"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.
2000 BMW X5
Driving the SAV
Aside from the tall seating position so popularized today, the driver's seat feel is 100 percent Bimmer as is the quality of its interior. Unlike those of its primary competitor, the materials look, feel, and smell right. Turn the key, and it sounds right too — like the company's best sedans, there's the 4.4-liter V-8 under the hood. Variable-valve timing, all-aluminum construction, and sophisticated engine management aside, the silky 282-horse engine outright shames most SUV powerplants and rivals the very best from Toyota/Lexus, Benz, and Ford. Expect the sprint to 60 mph to take a thrilling 7.5 seconds or so.
2000 BMW X5 4.4i 2
Step on the clutch and.…wait, where's the clutch? Though rumors of a manual-shift X5 ran rampant, we’re told that at least for the near future, we won't be enjoying a manual gearbox in this BMW. The Steptronic automatic is one of the finest autoboxes in the business, however, with five forward speeds chosen either by an adaptive computer algorithm or by the driver via a special shiftgate.
A planetary center differential splits torque approximately 38 percent/62 percent between the front and rear axles. What's worth noting here is that while most all-wheel drive systems are derived from front-wheel drive platforms (e.g. Audi, Subaru), the rear-drive characteristics (neutral handling, directional stability, absence of torque steer) essential to the character of a BMW are retained. The differentials front and rear are of the "mechanically open" type; like the systems used by Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover, the electronic wizardry of AST (all-season traction) applies individual wheel brakes to ensure progress over the most slippery, uneven surfaces.
2000 BMW X5
Independently suspended at all four wheels, the X5 has virtually flawless road manners. Up front, BMW's double-pivot MacPherson strut setup (borrowed from the similarly heavy 750iL) is mounted via a hydraulically damped subframe. The rear multi-link design is also similar to that of the flagship sedan, though self-leveling air springs have been chosen to minimize ride height changes under varying loads. The X5 handles with typical Teutonic composure and comfort; for those who desire crisper response, a firmer sport suspension option is available.
Good handling is enhanced by an electronic Big Brother known as Dynamic Stability Control, or DSC. Really an extension of the same hardware that provides anti-lock braking and all-season traction, DSC compares the inputs of the driver with the true course of the vehicle and makes instantaneous corrections to help maintain control. On dry pavement, the system operates only during emergency maneuvers, whereas on slippery ground it may kick in more often. For deep snow and sand, or on the Nürburgring, where such electronic corrections can be counter-productive, the system can be set by push-button to a higher threshold of slip.
Braking is among the best of any SUV, thanks to gigantic 13-inch discs at all four corners, electronic brake proportioning, and a new system called Dynamic Brake Control, which detects panic braking and reinforces the driver's pedal effort. Another computerized braking trick is Hill Descent Control, a switch-activated system which automatically maintains a straight, stable, 6-8 mph creep down steep declines. Trick technology, for sure.
Side bags and head bags
In the safety arena, the X5 is tops. It has five three-point seat belts, and dual front and side airbags. Impressively, the restraint system is "smart," meaning that it tailors its response to crash severity, belt usage, and occupancy, i.e. if the passenger seat its airbag will not deploy — saving precious money for the body shop bill. What's more, the X5 also offers the inflatable head protection system, the first such application in a light truck.
Traditional luxury items and clever touches abound inside. Equipped much like a 5-Series sedan, the SAV comes standard with a power tilt/telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel, one-touch window and moonroof controls, eight-way memory driver and passenger seats, leather upholstery and wood trim, excellent interior lighting, a 10-speaker audio system and automatic dual zone climate control. Keyless entry includes Key Memory, a feature which lets individual drivers return to their seat, mirror, and climate control settings each time they enter the vehicle.
The two-piece tailgate opens by remote, from within the vehicle, or at the rear. To help fill the 55 cubic feet of luggage space (with the 60/40 split rear seat folded, a retractable load floor is an option. While the X5’s cargo space is ample, we were disappointed that the load floor is not flat when rear seats are folded.
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