2008 Aspen 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. Remember the old advertising jingle: Wouldn't you really rather drive a Buick? Many people would. But until the introduction of the 2004 Rainier, GM's near-luxury brand had nothing to offer buyers who seek a mid-size sport-utility vehicle. The Buick Rainier seats five and boasts an engine powerful enough to pull a boat or horse trailer.
The Rainier shares its underpinnings with several other mid-size GM SUVs, but it alone offers a V8 engine in the standard-length wheelbase configuration. The others offer the same V8, but only in their extended vehicles that come with three rows of seats, namely the GMC Envoy XL and Chevy TrailBlazer EXT.
But that V8 engine is just one of several perks that come with the Rainier. It's among the quietest SUVs we've driven. And it rides more smoothly than the other GM models.
With a price range from the mid-30s to the low 40s, the Rainier is an appealing prospect for those who appreciate strong silent types. This is an SUV that can more than pull its own, and a loaded horse trailer to boot. When it debuted in 2002, the Buick Rendezvous crossed over all the lines that had previously separated sedans, minivans, and sport-utility vehicles. Rendezvous was, and is, a perfect example of the new category of crossover vehicles, a category that defies categorization. The Rendezvous combines aspects of SUVs, minivans, and wagons. Just don't call it a minivan or a wagon.
Rendezvous is a versatile vehicle seating five to seven passengers. Its styling is nice. It has fine manners on the highway, a benefit of unit-body construction normally associated with sedans. Four-wheel-drive is available to cope with gnarly weather and marginal off-highway tracks with dignity.
New for 2004 is the Rendezvous Ultra, which comes with a higher level of standard equipment and an all-new, more powerful and more sophisticated V6 engine.
The Buick Rendezvous is priced well and easy to like, with solid engineering, useful flexibility, and a handsome appearance. The three-row interior compares favorably with the passenger capacity of costlier vehicles. Satellite radio, electronic navigation, and a rear-seat DVD system are available as options. The 2008 Chrysler Aspen is a big, traditional sport utility vehicle capable of towing substantial loads. The Aspen is in the same class as the Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Ford Expedition, but it has more luxury amenities than most of those vehicles.
Introduced for the 2007 model year, the Chrysler Aspen is based on the Dodge Durango. Aspen shares Durango's size and mechanicals, the main differences being styling, interior and tuning. Both use truck chassis and engineering, giving them the advantages of a cavernous interior and the ability to tow trailers (up to 8,900 pounds).
Aspen's electronic stability control system incorporates a new feature designed to control trailer sway.
Two V8 engines are available, a 4.7-liter flex-fuel V8 that gains 68 hp for 2008 for a total of 303 horsepower, and a 335-hp 5.7-liter V8. The 4.7-liter can run on regular gasoline or E85 (a blend of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol). The 5.7-liter Hemi uses Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System, which conserves fuel by shutting off half the cylinders when the engine is running under a light load. Buyers can choose between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive with either engine.
Both powertrains earn decent fuel economy ratings by the federal government, either matching the competition or at worst giving up no more than one or two miles per gallon, even in the revised system the EPA uses for the 2008 model year.
Aspen is a nice-looking SUV with styling that features Chrysler's traditional but subdued egg-crate grille, mildly curvaceous bodylines reminiscent of the Dodge Durango, and an attractively sculpted tailgate. The wheel wells are filled with good-looking 18-inch alloy wheels or optional 20-inch chrome rims.
Aspen accommodates seven or eight passengers, depending on the seating configuration. Three rows of seats are standard, starting with front buckets, a second-row bench and a third-row bench. Buckets are optional for the second row to reduce seating to seven.
The interior blends elegant-looking, satin-finish metallic accents with woodgrain trim on the dash and center console. The standard upholstery is Chrysler's trademarked Yes Essentials fabric that resists stains and odors. Leather trim is optional and all of the usual power and personalization features are available.
In addition to the upgraded 4.7-liter V8, Aspen gets new safety and entertainment features for 2008. Chrysler's MyGIG radio, which includes a 20-gigabyte hard drive that holds songs, pictures, and navigation system map information, is available, as is a rear backup camera.
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. The Buick Rainier is packed with luxury features. Technically, it comes in only one trim level, the CXL ($35,945), though there is a CXL Plus ($36,995) that comes with a Bose premium audio system, six-CD changer and XM satellite radio.
Rear-wheel drive (2WD) is standard. Four-wheel drive, GM's SmarTrak system, is optional for the the CXL ($36,995) and CXL Plus ($38,945).
Standard on all Rainiers are leather seating surfaces, with eight-way power for the front seats and memory controls on the driver's side, automatic and dual-zone climate controls, with temperature and audio controls on the tilting steering wheel, cruise control, power windows and remote keyless locks. Also a driver-information center that monitors 13 on-board systems, a center console with front and rear cupholders, an overhead console with digital recorder, electrochromic rearview mirror with compass, HomeLink garage-door transmitter and one year of OnStar Safe & Sound service. All Rainiers also come with a Bose CD player and rear-seat audio controls, a cargo storage well and bins, fog lamps, intermittent wipers, and power heated outside mirrors with built-in turn signal indicators.
Standard mechanical equipment includes a four-speed automatic transmission, rack-and-pinion steering, electronically controlled air suspension with automatic load-leveling, locking rear differential, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and dual-stage driver and front passenger airbags. Traction control is standard on 2WD models.
The standard engine is GM's highly regarded Vortec 4200, an inline six-cylinder that provides an impressive 275 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. Optional is the Vortec 5300 V8 ($1,500) with 290 horsepower and 325 pounds-feet of torque.
Options include a Sun & Satellite package that includes a DVD-based navigation system, power moonroof, XM Radio and audio upgrades. The option package is priced at $3,615 on the CXL and at $2,550 on the CXL Plus, which already is equipped with the Bose system and XM radio. Other options include the power moonroof ($885), a DVD-based entertainment system ($1,435), power adjustable pedals ($150), heated front seats ($275), front-seat side airbags ($350), chrome side steps ($450), luggage rack ($45), cargo storage system ($150) and a smoker package ($30).
However, the option list does not include full-length curtain airbags or vehicle stability control. Rendezvous is offered in five trim levels: CX, CX Plus, CXL, CXL Plus, and Ultra. All Rendezvous models have automatic transmission, four-wheel independent suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes. Rendezvous CX, CX Plus, CXL and CXL Plus are powered by a 185-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 engine, and are available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). Rendezvous Ultra comes with a new 3.6-liter V6 rated at 245 horsepower and all-wheel drive.
CX FWD ($26,020) comes standard with cruise control, remote keyless entry, a theft-deterrent system, AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo, and power outlets for all three seating rows. CX AWD ($29,170) adds the all-wheel-drive system plus anti-lock brakes (ABS) and side-impact airbags. CX Plus FWD ($27,880) and CX Plus AWD ($31,030) add OnStar, a driver-information center, ultrasonic rear parking assist, manual dual-zone air conditioning and 16-inch alumium wheels.
CXL FWD ($30,935) and CXL AWD ($33,140) add leather upholstery, six-way power seats, automatic dual-zone air conditioning, heated mirrors, premium eight-speaker stereo with steering-wheel-mounted controls, separate rear-seat audio controls and headphone jacks, tire inflation monitor, and unique exterior trim. Both FWD and AWD CXL models have side-impact airbags and ABS. Additionally, front-drive CXL's come with traction control. CXL Plus FWD ($32,420) and CXL Plus AWD ($34,445) add heated front seats, a memory function for the driver's seat and mirrors, a folding third-row seat (increasing seating capacity from five to seven), XM Satellite Radio, cross bars for the luggage rack and P215/70R16 touring tires (replacing the standard all-season tires of the same size).
Ultra ($39,045) comes with all of the above, plus the more powerful 3.6-liter V6, leather seats with suede inserts, second-row captain's chairs, a six-disc CD changer, a head-up instrument display, and an electronic release for the rear liftgate. Tires are upgraded to P225/60R on 17-inch aluminum wheels.
Nearly all of the features that come with the higher-line models are available as stand-alone options. Even the Ultra's more powerful engine is available as an option on CXL models. On models that don't come standard with them, we recommend adding side-impact airbags ($350), anti-lock brakes ($600), and traction control ($175) for their safety benefits. A power sunroof ($885) is available on any Rendezvous except the base CX, and you have to spring for at least a CXL before you can order DVD entertainment ($1,100) or the multi-media/navigation system ($1,995). A towing package ($325) is offered on all models, and includes a high-output alternator, transmission oil cooler, heavy-duty engine cooling and automatic load leveling. Properly equipped, Rendezvous can tow 3500 pounds. The 2008 Chrysler Aspen is available as only the Limited model. The Limited 2WD ($32,005) and Limited AWD ($34,880) come standard with a 4.7-liter V8. Chrysler's 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is optional with 2WD ($795) or AWD ($990). The all-wheel drive system has a two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing.
Standard features include front and rear air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, Yes Essentials anti-stain and odor-resistant fabric upholstery, front bucket seats, 8-way power driver seat, reclining second-row 40/20/40 split folding seat, third-row 60/40 split folding seat, heated power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, Alpine AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with four speakers and steering wheel-mounted audio controls, auxiliary input jack, Sirius satellite radio, universal garage door opener, automatic headlights, theft-deterrent system, fog lights, roof rails, and 265/60R18 on/off-road tires on alloy wheels.
All-wheel drive models come standard with the power rear liftgate.
Options start with a Quick Order package for 2WD ($4270) and AWD ($3785) that includes dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, four-way power passenger seat, power-adjustable pedals, memory system (driver seat, mirrors, pedals), Chrysler's MyGIG Entertainment System with hard-drive radio, rearview camera, power-folding mirrors, auto-dimming driver side and rearview mirrors, floor mats, laminated door glass, running boards, and 265/50R20 tires on chrome alloy wheels; the package for the 2WD model also gets rear obstacle detection and the power liftgate. The Popular Equipment group for 2WD ($1125) and AWD ($600) has rear obstacle detection, power-adjustable pedals, remote engine start, and running boards; the 2WD also gets the power liftgate. The Popular Equipment group II ($1405) has a rear DVD entertainment system, remote engine start, and Chrysler's UConnect wireless cell phone link. A Trailer Tow group ($575) adds special axle ratio (with 5.7-liter V8), heavy-duty engine and transmission cooling, skid plates (AWD), Class IV trailer hitch, and a wiring harness.
Chrysler's MyGIG Entertainment System ($1055) is new for 2008. It includes a 6.5-inch touch-screen and a 20-gigabyte hard drive to hold songs and pictures. It includes Sirius satellite radio, rear obstacle detection, rearview camera and UConnect. The hard-drive radio is also offered in the MyGIG Multi-Media Infotainment System ($950), which adds a navigation system with real time traffic and voice activation. It is only available with the Quick Order package, and UConnect is also included.
Also available are leather upholstery ($780), heated front seats ($250), heated second-row bucket seats ($950), a sunroof ($850), rear DVD entertainment ($1295), remote engine start ($185), and accent-color running boards ($445).
Safety features include front multi-stage airbags and head-protecting curtain side airbags that cover all three seating rows and are programmed to activate in the event of a rollover. Missing, however, are front side airbags that protect the torso in side crashes, a feature increasingly common on cars and SUVs. The second-row seats have child safety seat anchors and tethers (LATCH), but the third row doesn't. Traction control, which limits tire spinning in slick conditions, is standard. The electronic stability program, which attempts to keep the vehicle from spinning out, is augmented with a rollover-sensitive algorithm, which extends deployment duration, and Trailer Sway Control, which applies individual brakes to keep the vehicle on its intended path when towing. Electronic brake-force distribution, which optimizes front-to-rear brake application in emergencies, comes standard along with brake assist, which ensures full braking performance in a panic stop. A tire-pressure monitor signals when tires are low on air. Rear obstacle detection is standard on all-wheel drive models. A.