BMW X5 Review
Fifteen years ago, I lived in the Colorado Mountains. Naturally, I owned a Jeep. For someone who was constantly fording streams and driving through blizzards, the vehicle made perfect sense. Now that I’m living in California, I buy vehicles which make the most of the balmly weather and the pleasing plethora of paved surfaces. And yet my current employment has an agricultural element; there are times when I need a vehicle to traverse rocky trails and unpaved lanes. Workers who see me approaching to bum a ride in their truck have started to pretend they only speak Spanish. So I’ve been shopping for an SUV. I began with one of the brands I know best: BMW.
BMW has cleverly disguised the new X5 as the old X5. That said, the revised sheetmetal contains a much stronger resemblance to the more ripped mini-me X3. While neither of these SUV’s– sorry, SAV’s (Sports Activity Vehicles)– could be considered beautiful, I’m pleased to report that the X5 doesn't have a “Bangle” butt, the flame surfaces have been put on simmer and the boxy, bulldog exterior has few unnecessary adornments. The dual exhausts proudly protruding through the rear valence are the only aesthetic affectation, and they perfectly project the requisite brand ethos.
Step inside the X5 and the art of driving is immediately subsumed to the art of button pushing. The new X5 boasts Bluetooth (with a direct line to Commissioner Gordon), SIRIUS satellite radio, iPoditude, optional sat nav and head-up display, tire pressure monitors, park distance control, comfort access (remote key operation), ventilated seats and computerized garage suicide prevention (a.k.a. automatic pollution filtration)– all tweakable from somewhere deep within the eNigma wrapped in a sub-menu known as iDrive. What the ultimate RTFM machine doesn’t have is a nicely finished interior; the plastics and the Nevada leather are woefully rough to the touch.
What the new $49k X5 does have is third row seating. This $1700 option ($1200 on the $55k V8) transforms the Bubba Bimmer into the world’s most over-engineered minivan, and adds much needed storage space in the rear hatch area. Although the door mechanism is over-complicated, the cargo area is nicely finished with floor rails for just about anything you might carry. (BMW’s bound to offer plenty of very clever, extremely expensive components that tie into these rails for carrying bikes and the like.) Folding those precious third row seats flat yields an enormous storage compartment, sure to be the envy of owners of the previous gen X5.
Just in case the X5’s cabin doesn’t blind you with science, the driving experience (if that’s what you call it) will. Munich’s full-size SAV is wired to the teeth. There’s a Start-off Assistant (to stop you rolling backwards), Hill Descent Control (to stop you careening forwards), xDrive (to stop you from getting stuck), Dynamic Stability Control (to stop you from hitting things), Park Distance Control (ditto), Active Steering (to stop you from enjoying driving), Adaptive Brake Lights (to stop people from hitting you), etc. But the X5's run flat rires are the most intrusive part of its dynamic armory.
The ride quality of the previous generation of X5 could be described as firm, even dictatorial. Driving the new version, I was assaulted by the powerful beat of those huge, unforgiving tires. I forced myself to keep going and literally became ill from the motions this tall, heavy, unyielding SUV inflicted upon my normally robust constitution. It's hard to believe that the propeller people couldn't incorporate third row seating AND a full-size spare– which would have allowed normal tires– in a vehicle that's supposed designed to go [somewhat] off-road. Or has BMW forgotten how to engineer a compliant ride? Have they not heard about air suspension technology in Munich?
On the positive side, the X5’s cornering and braking capabilities are excellent; initial turn in has an eager, sporty quality to it. To trick you into thinking this newly enlarged behemoth doesn’t weigh 4982 pounds or stand nearly 70 inches tall, the [even heavier] V8 version comes complete with active roll stabilization and electronic dampening control. Yes, well, I wonder if those seated in the third row seats will appreciate the higher cornering limits.
I suppose once you get past the abysmal ride quality created by the X5’s run flat tires, the heavy feeling of the chassis and the tall tippy seating position endemic to SUV’s, there is a highly capable vehicle beneath. I tested the version with the delicious inline six with its 260 horsepower and 225 pound feet of torque. It made wonderful noises and sounded much faster than it drove. But I don’t get it. I reckon SUV’s should be simple, comfortable and tough– not sadistically sporting. Until I can find a truck that doesn’t punish me for leaving my car behind, I’ll simply learn more Spanish.
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