BMW X5 Sport Review
Even though Bracknell's perfectly prepared X5 4.6is dosed me with the usual 'new car narcotic', it didn't take me long to notice the difference between my regular set of wheels and BMW's top-of-the-range off-roader. Compared to an M5, the X5 4.6is' ride is like surfing down an endless mountain of irregular sized rocks on a tea tray. The X5's rock-hard suspension and 20' wheels transformed the smallest road imperfections-slight dips, tiny ruts, minor repairs and fractional changes in the paving surfaces-into 'events'. My partner called the resulting sensation 'road turbulence'. As her barely legible notes reveal, the incessant bone shaking was a major distraction.
Don't get me wrong. I know the value of a rock-hard suspension. I've driven a Nissan Skyline GTR V-Spec at speed. But c'mon, we're talking about an X5. A 'normal' (i.e. non-Sport) X5 is one of the world's most comfortable cruising machines. Perched imperiously above traffic and/or vegetation, nestled into its spacious, serene, superbly appointed cabin, owners waft along without a care in the world. There's enough metal and mod cons to cosset all who nestle within. Sure, the beast wallows a bit in the corners. And yes, even the 4.4 litre petrol-powered model could use a tad more power, but don't be churlish. If you're in no great hurry, an X5 is a perfect place to wile away the hours spent going from here to there.
Three hundred and forty seven horses say BMW built the mighty X5 4.6is for people in a hurry. The rev counter's incremental warm-up lights (from 4000 to 6500rpms) betray the big Bimmer's M Product bloodline. If it weren't for Mazda's pint-sized roadster, the X5 4.6is would probably be called an MX5. With a zero to sixty time comfortably below seven seconds, and enough low down grunt to tow a small country, there's no denying this X5 variant would do the M badge justice. The Boffins from Bavaria have even re-programmed the autobox to grab as much power as it can, as quickly as it can. Forward surge comes in early and Schumachers up to about 110 miles per hour. Pretty darn good- for a truck.
Not surprisingly, the 4.6is can also corner. (You'd certainly hope so, considering the chiropractic suspension and £54k price tag.) After punting the 4.6is down my favourite Somerset two-laner, I wouldn't exactly call the experience fun. But it is safe. Make friends with progressive understeer, listen out for squealing tyres, pay attention to the blinking lights, put the Diet Coke in the refrigerated box, strap down all objects, and you're free to enjoy the considerable momentum generated by the 4.6is' rorty V8. Even with the driver's acronyms switched off, it's the one off-roader I'd choose to hustle down twisting tarmac at stupid speeds. If there's an 'S' in SUV, well aspiring Cayenne lovers, here it is.
Yes, well, anyone who actually went looking to thrash an X5 needs his licence examined. While I'm reliably informed the 4.6is can embarrass all other SUVs on a track- up to and including Mercedes' ML500 AMG- what the Hell were they doing there in the first place? The 4.6is' performance is best appreciated on a motorway onramp, or a mirror-smooth German B-road. Still, should you find yourself in a 4.6is on an English country road, and a forward thinking Mercedes CL500 happens to glide up behind you, you could summon more than enough handling and thrust to bemuse all concerned-save your passenger, who'd be forgiven for looking behind the front seats for a sick bag.
The Boys from Bavaria are aware of the problem. They claim safety considerations lay behind the decision to equip every 4.6is with sports suspension. Given America's tendency to view all accidents as an opportunity to sue someone, it's easy to understand why BMW decided that much power and height is best tied down to an inch of its life, and damn the ride comfort. Anyway, it's a style thing, isn't it? Big wheels, big engine, big bucks. As Billy Crystal once told American audiences, it's better to look good than to feel good. Your voice may stutter as you crash over city streets in your '4-6', but at least you'll look rugged, in a pampered sort of way.
Strange then, that all 150 UK examples will arrive from Spartanburg, Tennessee with an interior so unrelentingly black it could hide 20 SAS commandos. The white on grey dials are equally dour, and hard to read. The decision to equip the 4.6is with chrome letterbox exhausts, rather than chroming the existing M-style quad pipes, is another matter the Style Police may wish to discuss with the importer. Not to mention the 'fun' looking running boards, with black dots spread over brushed aluminium. And the clunky chunky wing mirrors. Which leaves… those wheels. If you believe size matters, the 4-6 offers you porno wheels. Attached to an X5 painted M-colour Estoril blue, the all-weather machine looks more than mean enough to tackle the most demanding school run.
Let's face it: that's what these babies were made for. There's no shame in that. The X5's height, comfort and build quality makes Mom feel safe and secure in all weathers, on all roads. Why shouldn't she enjoy the same max power thrills as her steroidal saloon or sports car driving husband? Because all that shaking threatens her children's expensive dental work. Hmmm. So where does that leave the 4-6? One of BMW's own described the rough-riding 4.6is' appeal by saying, 'It's for customers who want 'the ultimate''. As she couldn't tell the ultimate what, here's my theory. The BMW X5 4.6is is the ultimate driving machine for 150 wealthy UK residents who love big things that can go really fast and don't mind constant turbulence. Like… airline pilots.
More by Robert Farago
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