2001 BMW X5
All the Sport, None of the Utility
Photos courtesy of BMW
never like to be wrong. We were expecting to be
underwhelmed by the 3.0-liter version of the X5.
There's no way, we thought, it can do anything
but disappoint us.
It'll be like a sluggish minivan, we whined. BMW
has sold out, we moaned. In fact, said we, the
vehicle's very existence dilutes the brand and
cheapens the 4.4-liter X5, which we consider a
rippin' sports car in SUV clothing.
After driving the 3.0-liter X5 for a week, however,
we now see how stupid we were to doubt BMW. "Yah,
yah," they're saying in BMW's Munich head office.
"Vot ver you t'inking?"
The X5 3.0i is propelled by BMW's silky-smooth
inline six-cylinder engine, which is also found
in several of Bimmer's 3 and 5 Series models.
Frankly, it was this fact that made us skeptical.
We wondered if the same engine, which is spirited
in the smaller sedans, could propel the X5 with
equal Úlan. After all, the 330i Sedan weighs
in at 3,366 pounds while the X5 3.0i tips the
scales at a porcine 4,519 lbs.
Our skepticism was replaced by wonder. The X5
3.0i is as much an "Ultimate Driving Machine"
as any other BMW. In terms of pure fun, it even
rivals its big brother, the 282-horsepower, V8-powered
X5 4.4i. The argument for the 3.0i becomes even
more compelling when you consider that its price
of entry is $10,000 cheaper than the base 4.4i
and it is also much less a gas pig.
The 225-horsepower 3.0i provides good take off
at stoplights and will even continue to accelerate
while ascending a steep grade. This certainly
eclipses the performance of the six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz
ML320 and even makes the 240-horsepower V6 Infiniti
QX4 seem a little sluggish in comparison.
The optional five-speed automatic transmission
with "Sport" and "Steptronic" modes provides a
number of tranny options, all of which add greatly
to driving enjoyment. Left in normal automatic
mode, upshifts and downshifts occurred exactly
when we wanted them. Then, when we got tired of
the pretender in the Pathfinder who wouldn't let
us merge on to the freeway, we simply tapped the
shifter to the left and an "S" appeared on the
dash to let us know we were in "Sport" mode. In
this mode, shifts are more aggressive and the
X5 accelerates with noticeably more attitude.
Buh-bye. From this position we could also choose
to make all our own shifting decisions by tapping
the shifter up for upshifts and down for downshifts,
all sans clutch.
The 3.0i also possesses all of the excellent handling
characteristics about which we raved during our
2000 road test of the 4.4i. The 4-wheel independent
suspension with gas-pressurized shocks on all
four corners not only keeps all four wheels on
the road even when it's bumpy but also does an
excellent job of transmitting road feel directly
to the driver through the sturdy steering wheel
and comfortable leather-clad seat.
Thanks to the nearly perfect (50.3/49.7) front/rear
weight distribution and solid-feeling rack-and-pinion
steering, the X5 provides rock-solid, immediate
response so that the truck goes exactly where
you point it when you point it there.
And, here's a huge bonus: in recent Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety crash testing
the 2001 X5 3.0i received the highest crash-test
safety ratings of any midsize sport-utility vehicle,
beating even the Mercedes M Class and Lexus RX
300. It was praised for its superior body structure
and safety cage, numerous airbags, standard antilock
brakes and electronic stability control.
All this while ensconced in typical BMW luxury,
too. We were very impressed with the interior
design of the 4.4i and the 3.0i has the identical
interior, complete with real wood trim, leather
upholstery and high-grade dash materials. Comfort
and convenience features are also legion, including:
rain-sensing wipers, heated seats, heated steering
wheel, auto up/down windows, power moonroof, adjustable
center console armrest, sonar parking assist,
self-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, and
a marvelous 12-speaker premium audio system with
Unfortunately, the 3.0i also possesses the same
inconveniences as the 4.4i, such as: door-mounted
window controls that are hidden behind the beefy
door handles; no standard lumbar control (it's
a $400 option); confusing audio controls and a
display that washes out in the sunlight; and similarly
confusing climate control switchgear.
However, after a few days to become accustomed
to these quirks, we think they wouldn't bother
us too much. Besides, the 3.0i is just too good
a vehicle to dismiss over trifles. We think an
effortless supply of power, excellent handling
and superior comfort are the hallmarks of BMW.
The X5 3.0i scores well on all three criteria,
making it a bona fide BMW.
Let's be clear, though this is not a bona
fide sport-utility vehicle. In fact, BMW is
very careful to call the X5 a SAV, or sport activity
vehicle. The low (7.1-inch) ground clearance,
low-profile 17-inch tires and lack of low-range
gearing do not a Jeep Wrangler make. Heck, the
X5 is hardly better than the all-wheel-drive BMW
330xi Sedan when it comes to off-road capability.
And in terms of utility, the X5 fails miserably.
Although it weighs nearly as much as a Chevrolet
Tahoe, its 54 cubic feet of cargo capacity is
13 cu. ft. less than that offered by the
Honda CR-V. Also, the clamshell tailgate design
is unwieldy. Not only does it require you to reach
over the tailgate to get inside the cargo area,
which puts your duds at risk from soiling, but
the liftover height is awkward. At above waist
level for a 6-foot person, the gate is too high
to easily load heavy items. The optional sliding
load floor ($400) means you don't have to get
as close to the tailgate, but it doesn't help
the liftover problem at all. And if you've got
a dog that can't jump like Lassie, he or she will
have a hard time entering and exiting the rear
of the vehicle.
The elevated driving position and all-wheel drive
may make the X5 look like a sport-ute, but be
not mistaken - it only looks like an SUV. However,
this is likely BMW's intention. The astute manufacturer
recognized the sport-ute craze and decided to
cash in. It knew that few luxury SUV owners ever
take their vehicles off-road, so, rather than
building a truck to navigate the wilderness, it
built a pure BMW driving machine that just looks
like a truck.
"Yah, yah. Now you are getting yit."
published on December 21, 2000
Click below for Edmunds.com's Town Hall discussion on this vehicle.
of Vehicle Tested: $47,745 (including
Excellent performance, impressive handling
and ride, luxurious interior, good value, class-leading
Poor off-road capabilities, meager
cargo space, marginal utility.