BMW was one of - if not the first - auto manufacturer to design an SUV-like vehicle for the way the vast majority of them are used. Taking a look at the habits of the drivers of these vehicles, BMW elected to make its SUV more of a driving machine for the street — leaving offroad capability completely out of the mission statement. As a result, the BMW X5 soon found its way into the driveways of every precisely manicured neighborhood in America.
Actually, more than just optimizing the X5 for the street, the company — being BMW — set the X5 up to absolutely excel on the street. As a result, the Bavarian tall wagon accelerated furiously, cornered tenaciously and braked mightily. It was about as close to a sports car as you could get, and uh, you know, still be perched like four feet off the ground, while surrounded by over 6000 pounds of wood, steel, leather, rubber, aluminum, and glass.
Introduced in 1999, as a 2000 model year product, the X5 was also one of the first two BMW products to be built in the United States (Z3 was the other one). In fact, for a number of years, every BMW X5 on earth was built in the U.S. at the Spartanburg, South Carolina BMW factory. There have been two generations of the BMW X5 offered since that first production one rolled off the assembly line back in 1999.
1999 – 2006
At launch, the X5 was powered by a 282-horsepower, 4.4-liter V8. A five-speed automatic transmission routed power to all four wheels. As we mentioned before, the X5 was designed from the onset as a street machine. Yes, it would do soft roads, but when a Jeep Grand Cherokee or a Range Rover turned left into a rushing stream and forded through three feet of water, the X5 sped on down the road, passing Fords, to cross the bridge.
To its credit, BMW made no bones about this. Touting the X5 as a “Sport Activity Vehicle” rather than a Sport Utility Vehicle, BMW signaled its intention to bring the outstanding driving dynamics for which it was justifiably known to the SUV marketplace.
The other thing BMWs are known for is luxury, and here the X5 carried forth strongly. Nicely equipped, like the $50,000 automobile it was well should have been, the X5 boasted lots of leather and wood, 10 airbags, all-wheel drive, front and rear heated seats, ABS, and climate controls for the rear seat passengers.
Optional features included a navigation system, headlight cleaners, xenon high intensity discharge headlights, rear parking sensors, a power moonroof, a sport suspension package, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
For 2001, BMW fitted its silky 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine to the X5. Producing 224 horsepower, some reviewers felt the engine was a bit overwhelmed by the X5’s girth. However the six was smooth and enabled the X5 to return better fuel economy while selling at a lower price. Also for 2001, the X5’s sport package was amended to include a sport steering wheel. Additionally, 16-way power adjustable front seats were offered.
For 2002, a 340-horsepower, 4.6-liter V8 was fitted to the X5, solidly confirming its on-road performance vehicle aspirations. Making 350 ft.-lbs. of torque, the X5 4.6is was capable of 0 to 60 runs in just over six seconds. In addition to the power, the 4.6is came fully loaded with pretty much every available X5 option. The base 4.4-liter V8 was reworked to produce 290 horsepower.
Model year 2003, brought a DVD-based nav system, and the adjustable ride height suspension system could be had in conjunction with the sport package. BMW fitted an extra set of brake lights configured to illuminate in panic braking situations to warn following motorists of a sudden stop.
Six-speed transmissions made their debut in 2004. We say transmissions because a manual six-speed was offered for the first time in the U.S., but only with the 3.0-liter inline six. A 355-horsepower, 4.8-liter engine, making 360 ft-lbs of torque, replaced the 4.6-liter V8, so the 4.6is model was renamed 4.8is. Satellite radio and Bluetooth made their first X5 appearances, but only as dealer-installed accessories. For 2005, BMW added automatic climate control across the board, as well as lumbar support for the front seats. Audible parking assistance was made standard on the 4.4. With a model changeover imminent, the 2006 model got no changes.
2007 – 2011
With the 2007 redesign, the X5 got a longer wheelbase and increased overall length, enabling the addition of a vestigial third-row seat. Additionally, because the unibody was reworked to improve structural rigidity, the front suspension system was reworked to take advantage of the enhanced torsional stiffness. Which, in turn, improved the handling of BMW’s Sport Activity Vehicle.
Two engines were offered; the 3.0-liter inline six was upgraded to 260 horsepower, absolving any doubts about its capability to move the big BMW. The V8 engine was the 350-horsepower, 4.8-liter from the 2006 4.8is. The six-speed automatic transmission was the only choice in the U.S. because the six-speed manual was dropped.
Regardless of your engine choice, you got 18-inch wheels, xenon headlights, smart wipers with heated washer jets, power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, iDrive, and a CD changer (in the glovebox). Of course with the big engine you always get a bit more content too. In this case that more was leather upholstery for the seats and burl wood trim.
A number of option packages made it possible to configure the X5 to suit your proclivities. An active suspension system, 19-inch wheels and sport front seats comprised the sport package. Park distance control, a rearview camera and a navigation system with real-time traffic updates made up the Technology package. To pump up the luxo quotient, the Premium Package featured a panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors, and Bluetooth. When applied to the 3.0-liter X5, going Premium scored leather upholstery too. Rear seat video entertainment, an electrically powered rear hatch, keyless ignition, an iPod adapter, a head-up display, and 20-inch wheels were available a la carte.
Fresh off a complete redesign for ’07, changes for 2008 were very minimal, but for ’09 BMW went to a new nomenclature system for its entire vehicle line. In the case of the X5, the Bimmer formerly known as BMW X5 4.8i was thenceforth referred to as the BMW X5 xDrive48i. The 3.0-liter model was renamed xDrive30i, and the new (to the U.S.) diesel variant was dubbed xDrive35d.
The number in the middle reflected the displacement of the engine. The “xDrive” designator meant it was an all-wheel drive model. And, the “i” designation meant it was both fuel injected and powered by gasoline. The diesel model was tagged with a lowercase “d”.
That said; the then-new xDrive35d was powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel engine producing 265 horsepower and an earth crinkling 425 ft-lbs. of torque — at just 1,750 rpm. When BMW goes diesel, it ain’t just about economy — OK? And for those of you prone to picking nits, the “35” designation is how BMW tells you the 3.0-liter is turbocharged.
In other 2009 news, one of the first BMW M models to use an automatic transmission was introduced as the BMW X5 M (X6 M was the other one). With 555 horsepower and 500 ft-lbs. of torque, the twin-turbocharged X5 M was most assuredly not a vehicle to be trifled with.
For 2010, BMW’s engineers reworked the iDrive system to appease the individuals incapable of relating to the previous version. While they were in there, they also specified a new graphics package for the nav system. High def radio was made standard equipment.
For 2011, the transmission was upgraded to an eight-speed automatic, a 300-horsepower twin-turbo unit replaced the 3.0-liter gasoline-fired six, and the 4.8-liter V8 was swapped out for a 400-horsepower, twin-turbo 4.4-liter powerplant.
Which, of course predicated nomenclature changes.
The six-cylinder X5 was renamed xDrive35i, while the V8 was tagged xDrive50i. The look of the vehicle was tweaked a bit as well, with a new front bumper, air intakes and other minor changes. Little was changed to carry the X5 into 2012, other than the navigation system being specified as standard equipment for the V8 model.
While detractors were plentiful when BMW announced plans to introduce a model for the SUV segment back in 1999, few can argue the model was not successful. So much so in fact, several other manufacturers quickly followed suit — most notably Infiniti, Range Rover and Porsche — introduced high performance SUV-ish models.
While the BMW performs admirably on the road, tales of its reliability are less than positive. This is a vehicle you absolutely want to have gone over by a trusted professional mechanic before you hand over your cash. It’s a BMW, so fixing stuff that goes wrong ain’t gonna be cheap.
There have also been a number of recalls for the South Carolinian native of Bavarian extract. You’ll definitely want to run an Internet search for “BMW X5 recalls” and make sure the one you’re interested in has been brought up to date.