BMW X5 – bigger, better and sometimes befuddling

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Don't expect your neighbor to do a double take when you park your new 2007 BMW X5 in the driveway for the first time. It looks much like all the previous models dating back to its inception in 2000, except if you put them side by side, then you get the “wow, that’s changed hasn’t it,” factor.

To put it mildly the sport utility vehicle — that BMW calls a sports activity vehicle — has grown. It's 7.4 inches longer, 2.4 inches wider and has a 4.5-inch longer wheelbase than the preceding model. And it comes with a third-row seat option.

Unfortunately, growth wasn't limited to length and width. The new X5 has found between 200 and 400 pounds depending on model. That means a well-optioned 4.8-liter V-8 edition weighs in at a diet-challenged 5,300 pounds. Last year's 4.4-liter V-8, discontinued for 2007, came in at around 4,900 pounds and the 4.8-liter weighed in at 5,000 pounds.

Maneuverability has also taken a hit with the larger vehicle. The turning circle has increased a whopping two feet from 39.7 to a pickup-truck-like 42 feet.

The weight gain and the increased difficulty turning into a tight parking space are somewhat forgiven after a short test drive. The new X5 feels every bit a BMW with razor-sharp handling and sterling sport-utility performance.

You will have to take your neighbor for a test drive to show him the real differences. And to really give him a taste of this new iteration, you will have to trust him with the keys. Because it's from behind the wheel that favorable upgrades manifest themselves.

But first you will have to help him with the key-fob and the start/stop button. The key-fob is the key which is placed into a slot and pushed in, then to start, with foot on the brake he’ll then push the red start/stop button. To stop just reverse the procedure by applying the brake, pushing the red button and then pushing to release the key-fob from the slot. Not as complex as iDrive put possibly just as annoying. The better idea is what much of the industry at BMW’s level has done – keep the key-fob in your pocket and the car knows who you are. It will allow door opening and start/stop button pushing without the fumbling to find the slot and pushing just right to engage the system.

But we digress. Chubby as it is, the '07 X5 is a real BMW. And with the new beefy 350-horsepower V-8 under hood, it has a muscular character moving from 0 to 60 in 6.4 seconds, according to BMW's published time. We found the performance satisfying and we like the low growl that accompanied a push of the gas pedal.

More practically, the horsepower and equally prodigious 350 pound-feet of torque will pull up to 6,000 pounds of boat or travel trailer.

The X5 is also available with a 260-horsepower 3.0-liter inline six cylinder engine. Torque is rated at 225 pound-feet. That's a gain of 35 horses and 11 pound feet of torque over last year. And the heavier BMW needs the extra help to get from 0 to 60 in about 8 seconds.

Power is directed through a six-speed automatic transmission. It is manipulated by an electronic shifter, in itself a unique system. More later!

Your neighbor will marvel at the BMW's handling prowess should you let him wander onto a winding stretch of road, especially if you have purchased the $3,500 sport package, which brings 19-inch all-season run-flat tires (18-inch run flats are standard), electronically adjustable dampers and active stabilizer bars.

We'd opt for this cutting-edge setup, called Adaptive Drive. It gives the high-riding SUV the handling characteristics of a sports car.

The SUV's immense handling pedigree does not compromise ride quality. There is nothing stiff in the ride. Even old winter-ravaged concrete roads are smoothed out.

Steering is extremely accurate with the standard rack and pinion setup — there is an electrically driven Active Steering option — and brakes, which have been enhanced because of the vehicle's increased size, are superb.

While on-road attributes abound, the X5 is not a heavy-duty off-road machine even with automatic all-wheel drive but no low-range transfer case.

As we noted earlier, the new X5 retains the original X5 look albeit longer with a wider wheelbase. Fortunately, the sport utility has been spared the worst — or the best — of the so-called convoluted (Chris) Bangle styling. It has more pronounced wheel arches, sharper creases in the hood and the hatch and a pronounced crease through the doors into a larger taillight treatment.

As noted you must study the '06 and '07 side-by-side to become cognizant of the changes, but BMW designers did a creditable job in advancing the design. It really is more athletic looking and front and rear treatments are much more attractive and defining of a BMW.

But the X5 was not spared the infamous iDrive. It comes even without the optional navigation system and rearview camera. Although it has been simplified, we think it's still just a complicated way to accomplish what once were relatively simple tasks. To the credit of BMW some tasks have redundant, simple to use push buttons. This is in hopes that we stop harping at them about iDrive.

And strangely, the X5 comes with an electronic shifter similar to the setup in the 7-Series. But unlike the 7-Series shifter, which is on the stalk, the X5's version is found between the seats in place of a standard transmission stalk. While pushing yet another button, this time on the side of the shifter, you toggle forward for reverse and backward for drive. Park is gained by pushing a button on top of the switch. Could this be technology run amok?

BMW officials who always find reason for everything have said it creates more room for large cupholders. And the X5 has two large cupholders, something not previously found in the BMW inventory.

The new third-row seat is definitely not a place to put adults. A couple of kids will fit nicely. The best thing about the third row is it can be folded flat creating a large storage area. In fact, with all seatbacks folded, the new BMW has a cargo capacity of 102 cubic feet, an increase of 35 cubic feet over the previous edition.

The X5 comes loaded with standard equipment, including as much cutting-edge safety gear as can be found on any SUV sold in the U.S.; but caution, there is a plethora of options to tempt the buyer.

The 3.0 edition begins at $45,900 and the 4.8 starts at $54,500. The two options we feel would be the most worthwhile are the aforementioned sport package at $3,600 and the Active Steering at $1,250.

The myriad of other options range from the third-row seat ($1,200), to the navigation system ($1,900), to a panoramic moonroof ($1,350), and a satellite radio ($595). You can easily take your 4.8 X5 into the mid-60s and beyond.

Our test 4.8i carried a bottom line of $59,350.

We loved the driving experience. We felt secure with cutting-edge safety including standard all-wheel drive. And we were won over by the expanded cargo area. It is one heck of a vehicle.

But as with many BMWs, we were befuddled by technology overload and puzzled by the German car company's ability to make simple tasks complicated. It apparently has no knowledge of the concepts of "keep it simple," and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Base price, $45,900; as driven, $59,350
Engine: 4.8-liter V-8
Horsepower: 350 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 350 pound-feet @ 3,400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3/2
Wheelbase: 115.5 inches
Length: 191.1 inches
Curb weight: 5,335 pounds
Towing capacity: 6,000 pounds
Maximum payload: 1,202 pounds
Turning circle: 42 feet
Fuel capacity: 22.5 gallons
EPA mileage: 21 highway, 15 city (premium)
0-60: 6.4 seconds (BMW)

The Good:
• Performs and handles like a BMW
• Dramatically increased cargo capacity
• Astounding array of safety features

The Bad:
• Pricey especially with options
• Mileage may vary, but it will never be very good

The Ugly:
• No matter how you modify it, iDrive will never win a place in our heart