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Road Test

Spin Around Town:
2001 BMW X5

All the Sport, None of the Utility

By Neil Dunlop
Photos courtesy of BMW

We 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 CD.

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."


--First published on December 21, 2000

Click below for Edmunds.com's Town Hall discussion on this vehicle.
*BMW X5 - III (126 posts, last on 02/06/2001, in SUVs)
*BMW X5 Problems (194 posts, last on 02/05/2001, in SUVs)
*BMW X5 3.0i vs Acura MDX (111 posts, last on 02/05/2001, in SUVs)
*BMW X5 deals (2 posts, last on 01/27/2001, in SUVs)
Or click to search for additional topics.


2001 BMW X5
(Enlarge photo)

At a Glance

Vehicle Tested:
2001 BMW X5
(vehicle detail)

Price of Vehicle Tested: $47,745 (including destination charge)

ProsPros: Excellent performance, impressive handling and ride, luxurious interior, good value, class-leading crash worthiness.

ConsCons: Poor off-road capabilities, meager cargo space, marginal utility.


Photos

2001 BMW X5 Action
(Enlarge photo)
On a road like this the X5 3.0i offers driving enjoyment that is the hallmark of all BMWs.

2001 BMW X5 #2
(Enlarge photo)
This is about the roughest off-road test we'd suggest for your X5. A sport wagon it is, an SUV it's not.

2001 BMW X5 Cargo
(Enlarge photo)
This photo may make the cargo area look big, but it's not. And, what's more, liftover is too high and the clamshell liftgate design is unwieldy.


2001 BMW X5 Front
(Enlarge photo)
It looks like an SUV, but the X5 3.0i is really nothing more than a butch BMW wagon with all-wheel drive and an elevated seating position.

2001 BMW X5 Interior
(Enlarge photo)
The X5 3.0i has the same luxurious interior as the 4.4i. Replete with real wood trim, high-grade plastic and numerous convenience items (the navigation system in this picture was not on the test vehicle) it's pure BMW.

 

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