BMW brought out its X5 sport-utility vehicle in 2000 for the same reason Porsche more recently introduced its Cayenne sport-ute -- it tired of seeing people buy its cars and then get an expensive sport-utility from a rival automaker.
The BMW X5 is the sportiest sport-utility vehicle next to the rival Cayenne, which looks bland compared with the X5. Styling of most new BMW autos is considered controversial because of such things as their rather bulky looking rear ends, but the only sport-ute that can match the X5's styling is the rakish Infiniti FX.
The top-line Cayenne with its 450-horsepower turbocharged V-8 is the only sport-ute faster than the 4.8is version of the X5, which has a non-turbo 355-horsepower V-8.
Where's the hot rod Mercedes M-Class sport-ute, considering fierce competition among German automakers to build the fastest vehicles? That Mercedes has been put on hold until the 2006 model year -- the most powerful 2005 M-Class thus is the 288 horsepower ML500 model, which has a 5-liter V-8.
The turbocharged Cayenne costs $88,900, while the top X5 is considerably cheaper at "only'' $70,100. Moreover, the turbo Cayenne isn't all that much faster than the X5 4.8is.
The only other serious rivals to the X5 4.8is are the 315-horsepower Infiniti FX45 V-8, which costs about $44,000, and the 320-horsepower V-8 version of the Cadillac SRX, which is priced at $50,135.
While plenty fast, the SRX can't match the acceleration of the X5 4.8is or turbocharged Cayenne, although it's generally more comfortable than those two German offerings.
Most X5 buyers get the standard 3-liter, 225-horsepower inline six-cylinder in the entry 3.0i version or the mid-range 4.4i with its 4.4-liter, 315-horsepower V-8.
The smooth inline six-cylinder provides moderately good acceleration. It provides the best performance with its standard six-speed manual gearbox.
A $1,275 five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature also is available.
The X5 V-8s have so much power and torque that a manual gearbox would be superfluous for them. Also, X5 V-8s are priced as luxury vehicles, which generally are regarded as "automatic-transmission-only'' vehicles. They thus come only with a six-speed automatic.
The 3.0i is $41,700 with the manual gearbox, while the 4.4i costs $52,800. You therefore save a lot of money if getting the X5 six-cylinder.
However, no X5 engine is economical: The six-cylinder delivers an estimated 15-16 mpg (depending on the transmission) in the city and 21 on the highway. The 315-horsepower V8 provides 16 and 22, and the 355-horsepower V-8 delivers 16 and 21 -- or the same numbers as the six-cylinder with the five-speed automatic despite the horsepower difference. Credit the V-8's extra gear for helping out a bit here.
There isn't much new for the 2005 X5, except some optional features becoming standard.
All X5 versions have an all-wheel drive system not meant for rugged off-road use, anti-lock brakes with a brake assist feature -- and traction control and anti-skid systems. They're well equipped with comfort and convenience features, and safety items include front side air bags and front/rear head-protecting curtain side air bags.
The 3.0i has newly standard automatic climate control, and the 4.4i adds a newly standard front/rear obstacle detection system. It also adds leather upholstery, rear climate control and 18-inch wheels, versus the 3.0i's 17-inchers.
The mighty 4.8is adds heated front/rear seats, power sunroof and such items as side sunshades and a sport suspension with an adjustable ride height feature. Also standard are huge 20-inch wheels, although the full-size spare tire is deleted.
I expected the stiffer suspension, larger wheels and wider tires of my test 4.8is to hurt its ride quality, but the ride remained supple on rough roads.
BMW still gives all its vehicles power steering that is arguably the best among mass-produced vehicles, so the X5 steered with typical BMW quickness and accuracy.
The X5 has excellent balance and road grip. There's some body lean when suddenly changing direction in an X5, but that's to be expected with any tall, heavy, midsize sport-utility. The 4.8is stops quickly, but the brake pedal is touchy.
Four tall adults easily fit. Occupants sit high, but getting in and out calls for extra effort and rear doorways should be larger. Front seats are very supportive, and instruments are easy to read. However, audio and climate controls are small and invite trouble because they call for a driver to take eyes off the road in a very fast vehicle.
Nice touches include automatic-up power windows and rear windows that go all the way down. Also, the big outside mirrors fold flat against the front door glass to prevent damage to them in tight spots (you don't want to even think about their repair costs).
The conveniently located front cupholders have a sliding cover and all doors have handy storage pockets, although the covered front console bin is small. There's no groping for the outside hood release lever because a handy small release lever pops out of the top of the grille area when the inside hood release is activated.
The tailgate has a handy separate-opening glass area, although the wide cargo opening is rather high.
There's no third-row seat, but the cargo area is pretty large and flipping the rear seatbacks forward provides considerably more cargo space. 2005 BMW X5
Fast with a V-8. Occupant room. Superb handling.
Slow for the money with six-cylinder. Low fuel economy. Touchy brake pedal. High cargo opening.