2008 X5 New Car Test Drive
The BMW X5 puts emphasis on the sport half of the sport-utility equation. While it offers more utility than ever, it comes up short in cargo-passenger flexibility compared to many luxury SUVs. As opposed to hauling acres of equipment and gear, the X5 provides the essential equipment enthusiast drivers expect when they want to enjoy the art of driving as much as they're able.
Indeed, BMW shuns the SUV tag entirely, describing the X5 with it own copyrighted label: Sport Activity Vehicle, or SAV. This may be a tacit acknowledgement that the X5 can't tow or carry as much stuff as some of its competitors, or it may simply highlight the X5's strength. That strength is its ability to get down the road in the step-on-the gas, shove-through-corners fashion of a genuine sport sedan.
BMW focused on improving utility for 2007, when a redesign stretched the X5 by seven full inches and delivered a substantial increase in rear seat legroom. For 2008, X5 upgrades have re-focused on sport. Both the six-cylinder and V8 engines are new, with a revised six-speed automatic transmission.
The V8 in the BMW X5 4.8i increases in displacement, while the 3.0-liter inline six is an all-new design, with a substantial increase in power. These are BMW engines, which means plenty of usable torque and turbine-like smoothest. The 4.8i might be the chest-beater, but the BMW X5 3.0si still delivers the kind of response we expect in a sport sedan, and it shouldn't leave owners pining for the V8.
The X5 is styled in obvious BMW fashion, only taller, with traditional Bimmer cues like the twin-kidney grille and dual-beam headlight clusters. Like it or not, its look and badges are often enough to get the X5 one of the high-profile valet spots at a trendy club.
Inside, the X5 offers plenty of room for five, with a nice, rich finish and nearly all the bells and whistles one expects in a high-line luxury sedan. The back seat is more than roomy enough for two adults, three in a pinch, and there's enough cargo space in back for a two-day family outing.
The X5 can expand to seven-passenger capacity with an optional third-row seat. Of course, that third seat won't look particularly inviting to anyone asked to ride in it, and it pretty much wrecks the cargo space.
With all seats lowered for maximum cargo capacity, the X5 offers less space than virtually every competitor, from Acura to Volvo. It's not a class leader in fuel economy, either.
Sport in the X5 context does not mean off-roading. Its all-wheel-drive system was developed for slippery roads and sporty driving characteristics, rather than sand dunes or steep, rutted hillsides. Yet It can tow a substantial 6,000 pounds, and the all-wheel-drive can be a great friend in a blizzard.
The X5 gets high marks for safety. It performs well in both government and insurance industry crash tests, and it has been designated one of the Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Besides the full complement of front, side and head protection airbags, the X5 offers some of the most advanced active safety systems available. These include anti-lock brakes that periodically sweep the discs dry in rainstorms and electronic stability control that works with the all-wheel drive system and even to steering to manage skids.
Still, the X5's calling card is its driving dynamics. It's not quite as refined or holistic as BMW's best sedans, but the comparison is generally on the mark. Think of the X5 as a 5 Series sedan with more headroom and a bit more cargo space.
The BMW X5 comes in two variations, distinguished primarily by engine type, both with all-wheel drive. For 2008, both models get an upgrade in standard equipment, new engines and a six-speed automatic transmission.
The BMW X5 3.0si ($46,200) is powered by a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine delivering 260 horsepower. It comes well equipped, with a 12-speaker, single-CD stereo, niceties such as a choice of wood trim, rain-sensing wipers, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, driver's seat memory and, for 2008, a power sunroof. The standard upholstery is BMW's Leatherette vinyl, and the wheels measure 18 inches in diameter.
The BMW X5 4.8i ($54,800) is powered by a V8 with 350 horsepower. The 4.8i model comes standard with leather upholstery.
The Sport Package ($3,700) adds Active Roll Stabilization and Electronic Damping Control suspension, 19-inch wheels, heavily bolstered sport seats and Shadowline exterior trim. Other option groups include the Premium Package ($2850 for the 3.0si, $1,850 for the 4.8i), which adds front-seat power lumbar support, Ambiance Lighting, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, a digital compass, power-fold exterior mirrors, Bluetooth phone interface, BMW Assist with a 4-year subscription and leather seating for the 3.0si.
The Technology Package ($2,600) includes Park Distance Control, Rearview camera and a navigation system with voice command and Real Time Traffic information. The Cold Weather Package ($900) adds retractable headlight washers, heated steering wheel, heated front seats and a ski bag with rear-seat pass-through, while the Rear Climate Package ($900) adds four-zone climate control, manual rear sunshades and privacy glass.
Options that are standalone include a premium sound system with 16 speakers and a six-CD changer ($1,800), Active Ventilated 20-way front seats with a massage feature for the driver ($2,100), rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,800), ultra-soft Nappa leather ($1,000), Comfort Access keyless starting ($1,000), satellite radio ($595), iPod and USB adaptor ($400), and HD radio ($350). A powered Automatic Tailgate ($500) is offered for the first time in 2008.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has designated the 2008 X5 a Top Safety Pick, and it performs better than many SUVs in the insurance industry's crash tests. Standard safety features include front airbags with two-stage activation, side-impact airbags built into the front seats, and curtain-style airbags providing head protection for outboard passengers front and rear. The X5 also comes standard with the full array of active safety features, including electronic stability control and advanced anti-lock brakes with a pre-loading and water-sweeping feature. The 2008 models come standard with run-flat tires, which allow operation at 50 mph for up to 90 miles when completely flat.