August 30, 2006

Test Drive: 2006 BMW X5 3.0i

2006 BMW X5 3.0i
2006 BMW X5 3.0i. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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After burning through over a hundred bucks of premium fuel in a 330-hp BMW M Roadster (money well wasted, by the way), my mission for this 2006 BMW X5 3.0i Executive Package test was fuel conservation. By keeping throttle inputs to a minimum and avoiding high-speed banzai runs, I hoped this 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, five-speed automatic SAV (sport activity vehicle in Bimmer-speak) could repair some of the damage inflicted on my gas card.

Granted, a 2130 kg sport-ute is no Smart Fortwo, but in this age of mercurial gas prices, it’s not unreasonable to think that some motorists who fork out the dough for a premium full-sized SUV might concern themselves with fuel economy. After all, this X5 looks the part with aluminum running boards, 18-inch wheels and dual exhausts. The small ‘3.0i’ badge on the front flanks is the only giveaway that you’re not sporting a V8 under the hood.

So the bottom line? 11.5 L/100 km over 650 km of mixed driving. Not bad, I suppose, for a big leather-lined box on stilts. But hang on. As I peruse the BMW-supplied specs of their X5 models, both the 4.4-litre V8 and 4.8-litre V8 powered X5s get marginally better fuel economy than this six-cylinder version. Who woulda thought?

2006 BMW X5 3.0i
2006 BMW X5 3.0i. Click image to enlarge

So you won’t be buying the 3.0i for its fuel savings. The benefits of this SUV are its bottom line ($59,900 vs $72,200 and $98,200) and the slightly lighter engine, which makes this ute feel a tad less nose-heavy.

The 3.0-litre, DOHC 24-valve inline six in the X5 generates 225 hp at 5900 rpm and 214 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm. This is the older-spec 3.0-litre, and not the 255-hp aluminum/magnesium unit found in the Z4, 330i and 530i that features BMW’s trick throttleless Valvetronic technology.

It works in concert with a smooth shifting five-speed Steptronic autobox that keeps the six in its optimum power range. The X5 3.0i moves smartly off the line and seems quick enough in cut and thrust city driving. Out of the highway is where you miss the extra grunt of a V8, where passing manoeuvres require a few beats for the tranny to kick down a couple of cogs before things start happening.

2006 BMW X5 3.0i
2006 BMW X5 3.0i. Click image to enlarge

A six-speed manual was available in the X5 3.0i, but due to lack of interest it has recently been discontinued.

If you have to do the SUV thing, you could a lot worse than this X5. As would be expected of a BMW sport utility, it handles very well. The engine-speed sensitive power steering (Servotronic) is direct and natural, with a positive, weighty feel. Body motions are well controlled when negotiating an off-ramp or winding road. Despite this SUV’s dynamic ability, the ride is luxury-car smooth. Road irregularities are shrugged off with a distant tha-wump that barely intrudes into the cabin. More so than most other manufacturers, BMW can make the handling/ride compromise seem not much of a compromise at all.

2006 BMW X5 3.0i
2006 BMW X5 3.0i. Click image to enlarge

On the highway there is surprisingly little wind noise in the X5 3.0i, although I found the helm requires constant minute corrections in crosswinds. It didn’t feel quite as stable as its little brother, the X3.

The optional Executive Package is a $6400 bundle of features that the BMW public relations chap says are the most commonly ordered options on this vehicle. They include Servotronic, 18-inch Star Spoke alloys, aluminum running boards, panorama sunroof, auto dimming mirrors, electric seats with driver memory, ski bag, compass mirror, headlamp washers, park distance control, privacy glass and Dakota leather.

The interior of this X5 is a nice place to spend time. The panorama sunroof opens almost to the back seats, giving the airy cabin almost an open-air feel. The tan “Dakota” leather and walnut dash trim look and feel suitably upscale, and the heated seats proved comfortable on extended highway jaunts. The steering wheel is heated as well.

2006 BMW X5 3.0i
2006 BMW X5 3.0i. Click image to enlarge

A four-function on-board computer is standard, as is automatic climate control and a real-time fuel consumption gauge that gives you the incentive not to mash the go pedal. The single-shot in-dash CD/MP3 HiFi system with 10 speakers (including two sub-woofers) sounds quite good.

Passive safety features include a crash sensor (fuel cut-off, lights on, door unlock), front and side airbags for front passengers, side curtain airbags front and rear, and pyrotechnical tensioning front seatbelts.

The alphabet-soup of active safety goodies includes ABS, DSC-X (dynamic stability control), HDC (hill descent control), ADB-X (automatic differential brake) and TSC (trailer stability control).

If you are one of the reportedly 5% of SUV owners who actually venture off-road, BMW’s xDrive full-time four-wheel-drive system, which uses a computer-controlled limited slip centre differential, will distribute torque amongst the four wheels as needed quickly and seamlessly.

2006 BMW X5 3.0i
2006 BMW X5 3.0i. Click image to enlarge

The X5 is quite wide, so there is plenty of elbow-room up front, and similarly the back seats offer stretching room for three. When BMW designed this interior, passenger accommodation was obviously a priority, with cargo hauling coming a distant second. The space behind the rear seats is surprisingly small (465 litres), further compromised by the X5’s tapered roof-line.

Such is the nature of the SUV beast. If you’re looking for efficient interior packaging, buy a minivan.

Many of the current X5’s shortcomings should be addressed with the arrival of the all-new second generation X5 late in the year.

2006 BMW X5 3.0i
2006 BMW X5 3.0i; Photo by Russell Purcell. Click image to enlarge

A 188 mm stretch will provide more cargo capacity and optional third-row seating. The vehicle has a stiffer structure, a lower centre of gravity, Active Steering, Adaptive Drive with anti-roll stabilization and active dampers, standard run-flat tires, and an enhanced X-drive all-wheel-drive system. The new 3.0-litre Valvetronic six puts out 260 hp and will likely return better fuel mileage in the bargain.

If you’re looking for a bargain now, however, there is a good chance some deals will be found on this outgoing X5 in the coming months.


  • Base price: $59,500
  • Options: $6,400 (Executive Edition package: Servotronic, 18-inch Star Spoke alloy wheels, aluminum running boards, panorama sunroof, auto dimming mirrors, electric seats with driver memory, ski bag, compass mirror, headlamp washers, park distance control, privacy glass, Dakota leather)
  • Freight: $1,895
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $67,895 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


  • Click here for complete specifications

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Peter Bleakney is a freelance automotive writer based in Toronto.

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