Sport-utility vehicles had been dutifully produced by domestic automakers General Motors, Ford and Chrysler for decades, but it wasn't until European manufacturers began to introduce their own unique takes on the rugged concept that these trucks began to gain a wider acceptance as daily drivers. Previous to the mid-1990s, full-size SUVs had been based off of pickup truck platforms, restricting them to exterior designs based around a collection of 90 degree angles and handling that was decidedly rough when compared to a large sedan. This all changed when Mercedes-Benz introduced the M-class in 1997, a fully capable off-road vehicle that also managed to offer pavement performance which was a far cry from the typical bone-jarring, live rear axle designs that defined the market segment. Suddenly, every other SUV currently sitting in showrooms was playing catch-up to the very popular, critically acclaimed Benz.
Looking to expand their product lineup in an effort to capture more dollars from American car buyers, BMW had been toying with the idea of introducing an SUV of their own for quite some time. The phenomenal reception afford the Mercedes-Benz M-Class gave the company the jumpstart it needed to rush production of their own full-size truck. Unlike Mercedes-Benz, BMW decided to leave behind a full frame for their vehicle and instead used the same type of unibody construction found in passenger cars. While this meant sacrificing some of the rugged potential of the SUV, BMW felt that in order to stay true to their sporting image they had to offer a level of performance that was at least comparable to that which was found in their sedans. They also were of the opinion that no matter how capable they made their truck, the majority of owners would never drive it anywhere more exotic than the occasional dirt road.
Named the X5 and termed a 'sports activity vehicle' by the company's marketing department in an effort to distance the truck from the competition, BMW's end result benefited from a number of technologies that were lifted from the Rover group during the German company's takeover of the British automaker. Combining some of the best features from the iconic Land Rover SUVs as well as the popular BMW 5-Series four door, the X5 found an immediate audience of interested buyers. Much of this success was also due to the vehicle's smooth good looks.
This article takes a look at the second generation of the venerable BMW X5, and examines the features and capabilities that make it the best used full-size SUV ever produced by the engineers at Bavarian Motor Works.
2004 - 2007 BMW X5
The 2004 - 2007 BMW X5 shares the same basic underpinnings as its predecessor, but also bears several improvements both inside and out that change the way the vehicle looks and also how it drives. Immediately obvious to most BMW fans is the new 'flame surface' styling that was first used on the polarizing 7-Series. Toned down for the X5, it nevertheless presents an unusual collection of crisp folds and rounded bodywork. Underneath the truck's skin the biggest difference to be found is the presence of a re-worked all-wheel drive system. Called xDrive, it abandons the stable 60/40 rear to front-wheel torque split found in the original X5 in favor of a computer-controlled setup that can dynamically move power from axle to axle in the event of traction loss.
An expanded range of engines also greets drivers of the 2004 - 2007 X5. The base model of the vehicle uses a 3.0-liter 6-cylinder that produces 225 horsepower. Two different V-8 upgrades are offered: a 4.4-liter unit with 315 horsepower and 324 lb-ft of torque, and a sports-oriented 4.8-liter engine found in the top of the line X5. This engine boasts 355 horsepower along with an impressive 369 lb-ft of torque, allowing the portly SUV to keep up with some of the world's quicker sedans. The 3.0 can be had with a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic, but both V-8 engines are only to be found with 6-speed automatic transmissions.
BMW has pulled out all the stops when it comes to the X5's interior. Optional leather seats and attractive wood trim serve to remind drivers that they are indeed driving a German luxury vehicle. This is further reinforced by the availability of a moon roof, dual zone climate control, heated seats and navigation system. Driver's aids such as parking assistance, BMW's driver assistance communication feature and electronic stability control help set the SUV above other more common trucks.
The 2004 - 2007 BMW X5 is perfect for anyone looking to drive something different from a sedan but who still want to benefit from a high level of performance not typically found in a used full-size SUV.