When BMW first showed the X5 at the very end of the last decade, many enthusiasts thought the sky was falling. How could this sacred manufacturer of fine sporting cars even think about building big, heavy, and cumbersome SUVs? In 2001, this magazine spent a year with the first-generation X5 to see whether those doubters’ worries had any merit. It turned out that most of us loved the X5’s ride and handling and were impressed by its winter traction and towing ability. Still, we felt the SUV needed more cargo space, and we whined a little about its $54,500 price, deeming it too expensive considering it didn’t include optional features such as heated seats and a navigation system. Overall, we enjoyed our year with that first X5, concluding that BMW had managed to combine its traditional virtues-an athletic chassis, good steering, and high-performance powertrains-with some, but not all, of the utility we expected in an SUV. Apparently, others agreed. Some 580,000 worldwide sales later, BMW released the second-generation X5.
This time, we didn’t skimp on the options, outfitting our top-spec 4.8i with about $12,000 in extras. Its staggering as-tested price was $67,225, but there’d be no complaints about lack of equipment in this X5. We opted for the V-8 model rather than the base in-line six because the X5’s exterior dimensions have grown, bringing along a weight increase of more than 400 pounds. The wheelbase jumps by a significant 4.5 inches, and length is up by 7.4 inches. Consequently, we got what we asked for; cargo space is now up by fifteen percent. The growth also allowed BMW to fit a third-row seat-a first for any of the company’s vehicles.
Even with the extra space and weight, the X5 still drove like a BMW-albeit a big and heavy one. The 350-hp, V-8-equipped SUV was equally at home dusting cars from a stoplight as it was towing a racing car to the track. West Coast editor Jason Cammisa towed a loaded, 5000-pound trailer plus some 1000 pounds in the X5’s cargo hold and was blown away by the BMW’s stability and power.
Associate editor Sam Smith also was impressed with the X5’s sports-car-like demeanor. “An hour on Kentucky back roads over Christmastime convinced me: Large dimensions, questionable reliability, and porcine curb weight? Who cares? This thing hauls.”
The X5 impressed us even more when the snow fell. Thank BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system. “If all four-wheel-drive systems were like this, I would no longer pine for rear-wheel drive,” penned Cammisa. “It’s a drift machine. The system sends just enough power forward to make sure you don’t spin-but the slide never ends. It is absolutely marvelous.”
And that was before the winter tires were mounted. With the addition of Dunlop Grandtrek WT M3 rubber, the X5 was unstoppable, even if we weren’t driving like hooligans. “I drove down roads covered with sixteen-inch drifts, and the BMW clawed its way through everything,” noted copy editor Rusty Blackwell after a giant New Year’s Eve snow dump. “You think you’re stuck? No, you’re not. Just add more throttle and let xDrive juggle the torque to pull the beast out of the white stuff.”
Unfortunately, all that power and weight resulted in typical SUV fuel economy. Our average for the year was 16 mpg, which is equal to the 2008 EPA combined rating. The six-cylinder X5 3.0si model isn’t rated much higher, at 18 mpg. (If you’re looking for a more efficient X5, BMW will soon launch a twin-turbo-diesel version that should average more than 20 mpg while still offering plenty of power.)
And you need a good amount of grunt in a vehicle with seven seats. In some competitors, such as the , the third row is really only for small children. Others, like the Land Rover LR3, can easily accommodate a pair of adults. Many of us thought the optional third-row seats in the X5 were virtually unusable, but Cammisa loaded up seven adults and claimed that there were no complaints about room. Everyone else who spent any time back there, save small kids, found it less than comfortable. Overall, the BMW is much closer to the Q7 than the LR3 in terms of third-row comfort. Cargo space, on the other hand, is plentiful. Weekend getaways with four or even five people aboard barely taxed the X5. This was a welcome improvement over the previous version.
There were other changes inside, but some of them weren’t crowd-pleasers. While the overall interior design is successful, the quality of the materials failed to impress. Smith commented, “What bothers me is the rattly, tinny interior. Feel the center console, the base of the shift knob, and the glove box, and you’ll see what I mean-never mind the creaks and groans coming from the back.”
We had few reliability troubles with the last-generation X5, but that definitely wasn’t the case with this vehicle. To start, delivery was delayed because of a malfunctioning backup camera. And although the camera was operable when the X5 arrived, it never worked well. “It’s a cruel joke,” noted executive editor Joe DeMatio. “You’ve reversed all the way down a 50-foot driveway before the rearview camera decides to engage. That’s not very helpful.”
Other problems ensued. At 11,967 miles, an engine ground strap was replaced during the first of two free maintenance visits. About 2000 miles later, a much bigger issue arose when we noticed some subtle clunks coming from the front end. (The second-generation X5 is the first roadgoing BMW since the mid-engine M1 that doesn’t have the tried-and-true strut-type front suspension, instead being equipped with a control-arm setup.) The X5 was off the road for three weeks while the dealer replaced the front active antiroll system. Some 7000 miles later, the noise reappeared, but the dealer technicians claimed they couldn’t hear it. Finally, the clunks became so obvious that no one could miss them. This time, the service department tightened the front control-arm mounting points. All seemed fine for a few months, but the front suspension started to make noise again just as the X5 finished its one-year stint.
Other repairs included: (1) reprogramming the standard iDrive system to correct a slow interface and repeated freeze-ups; (2) replacing a faulty fuel-vapor warning device; and (3) attempting to address a mysterious and frustrating climate-control problem that caused hot air to sporadically stop blowing onto your feet throughout the winter. The dealer was unable to find any problem with the climate control, and once the weather turned warm, the air-conditioning didn’t work properly, either, as it absolutely refused to blow cold air out of the center vents. And, just to finish things off, the driver’s door latch quit working on the day before the X5’s one-year anniversary.
BMW listened to the market when it introduced this latest X5, which is, in concept, a stretched version of its predecessor. It’s nice that cargo space has grown to a much more usable volume and that BMW offers optional third-row seats for those buyers in need of a couple extra perches. Unfortunately, both quality and reliability seem to have taken a step back. And, although the X5 is still very good to drive, it’s gotten even more expensive. We enjoyed the X5’s performance and functionality, but our experience with it was severely compromised by an unacceptable series of mechanical and electronic malfunctions and a perception of material cost-cutting. BMW has a well-deserved reputation as a maker of desirable, upscale, high-performance automobiles. But with its numerous quality and reliability issues, our X5 fell short of that reputation.
The X5 made its debut at the 1999 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and went on sale later that year as the 2000 X5 4.4i, featuring a 282-hp V-8 and a five-speed automatic. In 2001, the X5 3.0i model with a 225-hp in-line six was introduced, bringing along a standard manual transmission. The high-performance X5 4.6is arrived the following year, putting out 340 hp and sporting twenty-inch wheels. Also in 2001, legendary racer Hans Stuck took a heavily modified X5-with a 700-hp version of the V-12 engine from the Le Mans-winning BMW V12 LMR-to the Nrburgring. In the end, he circuited the daunting track in 7 minutes, 50 seconds and hit 190-plus-mph on the main straight. Not bad for an SUV. The second-generation X5 came out for the 2007 model year. It is offered with either the 350-hp, 4.8-liter V-8 or a 260-hp, 3.0-liter in-line six. The only transmission available is a six-speed automatic.
- 3/5 Stars
- 4-door SUV
- 7 passengers
- Steel unibody
4-yr/unlimited-mile roadside assistance
4-yr/50,000-mile scheduled maintenance
12-yr rust perforation
11,967 mi: $0
24,842 mi: $0
3036 mi: Repair backup camera; inspect fuel-tank venting valve
11,967 mi: Replace engine ground strap
13,824 mi: Replace front antiroll-bar assembly; inspect difficult-to-open center console lid
15,554 mi: Reinstall wiper arm to remedy contact with A-pillar
20,812 mi: Inspect front suspension; replace fuel-vapor warning device; update iDrive software; replace loose reflector; investigate climate-control issues
27,840 mi: Tighten lower front control arms; reinstall loose trim on front seatOut-of-pocket
4519 mi: One quart of oil, $5.72
20,146 mi: Purchase and install Dunlop Grandtrek WT M3 winter tires, $899.00
27,347 mi: Remount stock tires, $130.54
EPA city/hwy/comb. 15/21/17 mpg (14/19/16 mpg under 2008 procedures)
Observed 16 mpg
Cost per mile
(Fuel, service) $0.21 ($0.88 including depreciation)
Prices & Equipment
Price as tested
ABS; all-wheel drive; traction and stability control; automatic air-conditioning; cruise control; power seats and steering wheel; swiveling xenon headlights; foglights; rain-sensing wipers; power windows, mirrors, and door locks; front, side, and side curtain air bags
Cold weather package (heated front seats and steering wheel, headlight washers, ski bag), $900; premium package (garage door opener, panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors, adjustable lumbar, digital compass, ambient light package, BMW Assist with Bluetooth), $2650; sport package (sport seats and steering wheel, nineteen-inch wheels, run-flat all-season tires, active roll stabilization, electronic damping), $3600; technology package (rearview camera, park distance control, navigation system, voice activation, real-time traffic), $2600; comfort access system, $1000; third-row seats, $1200