2007 BMW X5 First Drive

The 2007 BMW X5 SUV is bigger, more powerful, more luxurious, and has a bit more utility. Just don't call it a sport-utility vehicle.

BMW of North America head honcho Tom Purves doesn't like when you call the 2007 BMW X5 a sport-utility vehicle.We're not sure that we even finished pronouncing the "U" in SUV before Purves piped in, "S-A-V!" All right sure, it's a "Sport Activity Vehicle."We didn't mean anything by it. It's just that, like its predecessor, the new X5 is one of those vehicles that's kind of tall, has four side doors, all-wheel drive and other, you know, SUV-like characteristics. We call the "four-door coupe" Mercedes CLS a sedan, too. We're just like that.However fine a hair BMW might be splitting with its alternative acronym, the original X5's combination of sporty handling and limited utility made it distinctly different from any other SUV of the time. Thanks largely to the X5's success, that's certainly less true today. The list of vehicles that BMW might describe as SAVs is getting long and includes the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Cadillac SRX, Infiniti FX, Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport.The shape of thingsThe handsome new X5 is an evolution of that original, um, SAV concept. Its look is familiar. The little ducktail detail on the tailgate remains, as do the tailpipes that exit from the rear bumper cover.But now sharp creases break the flow of the X5's curved panels in a curiously pleasant way. This surface drama also gives the X5 more than a passing resemblance to a tomatillo with its husk still intact. The new X5 has grown slightly taller and wider, but it's really only the stretched overall length that changes the look of the thing. It is 7.4 inches longer than the outgoing model, with 4.5 inches of that increase given to the wheelbase. The result is a more planted, station-wagonlike appearance compared to the tall-and-tippy look of the original X5.This subtly more stable look accurately telegraphs the evolutionary changes of the X5's driving behavior. Ride, handling, whip and whoaIf the original X5 had a major fault, it was its sometimes flinty ride. But the '07 model barrels down the highway with the stability and serenity of a large luxury sedan. This is particularly impressive given that the standard wheels on all X5s (3.0 and 4.8 alike) are 18-inchers, wearing run-flat tires.And it hasn't traded any of its signature handling prowess for this improved comfort. In fact, the X5 handles brilliantly. The narrow, rain-soaked roads we drove should have made driving this 5335-pound SUV feel like riding a pig wearing roller blades. Yet, even without the optional sport package (electronically adjustable dampers, trick antiroll bars, 19-inch wheels), we could place the X5 with surprising accuracy. The front end bites with unexpected tenacity and will hold its line without correction. It's easy to flow smoothly through transitions without the disconcerting weight transfers normally associated with SUVs. How much of this can be attributed to the new double-wishbone front suspension (the first non-strut front on a BMW since 1961), we cannot say.Although a new 260-horsepower 3.0-liter inline-6 is the new X5's base motor, BMW had only V8s available for testing. The new 4.8-liter makes an impressive 350 hp and 350 pound-feet of torque (an increase of 35 hp and 26 lb-ft compared to the outgoing 4.4-liter). Paired with the new quick-shifting six-speed automatic, the X5 4.8 should be able to reach 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. That's almost a half-second quicker than the old V8 model despite a weight increase of 408 pounds.As we've come to expect from the X5, and from BMW in general, braking performance is excellent. To compensate for its increased heft, the company has enlarged the new model's brake discs, by about half an inch up front and almost a full inch in the rear.More utility abilityAnd hey, the cargo hold of the X5 is now larger than that of the 5 Series wagon, something that could not be said of the original. So there is a little "U" in this SAV. Into this slightly larger rear, the company will install what it calls a "third row of seats." They — two mini-seats separated by cupholders — could be straight outta Gitmo. Even BMW doesn't recommend that anyone taller than 5 feet, 5 inches sit back there. In truth, no human should be forced to. And without LATCH attachments they aren't ideal for safety-seat-bound toddlers either. They are useless, but at $1,200, they are not cheap. Unless you regularly carry 1:18-scale adult passengers or have children badly in need of punishment, forget them.The interior is a new design and is handsome and comfortable, with a particularly nice driving position — halfway between a Land Rover LR3 and a BMW sedan. The materials are of excellent quality and the craftsmanship is top-notch. Rear-seat legroom is excellent.Ay-yi-iDriveThe only sour notes in the interior are on the center console, where both an iDrive knob and a heavily designed electronic shifter have found a home. Despite half a decade on the market, iDrive is no more intuitive than it was at introduction. In our test vehicle, which had neither a navigation system nor a rearview camera (both are part of an option package that adds $2,600 to the V8's $55,195 base price), the iDrive was simply an unnecessarily complicated way to change the radio station.The shifter, which is roughly the shape of a New York strip steak, operates something like the little spring-loaded stalk shifter of the 7 Series. You toggle forward for Reverse, backward for Drive and push a button on top for Park. BMW says that the shifter's oddness allows for more center console space, compared to a conventional automatic shifter. The company says this made room for two sizable cupholders. Indeed there are two cupholders. They are not, however, as large as those in many vehicles with conventional shifters. And they are not, as the company claims, Big Gulp-ready.But as Tom Purves would surely point out, utility was never really the point of the X5. It still isn't. The goal was to build a premium SUV-like thing that handles like a BMW. With more luxury, surer handling and just a pinch of additional utility, the new X5 remains atop that niche — whatever you call it. Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

2007 BMW X5 4.8i Road Test

The 2007 X5 is longer and taller, bigger and stronger — and a much better SUV.

We're very lucky that the Germans are almost clueless about the sport-utility vehicle, otherwise we'd never have something as great to drive as the 2007 BMW X5 4.8i.When the BMW X5 first came along in 2000, the Germans just took a BMW 5 Series and then creased, folded and stretched it until it looked like a sport-utility. They were so worried about making something that drove like a car instead of a truck that they were afraid to even call it a sport-utility. Naturally the X5 was such a big success that it helped double BMW's worldwide sales.For the new-generation 2007 BMW X5 4.8i, the Germans have just gone straight ahead with their whole bodged-together formula for a midsize truck/tall wagon/extended-roof line thingie, and the result is more of everything — more space, more seats and more engine. Since "more" is the kind of thing Americans love, we're predicting more big success.In the process, the new BMW X5 is also more like a sport-utility vehicle — and we mean that it in its nicest, most utilitarian sense. Speed is useful, tooWe really weren't that interested in carrying anything around with the new 2007 BMW X5 4.8i. Instead we hammered it around the track at BMW's Performance Center in Greenville, South Carolina, practically on the doorstep of the factory where the BMW X5 is made. We weaved through the slalom, slithered around a wet skid pad, and tried to lock up the tires in the brake test. In just 30 minutes, we knew everything that really mattered to us.The new BMW X5 feels faster, sportier and more comfortable. In a word, better.We drove it over the narrow roads in the hills of South Carolina, the kind of twisty terrain that's better suited to a BMW sports car or motorcycle than a 5,000-pound sport-utility, and the new-generation X5's abundant power, crisp handling, secure cornering grip and unwavering brakes easily prevailed.It's just so simple, really. Now that the second-generation X5 has been creased, folded and stretched into something even taller and longer, even bigger and stronger, the BMW engineers have worked harder on its dynamic qualities, which is what they understand best.And our testing proves to us that while the 2007 BMW X5 4.8i might have more utility, it's still the sportiest of sport-utes.Bigger is betterEver try to stuff 10 pounds of something into a 5-pound bag? An active lifestyle means nothing if you can't haul around all your stuff, and the first-gen X5 couldn't quite manage those proverbial extra 10 pounds, even if its 4.4-liter V8 did have plenty of power.This is really what the 2007 BMW X5 is all about. Compared to the outgoing X5, the fully redesigned 2007 X5 is 7.4 inches longer, 2.0 inches taller and 2.3 inches wider. That's enough space to squeeze in three rows of seats for seven people. Unfortunately it also involves an extra 400 pounds.While our particular test vehicle didn't have a third-row seat, we've turned ourselves into a human pretzel to try out the rear-most passenger space in another seven-passenger X5. We'll endorse BMW's recommendation that it should be restricted to those shorter than 5 feet 7. The third-row seat in the new X5 might pinch you a little, but even riding in the worst seat in the X5 is far from arduous, and only kids ever climb back there anyway.When it comes right down to it, the extra space makes the 2007 BMW X5 4.8i more practical than a Porsche Cayenne, which is the BMW's primary rival in terms of size as well as personality.Still a power gameYou have to love any kind of vehicle where you get to sit behind BMW's largest, most powerful V8. Two years ago, we were going on and on about this 4.8-liter engine in the first-generation X5, and now BMW has been kind enough to make it standard equipment in the second-gen X5.We have to admit that we could coax only a 7.0-second dash to 60 mph from the 350-horsepower, 4.8-liter V8, noticeably slower than the 6.4 seconds that BMW claims. Even so, this 7.0-second run matches that of the 390-hp Range Rover Sport and it's more than a second quicker than the 350-hp Audi Q7 can manage.The 4.8-liter V8 also revs higher than before, and this helps the 5,052-pound X5 run the quarter-mile in 15.4 seconds at 91.3 mph, equaling the heavier Range Rover Sport and smoking both the Audi Q7 and the 300-hp Acura MDX.More impressive than the raw numbers, though, is the 4.8-liter V8's smooth and linear rush of power — the very definition of effortless acceleration.There's a new six-speed automatic transmission working with the V8, and BMW tells us the new gearbox has been engineered to provide even faster and smoother transitions from gear to gear. We didn't like the comparatively sluggish throttle response in the transmission's Comfort mode, while the Sport mode proved so slick and quick that we rarely bothered to manually slap the shift lever.To set fast time of the day during our testing, we put the transmission in Manual mode, stomped on the go pedal, and waited for the automatic upshifts at redline. But to get the most enjoyment from the powertrain in daily traffic, we think you should just use Sport mode. With 350 pound-feet of torque, the 4.8-liter V8 is up to the challenge.All four wheels of the X5 are driven with BMW's revamped xDrive, which normally sends 60 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels. xDrive adjusts torque delivery to help stabilize the chassis when its electronic sensors read that the tires at one end of the vehicle or the other might be losing traction.Listen to the 'Ring One of us who spent time in the 2007 BMW X5 ventured that it felt kind of Lexus-ified, as if the new package had shifted away from high-performance handling to ride comfort and passenger pampering. He's wrong.BMW compared the 2007 BMW X5 against a first-generation model at the Nürburgring's famously challenging Nordschleife circuit. The winner? The new X5, by a margin of 10 seconds. Take that, Lexus boy. Adaptive Drive is a part of the X5's optional sport package, which includes Active Roll Stabilization and Electronic Damping Control. Once we engaged the Sport button to firm up the suspension, we pushed the X5 as hard as we could and yet couldn't coax any noticeable body roll out of it. And even the test bullies on our staff couldn't make the X5 act like a clumsy sport-utility.But the new X5 isn't above ride comfort and passenger pampering. In Comfort mode, the suspension displays a pleasing compromise between ride quality and handling control, while BMW's standard stability control system works unobtrusively, rather like white noise that's never meant to be noticed but masks all sorts of unpleasantness. Our test vehicle had also been equipped with Active Steering. It feels weirdly over-assisted at first, but we soon found it very useful around town.Active Steering certainly didn't hurt the performance of the 2007 BMW X5, as it ran through the cones at 62.9 mph, faster than the MDX, Q7 and Range Rover. The X5's brakes also excelled, stopping the 5,052-pound BMW from 60 mph in just 117 feet with no sign of fade even after repeated tests.Your best pal...on pavementThe X5 never was — and still is not — a hard-core off-road machine. It doesn't have low-range gearing or high ground clearance, and it's meant only for all-weather travel on pavement. Yet whenever the 2007 BMW X5 can get a grip with its standard run-flat tires, it is supremely stable and secure.Though it's taller and longer, bigger and stronger, the X5's stiffer body and upgraded suspension do their work in proper BMW style, muting the pavement's ripples and bumps but still providing the supple ride that's part of a premium SUV's appeal.Just as before, the BMW X5 is a sport sedan in a different suit of clothes, but now it has some real utility. The new X5 doesn't feel any bigger than the old X5; it just feels better.

Second Opinion

Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh says:Perspective can be problematic. I've never driven the previous-generation X5 so the only basis for comparison I have for the 2007 X5 4.8i is BMW sedans or sedan-based wagons.Active Steering is available on many of those BMWs, and the X5 is the most sensible application for it. Maneuvering the large SUV around shopping carts is a cinch as the ratio quickens sharply at low speeds. Active Steering's artificial feel is a bummer, and I won't hold this BMW to a lower standard in this category just because it's an SUV.Contrasting with the hyperActive Steering is the X5's forgetful transmission. Unlike the outstanding auto in the 335i, the X5's shift schedule could be caught out, and even bounced off the rev limiter in full auto mode. This only happened at full stomp, where the V8 moved this heavy (let's be honest here) wagon respectably. What really works is the interior. Top-shelf materials and plenty of creature comforts make the X5 a delight to slip on. With a rear luggage area is plenty of versatile and decent clearance. The X5 works best as a ski tripper. Particularly with its heated steering wheel, which should be standard equipment in every car sold in sub-freezing areas. Overall, it's a fine vehicle but does little that a 5 Series wagon couldn't do. And the 5er's less bulky size means you can get away with plain ol' excellent non-Active Steering.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.