The powertrain and chassis made for stellar towing. After pulling a U-Haul trailer laden with his dismantled Lotus racing car back from Indianapolis, Gillies wrote: "This is a far better tow vehicle than the GMC Yukon XL Denali I used to take the Lotus to Indy (with the same kind of trailer). For one, you don't get blown around. For two, it just sits at 80 mph all day. Just because a vehicle can haul a house doesn't mean it can tow well. The BMW may not have a huge towing capacity, but it tows superbly."
Anderson recanted his earlier dismissal of the X5 as merely a tall wagon after using it to collect an impulse eBay Motors purchase from Sacramento, California: "Even with the 1972 BMW 2002tii riding piggyback, the X5 maintained 80 mph without breaking a sweat. Only in the high elevations of northern Nevada did it ever seem to struggle, searching for lower gears on long uphill sections. The X5 handles the trailer with ease, no jolting or wagging. It feels more like a train than a truck. If it weren't for the 2002 in the rear-view, I could forget we were pulling anything."
Part of the X5's road-trip virtue can be credited to our vehicle's heavy content and hefty price. The $1200 sixteen-way front seats were worth every penny, coddling our road-weary bones. The $500 high-intensity-discharge headlights eased the strain of night driving, and the $200 in-dash CD player made crossing radio-free Wyoming a bit easier. Incredibly, our $54,500 test vehicle still didn't have heated seats, much less other options such as a heated steering wheel, rear-window sunshades, a rear parking aid, or a navigation system.
Although the X5 also lacked a low range, it performed admirably off-road. After some off-road testing, Lorio grudgingly admitted that the X5 really does work off the pavement. However, we spent far more time navigating snow squalls than off-road parks. The full-time four-wheel-drive system and brake-based four-wheel traction control pulled the X5 through even the foulest storms. Driving in near white-out conditions, Skogstrom watched other vehicles skate off the pavement, yet the X5 proved to be "perfectly stable, with no slipping or sliding."
The X5 also proved to be well built. Even after 36,966 miles, the interior showed little wear or tear, and nary a creak or rattle was heard. The service indicator called for fresh oil only twice, at 15,532 miles and at 28,854 miles, both times covered by warranty. There were only two mechanical problems. One was a mysterious gremlin that occasionally caused the fuel tank to read a false empty or, more worrisome, a false full tank. Inevitably, the problem rectified itself just before we took the X5 in for repair.
The other mechanical problem was less amusing. During a holiday shopping frenzy, art director Molly Jean parked the X5 in a mall lot. Upon her return, it obstinately refused to start. Friends were called for advice. Mall security was contacted for a jump start. Finally, BMW's roadside assistance was enlisted. They suspected the engine immobilizer had been triggered and had Jean perform Candid Camera antics in the snow-covered lot: "Open all doors, and then close them counterclockwise, starting with the driver's door." This may have entertained passersby, but it failed to awaken the X5. Three hours after the trauma began, the X5 was finally carted off to a nearby dealership. A bad battery and a faulty hatch release were replaced under warranty.
That episode was an exception in a year ruled by the X5's competence and performance. It's clear from twelve months with our X5--and the 64,354 other X5s sold--that BMW has a tremendous hit in its showrooms. BMW executives must agree, for they are expanding the X line into its own category of mini-minivans, tall wagons, and odd fish. For 2002, they introduced the X5 4.6is, with 340 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, answering a request for more power that none of our staff ever voiced. We'd rather see BMW introduce a stretched X5 with more cargo space. That would be perfect, whatever you might care to call it.