Test Drive: 2007 BMW X5 4.8i car test drives bmw
2007 BMW X5 4.8i. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Laurance Yap

Photo Gallery: 2007 BMW X5

Bloat.

It besets all of us, really. I wish I was the same weight that I was ten years ago – before I started a life in automotive journalism, spending a lot of time on planes, a lot of time sitting in cars and the rest of the time sitting in presentations or at dinner listening to marketing executives talk. But it’s not just us car scribes; people in general are bigger than they used to be, too – which means that, in order to meet the demands of customers, cars have gotten bigger.

So, like almost every other new car being introduced these days, the X5 is bigger than its predecessor. It has a longer wheelbase – long enough to liberate room for a third row of seats for occasional or kiddie-size use. With the third row up, there’s not a lot of room for cargo in the rear but with it folded (you can also order an X5 with just two rows), there’s a lot more space than in the last X5 and it’s easier to access thanks to a lower lift-over height. The convenient split tailgate is here, but the opening is wider, making it easier to load bulky objects. There’s more space up front, as well: more headroom and legroom in the second row and seemingly more width up front thanks to a slightly narrower centre console and less intrusive door panels.

Test Drive: 2007 BMW X5 4.8i car test drives bmw
Test Drive: 2007 BMW X5 4.8i car test drives bmw
2007 BMW X5 4.8i. Click image to enlarge

Where the X5 does seem to have taken a slight step back is in quality. While it’s still quite a luxurious place to be – leather on the seats and door panels, wood trim across the dash and real metal accents here and there – the new X5 doesn’t have quite the same sense of solidity as the last one. The materials used are just a little bit off the standard established by its predecessor and the overall design doesn’t seem as rich. In compensation, you do get a lot of extra technology: BMW’s iDrive system is now standard and gives you easy access to radio, navigation, climate and telephone settings as well as all of the vehicle’s myriad setup options. Bluetooth hands-free access to your phone is a few clicks of the central controller away and you can even order up a rear-view camera from the long options list.

Heck, even the X5′s shift lever has kind of a high-tech feel to it. Aping the operating logic from the steering column-mounted shifter used on the 7-series, you push forward for reverse, pull back for drive and hit a button to engage park. While it’s a little disconcerting to use at first, the shifter quickly becomes intuitive and its super-short throws make manoeuvring the beast around in tight spots a lot quicker. The shifter is connected electronically to BMW’s now-familiar six-speed automatic; it cracks off seamless and instant full-throttle upshifts and always seems to be in the correct gear whether you’re cruising along a downtown street or hustling down a winding road.

Test Drive: 2007 BMW X5 4.8i car test drives bmw
2007 BMW X5 4.8i. Click image to enlarge

Ah yes, this is yet another SUV in which you can – maybe even want to – really hustle. While you’re always conscious of the big BMW’s size and girth, it has superb steering – accurate, nicely weighted and with lots of feel – as well as brakes that haul it down from big speeds time and again with no fade. The handling capability is, quite frankly, astonishing for something with seven seats, generating sports-car levels of grip in turns with little or no body roll. It’s all a little surreal, being up there so high above the ground in such a big car roaring around so quickly. but it’s also very impressive.

Top-level X5s now ship with a 350-hp 4.8-litre Valvetronic V8, similar to the one fitted to the big 7-series sedan and now the 550i. Interestingly enough, in the much heavier X5, it feels more energetic than either of the sedans. It revs like crazy (enough to trouble the traction control from a standing start if you’re not careful) and the two fat exhaust pipes sticking out of the rear bumper bellow an aggressive exhaust note that sounds more like an American hot rod than a German SUV. Fuel consumption is, predictably, pretty dismal: I averaged 15.0 L/100 km over the course of a week, which is however, better than I did in a lighter and less-powerful Cadillac SRX the week before. For most uses, I would recommend going for BMW’s excellent 3.0-litre inline-six: with 255 horsepower, it’s more than enough for most urban duties and has enough passing punch on the highway as well. For refinement freaks, it’s also quite a bit less noisy at wide open throttle.

Test Drive: 2007 BMW X5 4.8i car test drives bmw
2007 BMW X5 4.8i. Click image to enlarge

My problem with the X5 is more philosophical than it is really rational. As much as I’m impressed by what it’s capable of for something of its size and bulk, so much of that size and bulk is there only to give the X5 a rough-and-rugged off-road image that it can’t, if you want to argue the point, really live up to. Unlike other fat, heavy German SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne or Volkswagen Touareg (or the Mercedes ML, if you order the off-road package), there’s no low range for rock-crawling, no adjustable-height suspension for working in the rough. Yes, the off-road capabilities in a Cayenne or Touareg or Lexus GX470 are there largely for show, too – their owners are no more likely than the BMW’s to go sloshing around in the mud – but at least they’re there.

The X5 is great to drive, but a 5-series wagon is even better and is now available with the same xDrive all-wheel-drive system; all you miss out on are the extra height, the third row and several hundred pounds of fuel-sucking weight. But if you need that third row – and crave the extra sense of security and the view over traffic that extra height gives you – it’s hard not to recommend the big BMW – even if it’s gotten a little too big and a little too fat for my liking.


Pricing: 2007 BMW X5 4.8i


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