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I have just about had it up to here--here! I say--with this whole SUV epidemic. I am so tired of seeing all these advertisements depicting muscular, brutish trucks performing daring off-road feats. I am tired of it because none of the snow-covered peaks, tabletop mesas, or vine-laced jungles in the magazines or on television have the least bit of connection to the real commuter world in which anyone who actually pays a car note is mired these days.
So I'm genuinely surprised at my reaction to BMW's relatively new contender in the sport-utility fracas. The X5 is, in fact, an anti-SUV, and BMW underscores this fact with the acronym SAV--Sports Activity Vehicle. Cute, but there's more: To the best of my knowledge, BMW is the first manufacturer to emphasize that the X5 is not a go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle expressly intended for making rash, unfeasible escapes from civilization. It is, instead, a jungle truck, and the jungle it sets out to conquer is the urban one that engulfs us all.
To survive the urban jungle takes an entirely different set of virtues than the ones required for hopscotching boulder-strewn trails. In the latter instance, you and your vehicle simply won't survive at any speed faster than walking. In the urban jungle, where traffic snarls and chokes like a writhing python, the best place to be is out in front. The best way to get to the front is to speed your way there, and speed is what the X5's 3.0-liter inline-six does best. It's not just a matter of the engine's 225-horsepower rating, which is decent for six cylinders but outdone by many V-8s in this class. (BMW's own 4.4-liter V-8 version of the X5, for example, delivers 282 horsepower--for a $10,500 premium.)
What sets this 3.0-liter six apart is the eerie smoothness of its inline layout combined with BMW's near-magical VANOS system of variable valve control. A five-speed manual transmission comes standard; but for $1275, an exceptional five-speed auto allows gear changes in three different modes: "tame" and "sporty" autoshifts, or crisp manual shifts without a clutch. Acceleration is thereby effortless, silent, deadly for the competition. At highway speeds that are already ambitious, a tiny poke at the accelerator seems to levitate the X5 above and beyond fellow travelers until the question slowly occurs to you: "Hey, what's that third digit doing on my speedometer?"