The sporting credentials of BMW’s X5 have never been in question — but its utility credentials often left a bit to be desired.
Prospective buyers who needed third-row seating had to look elsewhere. And the original X5’s cargo-carrying ability was not much of an improvement over a typical mid-size sedan. So although it could leave most mid-sized SUVs tumbling end over end if they even tried to hold the same line in a high-speed corner, the X5 couldn’t hold as much gear or as many people.
It’s no surprise that the new ’07 X5 is bigger (though at first glance, it’s hard to tell, so subtle are the alterations to wheelbase and sheetmetal), can be ordered with third-row seating, and now comes with a much stronger 260-horsepower standard engine. Too, its upgrade V-8 has been punched out to 4.8 liters and 350 horses from last year’s 4.4-liter, 315-hp engine.
What is surprising is that the X5’s sports car–quality handling characteristics have not been hobbled by any of these changes. It’s typical that as a vehicle grows in size and becomes more “mainstream” and “family friendly,” it also becomes more like the typical middle-aged clientele that needs mainstream and family-friendly vehicles. Once-sharp reflexes and a firm suspension set up for enthusiast drivers are swapped for drop-down DVD entertainment systems for the kids and power-operated toys for the grown-ups.
The X5 has an abundance of the latter, including a “simplified” version of the infamous iDrive mouse controller (more on that below), available heads-up display and an electrically activated gear shifter similar to the system first used on the 7-Series sedan (more on that below, also).
But as I experienced firsthand during two days of flogging
new X5s (both the base six-cylinder powered 3.0si and the V-8 X5 4.8i) on some
2007 BMW X5
Keeping its composure
It’s not quite a 5-Series as you get close to the limit — but it’s close enough to impress you when you consider the X5’s considerably higher off the ground (8.3 inches of clearance) and isn’t shod with ultra-low aspect ratio high performance “summer” tires like a 5-Series would be. And when you consider this is, after all, basically an SUV.
Major changes to the X5’s suspension account for all this, including a modified A-arm/double wishbone setup in the front, versus the strut-type system used before, along with standard 18-inch wheels (19- and 20-inch rims are optional) and a revised four-link fully independent rear end. In addition, the ’07 X5 can be ordered with BMW’s Active/Servotronic Steering — a speed-sensitive, electrically-driven system that alters the relationship between how much the wheel is turned by the driver and how aggressively the front wheels actually turn the vehicle. At speeds up to 55 mph, the relationship is more direct, while at speeds above 55 mph, the driver doesn’t have to adjust the wheel as often to keep the vehicle on track or make course corrections.
2007 BMW X5
I was able to drive the X5 with
and without this system on BMW’s skid pad and through a series of low and
high-speed slaloms at the company’s Spartanburg Performance Center; the
difference in low-speed agility/ease of use is very apparent in back-to-back
testing and worth the extra coin ($1250 on top of the mandatory $3600 Sport
Package, which also gets you the 19x9.5-inch rims with run-flat tires, Adaptive
Drive/Roll Stabilization and Damping Control).
Growing up and out
Though it’s hard to tell by eyeballing it, the new X5’s chassis has been stretched by several inches to accommodate the optionally available seven-passenger seating configuration (a $1700 option on the base model X3 3.0si; $1200 extra on the top-of-the-line X5 4.8i). Compared with the outgoing model, the ’07 is 7.4 inches longer overall and 2.4 inches wider. BMW engineers say that the increased track also helps stability, while the longer wheelbase (up to 115.5 inches from the previous 111 inches) should make pulling a trailer with the new model that much safer, too.
The bump in proportions is no small thing, but happily, the 2007 X5’s curb weight is about the same as the ’06 model’s at about 4980 pounds for the X5 3.0si. This was achieved by the use of aluminum for suspension and other components, including the new front-end pieces. In addition, the revised 3.0-liter DOHC straight six has several lightweight magnesium alloy castings (upper crankcase, bedplate), hydro-formed hollow camshafts, plastic cam cover, and aluminum cam chain tensioner. These design changes cut 22 pounds off the engine, which also produces 35 more horses than its predecessor.
Because it’s more powerful and didn’t gain much weight, the ’07 X5 3.0si now achieves 60 mph in the high seven-second (and respectable) range, versus the so-so mid-eights of the previous model.
The V-8 powered X5 4.8i can knock more than a second off that time, and is significantly more potent than last year’s mid-range 4.4-liter V-8. Buyers should also rejoice that this top-gun engine comes at a discount. The ’07 X5 4.8 is priced at $55,195, versus $71,100 for last year’s range-topping X5 4.8i (there are now just two versions of the X5 instead of three).
The base ’07 X5 3.0Si stickers at $46,595 — about $4000 higher than last year’s base X5. But it’s better equipped, larger, and faster.
Shifting more minds
2007 BMW X5
Both 2007 X5 engines work through new-for-’07 ZF six-speed automatics; the manual transmission that was available in the previous X5 3.0 has been dropped, as has the old five-speed automatic that was optional on the ’06 X5 3.0i. The six-speed autos are snappy performers, though. Shift timing, quality, and firmness are what you’d expect from a BMW — nicely aggressive when driving aggressively, but smooth as glass when you’re just cruising along. The Sport mode will placate most enthusiast drivers while the higher power and torque of both ’07 engines makes it easy to forget about the absence of a clutch.
Some buyers may not like the new-for-2007 digitized gear selector, however. There’s still a handle on the console but all the action is controlled by servos and buttons. Putting it in ‘Park’ is fine: just tap the little button on top. But getting ‘Reverse’ and ‘Drive’ (and the manual/sport modes for ‘Drive’) is sometimes more work than it ought to be, or just takes too long (getting from ‘Reverse’ and back into ‘Drive,’ for example). It’s one of those things that’s certainly clever and high-tech, but whether it makes the function involved easier to perform is another matter entirely. You’ll have to check that out and decide for yourself.
The same is true with the notorious love-it-or-loathe it iDrive mouse controller. It is ‘simplified’ (compared to the original) and can be programmed to execute six several owner-specific functions with decent ease. But as with the e-shifter thing, it can be a polarizing feature that some buyers might prefer to pass up. It’d be nice if it were an option — with old-style controls available for those who prefer driving to playing with mice.
On the upside, you can now carry seven people, pull as much as 6000 lb (which is 1000 lb better than the current Mercedes M-Class) while still driving a machine that can out-corner and out-brake anything calling itself an SUV. The new X5 even compares favorably with full-size lunkers like the Range Rover HSE and Lexus GX470 in terms of what and who it can carry — without the often-overwhelming sense of massiveness that can come with driving those behemoths.
2007 BMW X5 4.8i
Base price: $55,195; price as tested: $59,845
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Engine: 4.8-liter DOHC V-8, 350 hp/350 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 191.1 x 76.1 x 69.5 in
Wheelbase: 115.5 in
Curb Weight: 5335 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): N/A
Safety equipment: Dual front side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control; Hill Descent Control; trailer-towing stabilization
Major standard features: Multi-zone climate control; 18x8.5-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires; cruise control; Nevada leather upholstery, AM/FM/CD player
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
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