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2003 BMW X5 Road Test

By John Heilig  
Photos by Charles Ofria

Category: $41,000 to $67,000 Mid Sized SAV (Sport Activity Vehicle)
Who should buy this car: A person looking for a vehicle that looks and performs like an off-road SUV, but handles like an on-road sports car.
Comparable cars in this class: Infiniti FX45, Land Rover Range Rover, Lexus GX470, Mercedes Benz M-Class, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg

W
hen BMW announced that it was getting into the sport utility market, everyone wondered just what that vehicle would be like. The original 4.4-liter V8-powered X5 did not disappoint.  It proved to retain BMW's sporting heritage and character, while providing all the amenities and capabilities of a top-of-the-line SUV.  BMW went so far as to create their own classification for this vehicle, calling it a "Sports Activity Vehicle"

The X5 4.4i now has two brothers, a six-cylinder-powered X5 3.0i, and the "super performance" X5 4.6is, with a 340-horsepower DOHC V8.  The prices range from a low of $40,000 for the X5 3.0i to a lofty $67,000 for the rocket sled X5 4.6is with a 0 to 60 time of 6.2 secs. and a top speed of 150 MPH.

Our tester is the original X5 4.4I, powered by a 4.4-liter DOHC V8 that delivers 290 horsepower and 324 lbs. ft. of torque, which is more than enough for any normal driving condition.  This combination will do the 0 to 60 blast in a respectable 7.5 seconds.   In fact, we often found ourselves chirping the tires, even on dry roads, when we accelerated away from stop signs.

The engine connects to the drive wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox has a manual Sport mode, which allows the driver to shift manually. However, there's enough power to make the manual shifter unnecessary.  I believe that manual-mode automatics are most useful in lower-powered cars, where you have a greater need to shift more often, but hey, but what do I know.

The X5 is a BMW through and through.  There's beautiful burled wood trim on the console, dash and wrapping around the doors and includes a wood trim-covered door over the CD insertion slot. The paneling was in a light color and looked rich and inviting.

One feature I especially liked about the X5 was the abundance of storage areas throughout the cabin. Inside the glove box is a CD with operating instructions on how to use the features of the vehicle. In the driver's door was the standard owner's manual. There were cupholders, storage compartments and two storage areas in the center console armrest.  There were also power outlets all over the place to power cell phones and other 12-volt accessories.

Rear seat legroom is excellent, which is nice when you have oversized passengers to carry.  There's a power outlet in the rear as well as an arm rest that serves as a push-through if you want to carry skis or other long objects without having to fold the seat down. The rear seat does fold flat to create a large cargo area.

On one trip, I used the X5 to pick up pizza. Normally, this isn't a newsworthy event, but there are two elastic straps on the floor of the cargo area that are excellent for holding a pizza box in place. I'm sure they are there for other more serious reasons, but holding a pizza box can be serious, too.

As with all BMWs, the X5 has a dual kidney-shaped grille and looks extremely aerodynamic. I liked the headlight washers that popping out of the front bumpers to send a high pressure spray in order to clean the optional Xenon lights.

Cargo capacity is measured at 23.8 cubic feet to 54.4 cubic feet, depending on how you shift the seats. Our tester had a shade over the rear storage compartment that sometimes made it difficult to put objects in there, but we coped. An optional retractable load floor, that allows the carpeted floor panel to roll out on ball-bearing rails to facilitate loading objects is a nice feature.

The rear hatch is a two-piece affair. The window glass lifts separately from the lower section, which drops down. This arrangement makes it possible to have a choice in how you load the back. Of course, with the shade pulled all the way back you can't load with just the window open.

Driving the X5 is a pleasure, as is driving most BMWs. The ride is extremely comfortable. My wife liked it because of the relatively high riding position. She doesn't like cars that ride close to the highway.  If there's a choice of vehicles, we often have a "discussion" as to which car we take.  She also likes SUVs because I tend to drive them less vigorously than sportier vehicles, whether they have sport shift or not.

The winter has finally left us so I didn't have an opportunity to test the four-wheel drive capabilities of the X5 in the white stuff, and I didn't go looking for trouble, as I might have in warmer weather.  My associate, Charles Ofria, did have an opportunity to drive an X5 off-road and he reports that this Bimmer was quite capable in the rough.  He was particularly impressed by the new Hill Decent Control that allowed the driver to negotiate down a steep hill with his foot completely off the brake and gas.  The computer kept the X5 to a speed of below 5 mph and made sure, by applying individual wheel brakes, that it followed the path he was steering toward, automatically correcting for sideways slips and slides along the way.

The BMW X5 is a true Bimmer in that it delivers comfort, luxury, performance and, most importantly, is fun to drive. Only this time, BMW did it in a sport utility (or sport activity) vehicle.

2003 The Auto Page Syndicate
 

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Specifications 

Engine Type 4.4 Liter DOHC 32-valve V8 engine with VANOS steplessly variable intake-valve timing, aluminum block & cylinder heads
Horsepower 290 @ 5,400 RPM
Torque 324 @ 3,600 RPM
Fuel Recommended Premium Unleaded.
Transmission 5-speed STEPTRONIC automatic with Adaptive Transmission Control & Selectable Sport mode
Tires  P255/55HR18 All-Season
Overall Length 183.7"
Wheelbase 111.0
Width 73.7"
Turning Diameter 39.7 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 6,005
Fuel Tank 24.3 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 13, hwy 17
Acceleration 0 to 60 7.5 Seconds
Base Sticker Price $49,950 + $695 destination charge

Standard Equipment
BMW X5 Mid Sized AWD Sport Utility Vehicle

  • 5-speed shiftable automatic Transmission
  • descent control
  • all wheel drive with mechanical center differential
  • self leveling suspension
  • speed sensitive wipers
  • roof rack
  • 4-wheel ABS
  • emergency braking assist
  • traction control
  • stability control
  • front side-mounted airbags
  • front and rear head airbags
  • leather upholstery
  • 8-way power driver and 6-way power front passenger seat
  • 4 one-touch power windows
  • dual zone front climate control with rear air and active charcoal air filter
  • AM/FM in-dash single CD player stereo with 10 speakers

Major Available Options

  • On-board GPS Navigation System
  • Power glass moonroof with tilt/slide
  • Auto-dimming exterior mirrors
  • Power rear seatbacks
  • Rain sensing windshield wipers
  • Comfort Seats
  • Premium Audio System w/ DSP
  • Park Distance Control
  • Adjustable Ride Height Suspension
  • Sliding Load Floor
  • Rear Seat Heating
  • Heated Steering Wheel

For more information on the X5, visit bmwusa.com

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