2004 X5 New Car Test Drive
Others have followed, but the BMW X5 invented a class. As BMW's 3 Series defines the sport sedan, the X5 defines an expanding group of big, powerful SUVs that shine for their on-pavement agility and lightning acceleration, with an emphasis on luxury appointments. Climb out of a truck-based luxury SUV like the Cadillac Escalade, and the X5 feels as capable on the road as the big BMW 7 Series sedan (even though it isn't).
Improvements for 2004 are more extensive than any since the X5 was introduced five years ago. And a new high-performance 4.8is model has been added to the lineup.
Logic? You'll have to set it aside to appreciate the BMW X5. The X5 is 2.5 tons of speed, comfort and prestige. It's quicker away from traffic lights than most cars, and capable of nearly 150 mph, though we certainly don't recommend driving a vehicle this tall that fast. Its steering is precise and it's exceptionally stable at supra-legal speeds. Massive tires contribute to impressive cornering grip and stopping power. The X5 offers nearly all the bells, whistles and high-tech gizmos that you'll find on the most expensive sedans in the world. A big V8 delivers the ultimate X5 thrill, but it's also available with an outstanding six-cylinder.
That trademark BMW twin-kidney grille indicates its owner is successful. It also indicates BMW's reputation for quality and driving excitement. Moreover, the X5 delivers most of the attributes that made SUVs popular in the first place. It works well in foul weather and easily negotiates muddy trails. It offers the commanding seating position many drivers prefer. It looks tough and polished at the same time.
Now let's get back to logic. BMW says the X5 is designed for all roads, meaning superhighways, graded gravel or logging trails. It's not intended for carving your own road, or fording shallow streams or climbing boulders. In fact, the X5 is not capable off road, not when measured against sport-utilities that are capable. The X5 offers less cargo capacity than nearly any other SUV of its size and weight, less even than a BMW 5 Series wagon, and its high floor makes loading cargo more challenging. Though it handles well for an SUV, its weight and height simply won't allow it the quick transient response of a sport sedan or sport wagon in the same price range. Compared to other BMWs, the X5 is not the ultimate driving machine, and its fuel mileage is poor in comparison. It also costs more than some comparably equipped, very good luxury SUVs.
For 2004, the X5's look has been freshened, with a redesigned front end, new taillights and new wheel designs. Mechanically, both manual and automatic transmissions have been upgraded to six-speeds, with a more powerful V8 and a new, more sophisticated all-wheel-drive system called xDrive. There's more standard equipment, including rain-sensing wipers and a power passenger seat in all models, and new options like heated rear seats on the six-cylinder X5. New for 2004 is BMW Assist, a telematic system with automatic accident notification and other premium services.
Forget rational vs. emotional. If you seek a luxurious sport-utility that makes a fine, highly useful everyday vehicle, with high style and modicum of off-pavement capability, the 2004 BMW X5 is the benchmark.
The BMW X5 is offered in several variations: the X5 3.0i ($40,995), 4.4i ($52,195), and the new 4.8is. While the 3.0i and 4.4i have added standard equipment and more technology for 2004, their prices reflect an increase of $1,445 and $2,245 respectively compared to 2003, keeping with BMW's trend toward some of the biggest prices increases in the auto industry this year.
The X5 3.0i is powered by BMW's classic 3.0-liter inline-6 engine, producing 225 horsepower. Standard equipment includes adjustable power front seats with driver's position memory electronically tagged to the key, remote keyless entry, power windows that can be opened with the key fob, cruise control, cabin-air filtration, a universal garage door transmitter, 17-inch alloy wheels and a tow-hitch receiver. For 2004, the standard manual transmission has been upgraded to a six-speed, while the leatherette (vinyl) upholstery remains.
The X5 4.4i adds BMW's powerful 4.4-liter V8 engine, which adds 33 horsepower this year for a total of 315, matched with a new six-speed automatic. The 4.4i is now almost as powerful as last year's 4.6is. The 4.4i also adds dual-zone climate control with rear-seat adjustments, leather upholstery, self-leveling air suspension and 18-inch wheels.
The new X5 4.8is is an ultra high-performance model that features a 4.8-liter V8 engine that produces 355-horsepower and 360 pounds-feet of torque, coupled with a six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. It comes with 20-inch W-rated performance tires (275/40 front and 315/35 in the rear). Massive 14-inch front/12.8-inch rear disc brakes bring BMW's most potent SUV to a quick and sure-footed stop.
Both the X5 3.0i and 4.4i can be equipped with a long list of stand-alone-options, or any of four option packages. The moonroof, for example, can be ordered separately ($1,059), but it's also included in the Premium Package, which also adds auto-dim mirrors, adjustable rear seat backs, lumbar support, an onboard computer and the BMW Assist telematics package to the 4.4i ($2,500), plus leather to the 3.0i ($3,900). The Sport Package ($2,500 for the 3.0i, $1,600 for 4.4i) includes a firmer sport suspension, sport steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels (for the 3.0i), sport seats, black chrome exhaust and a titanium colored grilled. The Cold Weather Package ($750) includes heated front seats, ski bag and headlight washers. The Rear Climate package ($600 for the 3.0i, $400 for 4.4i) brings rear privacy glass, rear side-window blinds and rear climate control adjustment for the 3.0i. Popular stand alone options include a five-speed automatic transmission ($1,275) and the bi-Xenon headlamps ($800) for the X5 3.0i, and a premium stereo with 12 speakers, two subwoofers and digital signal processing ($1,200). A retractable load floor ($380) and satellite navigation ($1800) are extra-cost options on all X5 models. BMW Assist ($750) provides telematic collision notification, an SOS button, roadside assistance, locator and concierge services. An annual subscription ($240) must be paid after the first year.
All X5s come with full-time all-wheel drive and Dynamic Stability Control, which includes traction control, electronic brake proportioning, an electronic stability program, and Hill Descent Control.
Passive safety was a major development goal for the X5, which can be ordered with no fewer than eight airbags. Each front-seat occupant gets a front airbag, a side thorax airbag and a curtain-style head protection airbag. BMW's Head Protection System extends these curtains the full length of the cabin, protecting outside rear passengers as well. Rear-seat side impact airbags are optional ($385). Moreover, the X5's unit-body has been design for maximum energy dissipation in heavy impacts. According to BMW, it performed better than any vehicle ever tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in its 40-mph offset crash test, which simulates the most.
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