2004 BMW X5 4.4i
Photo: BMW. Click image to enlarge

by John LeBlanc

According to the Canadian Dental Association, there are over 17,000 dentists in Canada, but can you remember who was the 2003 Dentist of the Year? My only run- in with dentists of any notoriety are the ones circling Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve during the Ferrari Challenge they hold every year at the Montreal Grand Prix.

Which leads me to sharing with you this insight: I tend to look at sport utility vehicles like dentists – both necessary evils. Necessary for some folks who like to drive high, and necessary for carmakers who like the available profits from these vehicles.

When BMW entered the SUV fray with the X5 back in 2000, the car was marketed as a vehicle that car zealots might actually like to drive. In fact, BMW markets the X5 as a Sport Activity Vehicle, which clearly hinted at the big car’s role. That unique-at-the-time proposition translated into big sales numbers, reaching its zenith in 2002 with almost 50,000 units sold in the U.S. market. For a while, you could say the X5 was “The Dentist of the Year”.

Since then, newer driver-oriented SUVs like Cadillac’s SRX V-8 ($60,930), the Volkswagen Touareg V-8 ($60,500), Infiniti’s FX45 ($60,200) and Porsche’s Cayenne S ($78,250) have hit the market like tropical hurricanes hitting the American East coast.

To counter these newbies from stealing some of the X5’s thunder (and sales), BMW has updated the entire X5 range for 2004. Starting with the entry-level X5 3.0i ($58,500) with its 225-horsepower straight-six and newly available six-speed manual, and topping out with the X5 4.8is ($95,500) with its thumping 355-horsepower, 4.8-litre V-8, which replaces last year’s now wimpy-looking 340-horsepower, 4.6-litre mill.

With a base price neatly splitting the range at $71,400, our test car was the just-right-Mama-Bear X5 4.4i, powered by, you guessed it, a 4.4-litre version of BMW’s ubiquitous V-8 that’s also found in its non-sport activity vehicles. With BMW’s Valvetronic variable valve-lift system added for 2004, horsepower has been bumped to 315, 25 more than the old 4.4-litre V-8. A new six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission is mandatory.

2004 BMW X5 4.4i

2004 BMW X5 4.4i
Photos: BMW. Click image to enlarge

One of the first things any car zealot will do with any current BMW V8 is to revel in the smoothness and well-rationed power. The six-speed automatic’s gears are well matched in that the engine always felt it was in the right gear at the right time. If you think you’re smarter than the vehicle’s computer, go ahead and grab BMW’s Servotronic manumatic feature.

Don’t forget, you’re hauling around 2,235 kg of Sport Activity Vehicle – more weight than the Caddy or Infiniti – which means the X5 4.4i’s 7.2 seconds 0-100 km/h time is slower than those two lighter competitors.

All 2004 X5’s share the new xDrive full-time, four-wheel-drive system. Simply put, xDrive adds a computer-controlled limited-slip centre differential allowing the system to be more responsive. Keeping an eye on such things as yaw rate and steering wheel position, xDrive processes information from wheel-speed and stability-control sensors and distributes torque amongst all four wheels quicker than you can say, “Is that black ice ahead?”

Yes, other carmakers have this type of gee-whizzery too, but BMW claims xDrive is more responsive because of its exclusively developed and patented software and hardware. I had the X5 4.4i out for a drive on a particularly rainy morning. Some corners presented themselves with streams of water cutting across the apex where, I’m guessing, some of the wheels would lose grip.

2004 BMW X5 4.4i

2004 BMW X5 4.4i
Photos: John LeBlanc. Click image to enlarge


I’m “guessing”, because the X5 never wavered from my chosen path. xDrive did its “thang” with no apparent machinations making their way to the cockpit.

For the reportedly 5 per cent of SUV drivers that may take their vehicles off pavement, BMW provides standard features such as the self-explanatory hill-descent control, and dynamic stability control. However, one look at our vehicle’s shiny 19-inch alloys wrapped in 225/50 front and 285/45 rear winter performance rubber that came with the $2,500 Sport Package had me ridding myself of any notion of serious off-road adventures.

On the “Sports” side of the SUV equation, the X5 4.4i scores well. That means best-in class drivetrains, finely made, driver-oriented interiors, and ride and handling attributes that makes this elephant dance on the head of a pin.

On the “Utility” side, well, let’s just say the X5 comes up a little short. You can only tow 750 kg with an un-braked trailer and rear cargo space is comparable to the Porsche and VW, but almost 10 per cent less than the Cadillac and Infiniti. And any car zealot will tell you the last gen 5 Series Touring had more space in the rear.

And that’s the rub. The X5 truly is a BMW, if admittedly a heavy and tall one. It’s just not much of an SUV.

Technical Data: 2004 BMW X5 4.4i

Base price $71,400
Options $ 4,700 (Sport Package ($2500): 19″ alloys, sport suspension/self-leveling rear air suspension, leather steering wheel, exhaust baffles, exterior window trim; Activity Package ($2200) aluminum running boards, ski bag, headlamp washers, park distance control, privacy glass.
Freight $1,795
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $77,995
Type 5 passenger, 4 door, sports utility vehicle
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 4.4-litre V-8, 32 valves, DOHC
Horsepower 315 @ 5400 r.p.m.
Torque 324 lb-ft @ 3600 r.p.m
Transmission 6-speed automatic with manumatic
Tires 225/50-ZR19 front and 285/45ZR-19 rear
Curb weight 2235 kg (4927 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,820 mm (111.0 in.)
Length 4667 mm (183.7 in.)
Width 1872 mm (73.7 in.)
Height 1707 mm (67.2 in.)
Cargo capacity 465 litres (16.4 cu. ft.) (seats up)
  1550 litres (54.7 cu. ft.) (seats down)
Fuel consumption City: 9.9 L/100km (29 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 14.8 L/100km (19 mpg Imperial)
Fuel requirement 91 octane (recommended)
Warranty 4 years/80,000 km with scheduled maintenance included

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