October 26, 2006
Spartanburg, South Carolina – Their work is done. You can tell from the expressions of relief and anticipation that the job of building a new BMW X5 has been long and challenging. After all, it’s hard to improve on something that pretty much set the standard for a new vehicle segment when it was first introduced in 1999, as a 2000 model. But the engineers, designers, software developers and countless executives and associates here at the Spartanburg, South Carolina plant where the X5 (and Z4) is built, look and sound supremely confident with their all-new, 2007 X5 Sports Activity Vehicle, and in all major areas, justifiably so.
The 2007 X5 looks a lot like the outgoing model. To the casual observer, it’s doubtful a 2006 X5 and a 2007 X5 would be differentiated. Look closely, and you’ll see that the new X5 is longer, and therefore now able to accommodate an optional third row of seating (it’s the first seven-passenger vehicle from BMW).
And there are numerous exterior detail changes. The front and rear lights, for instance, have elongated and moved up; the front fascia, tailgate and bumpers are differently shaped; the wheels have a new design. But overall, the strong horizontal lines and signature profile remain. This is not surprising: look at past BMW successes, and you’ll see that BMW doesn’t change just for the sake of it.
As you might expect, power is up. The $73,500 X5 4.8i, with its 4.8 litre V8 engine now delivers 350 horsepower and 350 pounds-feet of torque. The X5 3.0i, fitted with a 3.0 litre inline-six is up to 260 hp and 225 lb.-ft. torque. Technology is "up," too. Working in conjunction with BMW’s xDrive permanent all-wheel drive system, and the anti-lock braking system, Active Steering appears as an option for the first time on an SUV-type vehicle.
Part of the $4,700 Dynamic Handling Package, it comes bundled with BMW’s Adaptive Drive, a roll stabilization technology that works with an electronic damper system. Adaptive Drive uses the new FlexRay data transmission technology that rapidly exchanges vehicle data between individual suspension control systems to ensure almost instant response from road surfaces and driving dynamics.
There are several other packages with which you can personalize your 2007 X5 4.8i. The $4,500 Technology Package includes a navigation system, head up display, voice control and park distance control with a rear view camera (the display for the camera is wide and very helpful).
A $2,900 Premium Package features comfort seats with lumbar support and a Professional Hi-Fi Sound System. For $2,500, the Sport Package buys 19-inch alloy wheels with 225/50R19 tires, sport seats, sport suspension and a three-spoke leather steering wheel.
Prices for the same packages for the X5 3.0i are $3,700 for the Technology Package, and $3,900 for the Premium Package, $2,500 for the Sport Package.
On the road, this truck handles like no truck should (we use the term,
truck" advisedly, although it’s not a car, and it’s not a minivan, and it’s certainly no crossover). The six-speed transmission features a slick new shifter that supplies rapid upshifts and downshifts as required when in the manual mode, or settles into a seamless pattern of automatic gear selection when you’re enduring your daily commute.
Luxury abounds. From the satisfying fragrance and texture of the leather interior, to the real wood trim and perfectly fitted carpets, the entire vehicle shouts quality and exclusivity. Even the base audio system, with its 12 speakers and 240 watts of power is better than most vehicles’ premium units. In contrast, the X5’s premium unit features 16 speakers, with two sub-woofers, digital signal processing, and sounds like you’re sitting right next to Pavarotti, Pink Floyd or Metric’s Emily Haines fighting her own personal war, depending on your musical tastes, of course.
Although length has increased by 187 millimetres, and wheelbase is up 113, the weight of the 2007 X5 remains the same as the outgoing model. BMW has matched this achievement by reducing the vehicle’s coefficient of drag to a low 0.34, thereby further improving fuel efficiency and lowering interior sound levels.
Complementing the gains made by using lighter, stronger, high tensile steel and better managing airflow over and under the X5, BMW engineers have also decreased fuel consumption from both engines – mainly attributed to the company’s patented Valvetronic technology – while increasing power. For consumers, this is all good.
Driving enthusiastically in the X5 with the Dynamic Handling Package on South Carolina’s twisting secondary roads, and at BMW’s Performance Centre near the Spartanburg plant highlights the vehicle’s uncanny ability to take corners at speed with no noticeable body lean, and no loss of adhesion from the standard run-flat tires.
Power is available as required through the manual mode of the transmission, and the exhaust note rewards the occasional heavy right foot with delicious sounds of a muscular V8. Hours spent negotiating the curves of Callahan Mountain Road and Mine Mountain road, all wet with rain, and dappled with fallen autumn leaves, enable you to revisit a time when you first discovered the sheer pleasure of driving.
Requests by the driver for ever-increasing levels of steering, braking and acceleration are almost instantly delivered by the X5, and without the slightest complaint. Does it have limits? I didn’t find them: the chassis is that rigid; the electronics that sophisticated. With the vehicle’s electronic stability systems operating (X-Drive, dynamic stability control (DSC), dynamic traction control (DTS) among several others), it may be impossible to put the X5 into a skid or slide, even on the very wet surfaces we encountered in rainy South Carolina. Of course, if you take a corner way too fast, you’re going to off the road, but the overall impression when driving the X5 is of driving a thoroughbred European sports sedan.
But even though it handles like a European sedan, the X5 is very much tuned to the American market. True, the sports suspension is firm, but it’s certainly not harsh. And the standard suspension gives a comfortable ride, without sacrificing sharp handling. (I’d advise selecting the Dynamic Handling Package, however; sports suspension or not). For the first time, "big gulp" cupholders sit easily at hand in the centre console (there are even two for rear seat passengers). Door pockets are large, and cargo space behind the second row seat is sufficient for multiple golf bags.
Behind that second-row seat is the optional third row seat, suitable for two small, agile occupants. For adults, this is a tiny area in which to sit, your knees end up under your chin, you feeling like surplus cargo. But for kids, it should work.
There are a couple of areas where it seems that some more work on the X5 would pay off, however. That slick shifter, for example, refined and sculptural as it is, can make shifting a complicated task for those unfamiliar with its electronic ways. The graphic on top of the shifter indicates that Reverse is actuated by pushing it forward, and Drive by pulling it back. But there’s a black button hidden on the side of the shifter that must also be pressed to select the gear.
That button should at least be silver, and better still, illuminated. In an emergency situation, perhaps with a driver new to the vehicle, the button could be missed and the X5 will stubbornly remain in Park, the driver uselessly pushing and pulling the lever, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Related to this, the display to indicate your current gear (D, R, P, 1, 2, etc) should be twice as big, and green, to contrast with the orange glow of all the other numbers and letters.
The i-Drive interface for climate, navigation, and audio controls continues to irk many automotive journalists, and while BMW has refined this technology, it can still cause frustration when you want to do something simple like change a radio station. BMW has made six buttons programmable, so the driver can select six preferred functions and quickly activate them (your favourite radio station, for instance), but for the most part, the driver interface is too visually oriented (and I don’t mean it gives you information at a glance; quite the opposite).
What would be nice are reassuring clicks from the knobs, switches and levers, to confirm that you have, indeed, turned something on or off. Something tactile is what I mean, giving you feedback through your fingers. But the X5’s driver interface is all about software, not hardware. Good for your desktop, maybe; not necessarily for your dashboard.
Concerning ease of entry and exit, I have no problems with the front doors, which open wide and provide lots of room to slide into the excellent seats The rear doors are another matter, opening only partially (see picture). Should you be trying to manoeuvre a child’s car seat, and accompanying baggage (and child!), you could find this inconvenient.
But then again, one supposes that certain compromises are in order. The BMW X5 is, after all, a technical treat that seemingly defies physics in some cases. Does a truck have any business driving this well?
"Don’t think of it as a truck," suggests Tom Purves, BMW America’s CEO, "Think of it as a performance machine."
It’s that all right.
Manufacturer’s web site