2008 BMW X5 4.8i: Steering the Steer
February 25, 2009
Somehow we've managed to go through almost a year in a BMW without really ever talking much about the steering system. Compared to almost any steering system in anything with a remote resemblance to a sport-utility vehicle, the X5's is fantastic.
If that seems like damning with faint praise, it wasn't meant to. But neither is the X5's system entirely faultless. It's nearly perfect on the expressway when a little heft and a relatively slow ratio off-center result in a steady, composed demeanor -- exactly what you want for high-speed runs.
Around town, though, that weight seems unnecessary and unwelcome. Now, we're not talking heavy like the old days of non-assisted steering here. But it will come as a surprise to the uninitiated. And, as on most crossover/SUV things the ratio isn't particularly quick, even though the standard X5 system uses a variable-ratio rack that quickens the response the farther from center you guide it. But the weight combined with the relatively slow ratio and the X5's bulk can still mean a whole lot of work in parking situation.
If there's one vehicle in BMW's lineup that could genuinely benefit from the company's Active Steering system, it's the X5. At speeds up to 55 mph Active Handling uses a quick ratio that results in only two turns lock-to-lock -- giving the driver more turning response for a given input. At higher speeds the system uses a slower ratio to maintain stability. We don't really care for the system on the nimble 3-series.
But if you're in the market for an X5 we would say you should test drive one with Active Handling and one without. It is a stand-alone option which cost $1,400 for the 2008 model like ours. It's since gone up to $1,550.
--Daniel Pund, Senior Editor, Detroit