040 mi
2007 BMW X5$18,979 | 103,535 mi
2007 BMW X5$19,888 | 92,976 mi
2007 BMW X5$21,995 | 125,490 mi
2007 BMW X5$23,999 | 60,996 mi
2007 BMW X5$26,496 | 60,861 mi
2006 BMW X5$15,977 | 90,217 mi
2006 BMW X5$17,578 | 105,811 mi
2005 BMW X5 4.4i AWD$13,488 | 121,891 mi
2005 BMW X5$14,678 | 79,387 mi