Edging over the line into real utility
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, too
We 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 better
Ever 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 game
You 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 pavement
The 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.
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.