2006 BMW X5 Review

2006 BMW X5 - SUV BMW sytle.

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Background: It wasn't that long ago upscale automakers concentrated solely on luxury coupes and sedans while leaving the bigger, bulkier hardware to mainstream counterparts.

That philosophy began to change towards the end of the Twentieth Century when the luxury crowd's marketing research teams found it's hip to travel via a truck, or at least a luxury vehicle with some off-road attributes.

Suddenly nameplates including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Cadillac, Lincoln and even Porsche were churning out sport utility vehicles, and charging sport utility like premiums for the privilege of owning one. Volkswagen's luxury Audi division is the latest to jump on the wagon as its all-new Q7 sport utility starts arriving. Sales data during the past seven years or so confirm these SUVs have kept brand-loyal customers in the fold and in some cases, these SUVs have become some of the best-selling vehicles in the product lineup.

Six years ago, Germany's BMW introduced the midsize X5 sport utility, or as BMW refers to it, the sport ACTIVITY vehicle. It proved so popular, a smaller X3 sport activity vehicle was introduced in the 2004 model year. Also in the 2004 model year, the X5 received a major second-generation redesign including a new six-speed transmission and more powerful V-8 engines. Both the X3 and X5 introduced BMW's all-wheel-drive xDrive system in 2004 requiring no driver input. Driving torque is available to all four wheels and is controlled by a multi-disc clutch.

In every-day conditions, the clutch operates with minimum slip resulting in a torque split and 40 percent front and 60 percent rear. Certain circumstances allow xDrive to operate in true rear-wheel-drive fashion including handling tight curves.

Changes for the 2006 model year are minimal and include a couple new exterior color schemes and an upgraded multi-information display standard in all trim levels. The X5 is built at the company's only U.S. assembly plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Trim levels/engine: The X5 features three trim levels each sporting its own unique powertrain. The sole six-cylinder in the mix is the X5 3.0 i with a 3.0-liter, double overhead cam, 24-valve inline six cylinder engine delivers 225 horsepower. The two eight-cylinder engines include the X5 4.4 i with a 4.4-liter double overhead cam 32-valve V-8 powertrain generating 315 horsepower. The largest engine is the x5 4.8is with a 4.8-liter double overhead cam 32-valve engine with 355 horsepower.

The six-cylinder edition is the only model offering a standard six-speed manual transmission. Both V-8 editions feature six-speed automatic transmission with a 'steptronic' feature allowing manual selection of forward gears without a foot clutch when so desired. The six-cylinder edition offers an optional a five-speed automatic/steptronic transmission.

The rather large 24.3-gallon fuel tank helps offset some average-at-best fuel numbers. Six-cylinder editions average 15 m.p.g. city and 21 m.p.g. highway. Eight cylinder engines generate approximately 16 m.p.g. city and 22 m.p.g. highway. Premium unleaded fuel is recommended.

Price: The BMW X5 includes quite a price fluctuation range depending on the trim level selected. The six-cylinder X5 3.0 i starts at $43,195 while the top-line X5 4.8is checks in at $71,795. The mid-grade eight-cylinder X5 4.4 i starts at $54,295.

BMW's key German rival, Mercedes-Benz, markets the all-wheel-drive M-Class mid-size SUV which receives a much-needed redesign in 2006. The M-Class is six inches longer and two inches wider than the model it replaces. Two M-Class trim levels are still available: a V-6 ML 350 with 268 horsepower and a $39,750 starting price and a ML 500 V-8 offering with 302 horses and a $48,600 price tag. An all-wheel-drive Acura MDX starts at $37,125 but features only a six-cylinder engine.

Equipment: The higher one travels up the X5 trim-level latter, the more standard features. As with many premium brands, basics like air conditioning and rear-window defroster come standard. Items optional across the board include: on-board navigation system ($1,800), retractable load cargo floor ($380), rear side impact air bags ($385) and heated steering wheel ($150).

Both the 3.0 i and 4.4 i include option packages standard in the top-trim 4.8is including a cold weather package (heated front seats, headlamp washers), premium package(moon roof, adjustable rear seat back), rear climate package(privacy glass, rear door sun blinds) and sport package (sport suspension, black chrome exhaust, sport seats).

Inside: The BMW X5 remains a five passenger vehicle. No third row seating is currently offered. Some other mid-size or smaller SUVs including the new 2007 Toyota RAV4, 2006 Acura MDX, 2006 Cadillac SRX and 2006 Volvo XC90 offer three-row seating. The 2006 Mercedes-Benz M-Class no longer offers a third-row seating option as it did in 2005 due in part to the arrival of the new, nicely appointed seven-passenger R-Class crossover.

Second-row seat X5 backs easily fold flat onto the seat cushions once levers atop the 60/40 split seatbacks are pulled and released. Leather upholstery comes standard in V-8 editions and is optional in the six-cylinder variant.

The flat, black background instrument panel has two large circular center analog gauges flanked by two smaller ones. A rectangular digital information window below displays outside temperature, radio station frequency, secondary gearshift readouts and odometer and trip odometer readouts. The steering wheel is extra thick, resulting in a firmer feel.

The hand-operated parking brake is found between the front bucket seats along with a dual, inline beverage holder and deep, squarish flip-top storage bin. Also in the region are the hazard and power lock buttons. Power outside mirror and all four window controls are found on the driver's door.

Front and rear wipers activate from a right-hand steering column stalk. Cruise control functions are found on the steering wheel face as are secondary stereo controls. Our test model's stereo system was integrated with the square navigation system with station pre-set buttons to the left of the screen. Radio frequencies were displayed in the screen and in the instrument panel. The rectangular ventilation system with push-button controls is below in the center dashboard area. Blind spots are minimal as drivers have good sight lines in most directions.

Exterior: At a quick glance, it's sometimes hard to distinguish X5's SUV-shape from many other lookalikes on the road save for BMW badging. The conservative style seems to lack the flair of let's say an Infiniti FX 45.

Four doors and a lift back come standard. The rear is designed as a two-sectioned electronic hatch. The top window portion lifts up from the middle for quick trips into the cargo area. If heavier loading is desired, the bottom tailgate portion folds down.

Four strap-like body colored handles adorn all four side doors. The front incorporates BMW's twin-port grille with circular blue and white atop and in between. Narrow band-like headlights flank the middle. Each trim level has a different sized standard all-season tire.

Warranty: All BMW vehicles, including X5, include a four-year/50,000 mile (which ever comes first) powertrain and basic warranty. A full-maintenance program is covered for the same duration; a nice touch. The corrosion coverage is better-than-average, checking in at 12-years and unlimited mileage.

Safety: Included in the price of admission are dual-stage frontal air bags, head protection system for front and rear seat occupants, side impact air bags for front-seat occupants, alarm system with interior motion detector, daytime running lights, energy-absorbing bumpers and remote keyless entry. Side impact air bags for second-row occupants are optional ($385) in all three trims.

Also standard across all three trims is BMW's Dynamic Stability Control combining electronic brake proportioning, anti-lock brakes, and hill descent control for extra sure-footed traction.

Park distance control is standard in V-8 models while a $700 option in the six cylinder model. This system emits 'beeping' impulses when in reverse or traveling forward at slow speeds while approaching large objects or walls. No rear-mounted camera yet.

Standard in the 4.8is and optional in the other two trims is 'BMW assist,' an in-vehicle GPS-linked communication system keeping occupants in audio contact with a manned BMW response center with the push of a button. A years subscription is included; after the initial 12-months, the annual fee is $240.

Dimensions:

Wheelbase: 111 inches

Overall length: 183.7 inches

Overall height: 67.5 inches

Overall width: 73.7 inches

Curb weight: 4,652 pounds

Towing capacity: 6,027 pounds

Final thoughts: As with the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and other mid-size SUV rivals, the X5 is built on a unit-body chassis, popular in cars rather than the latter-on-frame design used in most pickup trucks. This improves riding comfort. Weight distribution in the X5 is an optimum 50/50 enhancing handling.

I really enjoy the way this vehicle rides and it carries its weight well, handling like a much lighter vehicle. Braking action was sure and precise, not squishy.

For those who tow snowmobiles or other items, the X5's generous 6,000-pound towing capacity may come in handy (although I've yet to see an X5 on the road carting anything but passengers). The goodly array of safety nuances, including the BMW Assist, is a key selling point to the luxury crowd. Be aware of option packages and single-ordered extras that add up quickly especially in the 3.0 i and 4.4i trims.

BMW loyalists will find this vehicle attractive; but with more luxury-appointed SUVs on the market than ever before, conquest sales from other manufacturers is a tough go.


Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.