BMW X5 4.4i

Eddie Alterman
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BMW X5 4.4i

For 2004, the BMW X5 gets a face lift. Well, it's actually more like a double-botox/stomach-staple/eye job with a side of shaved rib. But it's necessary to keep up with a new crop of younger, hotter entries, such as the Infiniti FX35/45, the Cadillac SRX, and the Porsche Cayenne.

In this redo, the essential driver orientation of the X5 remains, as does its limited cargo space, but BMW has thrown some 2500 new part numbers at the X5. A new hood, front fascia, and head- and taillamps lessen the visual distance between Xs 3 and 5. Also, the X3 donates to its bigger brother its xDriveall-wheel-drive system, replacing the old X5's 38 percent front/62 percent rear fixed center differential. In normal driving, this new central clutch uses a 40/60 split but can vary torque quickly (100 milliseconds) and deliberately (almost 100 percent can head up front) if the car's Dynamic Stability Control system senses slippage.

Full Front Grill View

Both current X5 models, the 3.0i and the 4.4i (a new 4.8is replaces the 4.6is this spring), get other powertrain improvements: the 3.0i receives a six-speed manual, and the 4.4i gets a bump to 315 horsepower plus the ZF six-speed manu-matic that works so seamlessly in the 7-series.

Altogether, these changes breathe new life into what was already an incredibly vibrant machine. Steering efforts are lighter, correcting what was perhaps the only nuisance of the old X5. The 4.4i's tweaked V-8 growls aggressively and mates ably with the six-speed Steptronic. And while the xDrive introduces a degree of unpredictability to the act of sliding off the pavement-you're always wondering which end will go off first-the average driver will be pleased at all the unobtrusive help the system provides in slick conditions.

Introduced in late 1999, the X5 has had an immutable effect on the mid-size SUV category. Instead of boasting off-road ruggedness, the X5 hit the pavement with a persuasive mix of luxury and sport. It was a stirring combination, and it has shifted the definition of the SUV while extending its popularity. So, even if the new X5 isn't quite as stunning as the original-how could it be?-it drives with the kind of confidence that only experience, plus a few nips and tucks, can provide.

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