"A little late to the party, eh?" one might ask BMW as they now hop on the SUV bandwagon. After all, Mercedes-Benz has been selling its M-Class here for two years now, and even back then many of their customers had already traded in their sedans for Tahoes, Grand Cherokees, and Land Cruisers. Why has BMW been conspicuously absent from the booming SUV market?
"To get it right," they tell us. For starters, they eschew the SUV label in favor of "SAV," or Sport-Activity Vehicle — coining the term, and as BMW would have it, creating a new type of automobile. Rather than trying to "civilize" a truck or "toughen" a car (with attendant compromises in both on- and off-road performance) BMW chose instead to build a ground-up vehicle which met its performance expectations while providing the ride height, cargo room, and all-weather, all-road capability they believe its customers are looking for. Thus, the X5 is first and foremost a supremely capable if not downright entertaining road car — one with exceptional utility and versatility to boot.
Though its exterior dimensions slot the X5 in the middle of the BMW range, and some mechanical bits and pieces (including the lively and lovely 4.4-liter V-8) are pulled from the corporate parts bin, the Sport-Activity Vehicle's chassis is very much an all-new creation. Passenger-style unit-body construction (as opposed to the more primitive but forgiving body-on-frame design used in most SUVs) places torsional stiffness and strength in the same league BMW sedans; like those vault-tight cars, the X5 feels as if it was machined from a single billet of steel.
We think the exterior design is attractive and appropriate but perhaps a scooch too conservative. With the double-kidney grille and quad headlamps, there's no mistaking this beast (it is larger in person than it appears in photos) for a BMW. But the X5 blends in almost too well, looking at first glance like a lifted 3- or 5-Series wagon — good-looking cars both, mind you. Still, it would have been sweet if the Bavarians had spread the creative license of its funky Z3 roadsters around more liberally.