Just don't call it an SUV. No, it's an SAV, or Sports Activity Vehicle, a leader in its segment that's built right here in the U.S. Since making its debut seven years ago, BMW has gone on to sell nearly 600,000 of these home-built SAVs, attracting a range of buyers with six- and eight-cylinder engines, manual and automatic transmissions, a promise of the brand's Ultimate Driving Machine character, and amenities expected from a premium vehicle.
When it arrives in late November, the 2007 BMW X5 aims to meet the challenge with a more powerful, 260-horsepower inline six, an available 350-horsepower V8, a new six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, a newly available third-row seat that pushes seating capacity to seven, enthusiast goodies like Active Steering and AdaptiveDrive, and a crisp, more muscular appearance. What buyers won't find is last year's manual transmission, a third-row seat that's terribly spacious, or what is an absolute must on any “Sport” Activity vehicle and a glaring omission – paddle shifters. Even so, those few points are only enough to slightly dull the shine of the X5, which that starts at $46,595 and remains a helluva lot more fun than a Prius.
BMW offers the 2007 X5 in two variations: 3.0si and 4.8i. With a starting price of $46,595 (including a $695 destination charge), the 2007 BMW 3.0si offers buyers a 260-horsepower six-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive traction, a heated washer system joined with rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel with memory, dual front power seats with memory and leatherette upholstery, and BMW's much-discussed iDrive central control. However, that $46,000-plus price tag also delivers dual-zone climate control, a 205-watt sound system with an MP3 player and dual subwoofers, six airbags, and possibly the vehicles best selling point – free scheduled maintenance spanning four years or 50,000 miles. Want more? Fair enough. Options include ventilated front seats with massage ($2,100); a Cold Weather Package featuring a heated steering wheel, pass-through ski bag, heated front seats, and headlight washers ($900); a Premium Package boasting a dual-pane sunroof, rear storage system, dark walnut interior trim, leather seats, four years of BMW Assist, and more ($3,950); a Rear Climate Package ($900); a power liftgate ($500); various interior wood treatments ($500); a navigation system with real-time traffic information ($1,900); high definition radio ($500); third row seats ($1,700); a heads-up display ($1,000); and a host of other goodies you'd expect on a premium SU…uh, sorry…SAV, like a rear DVD system, a camera-assisted parking system, Bluetooth connectivity, and more. All great stuff, but most impressive might be the $3,600 Sport Package with its 19-inch wheels, sport seats, and BMW's AdaptiveDrive sophisticated sport suspension. Plus, the Sport Package is your ticket to the Active Steering option ($1,250), which is a must-have for any X5.
That would seem to leave little reason to consider, let alone build the X5 4.8i, especially considering its $55,195 base price (including that $695 destination charge). That's true, until you consider the 4.8i's 350-horsepower V8 and additional standard features such as a rear automatic air suspension, premium leather seats, walnut interior accents, and larger brakes. Options generally mirror those of the 3.0si, with the exception of no-cost poplar or bamboo wood trim (swapping out the standard walnut) and optional 20-inch alloy wheels ($950).
Nuts and Bolts
With the 2007 X5 3.0si, BMW carries on with an engine that countless fans have come to associate with the brand – the inline six. In this case, it's a 24-valve, dual overhead cam engine composed of magnesium and aluminum and featuring variable-valve timing. The use of relatively light materials helped engineers shave 22 pounds versus the 3.0-liter engine used in the 2006 X5, and also provided for marginal fuel economy gains (EPA-rated 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway). Horsepower has jumped from 2006's 225 to 260 for 2007, achieved at 6,600 rpm. Torque has also increased, measuring 225 lb.-ft. at 2,750 rpm versus last year's 214 lb.-ft. at 3,500 rpm. Last year's six-speed manual transmission, a rare treat for enthusiasts in a segment almost completely dominated by automatics, has been dropped for 2007, as has the five-speed automatic. The only available transmission this year is a six-speed Steptronic automatic, which features regular, manual, and sport modes, though paddle shifters are absent. As with the BMW 7 Series and various products from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, the X5's shifter isn't moved down through the gears in a traditional way. Instead, it's a drive-by-wire system, with slight clicks of the knob serving to electronically change gears. It takes some getting used to, and seems like another possible case of technology for the sake of technology.
Fit under the X5 4.8i's hood is a 32-valve, dual overhead cam V8 with variable-valve timing that pushes 350 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 350 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,400 rpm. EPA-rated fuel economy measures 15 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway (during our evaluation we recorded 14 mpg). The 315-horsepower 4.4-liter V8 offered for 2006 has been dropped, and the six-speed Steptronic automatic is the sole transmission, which has been designed to provide quicker shifts and works with the drive-by-wire throttle to lessen lag.
Regardless of which X5 referenced, you're talking about a quick machine. BMW estimates a 7.8-second 0-60 mph run for the 3.0si, and a very respectable 6.4 seconds for the 4.8i, with top speeds maxing out at 130 and 150 mph, respectively. Not bad for a rig that tows up to 6,000 pounds and weighs about two and a half tons. That portly figure is part of the reason the X5 wears capable disc brakes (larger and vented for 2007) which are upsized about 15mm for the 4.8i. They're backed by ABS, electronic brake distribution and brake assistance systems, as well as all of BMW's leading edge brake technology – cornering brake control, brake fade compensation, brake standby, and brake drying.
BMW engineers are obviously focused on braking and acceleration, but they've also spent plenty of time on the 2007 X5's ride and handling. All versions benefit from xDrive all-wheel drive, traction control, hill descent control, and BMW's Dynamic Stability Control system (DSC-X). Hardware includes a speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering assembly, 18-inch alloy wheels rolling on 255/55 run-flat tires, an all-new double-wishbone front suspension, and a multi-link rear setup including coils on the 3.0si and air springs on the 4.8i with its automatic load-leveling suspension.
Available, though not standard hardware includes Active Steering and AdaptiveDrive. Active Steering is an electronic system that gives responsive steering a whole new meaning. When ordered without this technology, the X5 driver may need to rotate the steering wheel a full turn to get the intended result; with Active Steering, the response is more direct, meaning the wheel must be turned just a fraction of the original distance elicit the same result. As speeds top 55 mph, when too much steering input could be hazardous, the system becomes less direct. Similarly, AdaptiveDrive, operated by a button next to the shifter, gauges current driving conditions and adjusts stabilizer bars and shock stiffness as necessary.
Most notable among the design changes for 2007 is the X5's new optional third row seat, which bumps total passenger capacity up to seven. To accommodate those extra bodies, the X5's length has been extended about seven inches over the 2006 model. Furthermore, the wheelbase has grown by more than four inches, the width by more than two inches, the height by two-tenths of an inch, and the front and rear tracks by three and 2.2 inches, respectively. Curb weight has jumped up about 300 pounds. All that work, and you're left with a third row seat that's suitable only for kids or small adults, and despite the inclusion of a second row passenger seat that slides and tilts forward for easier access as well as an overhead grab handle, one that requires some finagling to reach. Our five-foot-eight-inch editor had enough head room, but was rubbing his knees against the second row's hard seatback. However, he did praise the third row for its contoured shape and sufficient padding, not to mention the adjustable headrests and small armrests. The front and second row seats were expectedly better, with the driver and front passenger getting soft yet supportive and spacious buckets, padded armrests, triple-setting heat, and plenty of room. Above, the optional glass sunroof opens wide, and may be the next best thing to a convertible SAV. Getting into the second row requires a small hop for shorter riders, though once seated they'll appreciate the comfort and room.
In particular, the driver benefits from a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and a shifter that is within perfect reach when her elbow is resting on the center armrest. With the new electronic transmission, engineers were able to make the shifter smaller, thus allowing room for larger console-mounted cupholders. If you've experienced previous BMW products, you realize that's actually a pretty big deal. Standard equipment includes iDrive, which incorporates controls functions for primary components like the radio and climate control system. It's been simplified, but is still often too complicated to focus on while driving, and is best considered a time-killer for bored passengers. We prefer the basic radio controls on the instrument panel and steering wheel, which are blessedly simple and get the job done. Same goes for the climate control – we'll use the archaic dash buttons, thank you very much. Technology is great when it's beneficial and intuitive – from our perspective, iDrive continues to fall short on both counts.
Of course, the BMW X5's appearance has also been tweaked for 2007. The front fascia has been massaged and sits below revised headlights, which in turn feed into fenders featuring more aggressive flares. Flanks are accented by a distinct crease, updated mirror housings, a sharp inward curvature at the bottom of the doors, and muscular rear wheel wheels. Out back is another reworked fascia and a split tailgate comprised of an upward-swing lid and a lower folding tailgate. There's less space between the taillights and lower edge of the rear glass, and the fold-down tailgate has eliminated the need for a pronounced bumper step. Inside, there's a new three-spoke steering wheel, updated door panels that lose the big grab handles, and a less blocky dash design. Most of the materials are of high quality, including rich leather, a mesh material on the headliner and upper pillars, soft-touch plastics on areas most often touched, alloy and rubber on the dials, and premium carpeting. The visors, wrapped in cheap plastic, are the only parts that appear out of place.
Our testing of the 2007 BMW X5 included a good bit of back road and highway driving of a 4.8i around Spartanburg, South Carolina, and then finished up with some track time at the BMW Performance Center. Needless to say, it was a fun couple of days, but more than that, it was educational.
Time on the track (specifically threading cones on the track) gives you a full appreciation for the X5's available Active Steering. Because it reduces the amount of input the driver needs to put into the steering wheel, steering response is greatly improved. In a real-world application, this not only benefits the enthusiast, but also the everyday driver who needs to suddenly swerve to avoid an accident or pedestrian. If we had an X5 in our driveways, it would not be without Active Steering, which means it would also have AdaptiveDrive. That sport suspension/electronic damping control is part of the Sport Package, which is required when opting for the Active Steering. To exemplify the merits of AdaptiveDrive, BMW availed a soaked skid pad, where we threw the X5 4.8i around as hard as possible. With AdaptiveDrive's sport mode selected, the heavy Bimmer remained flat even when we yanked on the steering wheel at high speeds. We subsequently goosed the throttle to determine how tail happy the X5 could be, and even with the wheel cranked, the pedal on the floor, the surface wet, and the stability control off, we didn't get the rear end to twitch more than a foot or so. With stability control on, traction didn't brake loose at all, though switching to the regular suspension mode allows for a little softness in hard corners. To say that the X5 feels stable in extreme conditions would be a serious understatement. And potential buyers will be happy to know that the ride doesn't suffer. In fact, it feels like a sublime blend between comfort and sport. While driving along country roads, bumps were absorbed without issue, though there was some noticeable understeer. That's not surprising given the X5's size and weight, and still feels tighter than other large competitors. Complementing the suspension and steering was a confident braking system, one that proved to be effective, easily modulated, and free of fade or problems with long pedal travel.
Ah, and then there's that powertrain. We were limited to time in the 4.8i (yeah, poor us…), so can't comment on the 3.0-liter inline six, but if BMW's estimate of 0-60 mph in 7.8 seconds is accurate, the less expensive of the X5's ain't no slouch. And neither is 4.8-liter version, which pulls hard from pretty much any situation. It's extremely refined, though a bit loud when hammering on the throttle. That's not a problem unless you don't like the gorgeous sound of a hearty V8. Mash the throttle and the X5 launches with authority, but not enough to pin you in your seat. Nonetheless, all 350 horses prove more than enough for an SAV, and allow for 100-mph cruises that feel like 65 mph. In exchange for all the fun we had with the X5 4.8i, we achieved only 14 mpg. BMW suggests it could've been worse were it not for the new six-speed automatic transmission, which despite offering smooth and seamless shifts, has its shares of highs and lows. When operated in manual mode, shifts are extremely quick, and the red line high enough that you won't mind when the tranny automatically upshifts. However, when in regular mode, the transmission allows for a slight dead spot in the throttle – you don't notice it in sport or manual mode. Paddle shifters are not offered, and the manual mode is counterintuitive to the majority of the industry – BMW requires a pull back for an upshift and a push forward for a downshift. As all enthusiasts are accustomed to, the sport mode holds gears longer for better power delivery, and in sport mode the X5 is very adept at choosing the appropriate cog; regular mode occasionally allows the engine to bog a bit before downshifting.
How does AdaptiveDrive work? In simplified terms, each of the four shocks has its own control unit that relays information on current conditions. That information is transferred via BMW's new FlexRay high-speed data transmission system, so the X5's computer systems can respond immediately to the info supplied by the shocks. The X5 is the first BMW to feature FlexRay technology.
The free maintenance spans four years or 50,000 miles. How long is the warranty? The basic and powertrain warranties are also four years or 50,000 miles. Corrosion protection has you covered for 12 years and unlimited mileage.
So, the X5 finally has some decent cupholders? Yes. Apparently, the request came directly from the BMW marketing department. To quote a company executive, the goal was to provide front passengers with “two Big Gulp-ready cupholders right where you want them.”
Test Vehicle: 2007 BMW X5 4.8i
Base Price: $55,195 (including a $695 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 4.8-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 350 at 6,300 rpm
Engine Torque: 350 lb.-ft. at 3,400 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Curb Weight, lbs.: 5,335
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 15/21 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 14 mpg
Length: 191.1 inches
Width: 76.1 inches
Wheelbase: 115.5 inches
Height: 69.5 inches
Legroom (front row/second row/third row): 40.0/36.6/NA inches
Headroom (front row/second row/third row): 39.3/39.0/NA inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Seven
Max. Cargo Volume: 61.8 cubic feet
Max. Towing Capacity, lbs.: 6,000
Ground Clearance: 8.3 inches
Competitors: Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Cadillac SRX, Infiniti FX, Land Rover LR3, Lexus GX 470, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Porsche Cayenne, Volvo XC90
Photos courtesy of BMW