Sporty SUVs: Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, Range Rover Sport Supercharged, and BMW X5 4.8i

Brian Konoske

Although the previous X5 effectively set the standard for sport-ute agility, the new one got a completely new front suspension, abandoning BMW's traditional struts in favor of control arms. Our test vehicle had two other new elements: adaptive dampers and active antiroll bars, both part of the Sport Package.

The new hardware has more weight to contend with, weight that makes itself felt in very tight corners. Otherwise, the X5 is amazingly athletic for such a tall, heavy machine. We pushed it hard along the lumpy, bumpy Texas back roads, and it remained as composed and unflappable as a B-movie cowboy. At the same time, the BMW manages to deliver a civilized ride, a feat all the more impressive considering that run-flat tires are standard. Our particular example enjoyed a bit of an advantage over the other trucks here, though, as its nineteen-inch wheels and 50-series rubber was the least extreme and therefore the most ride-comfort-friendly setup.

The X5 has added two new high-tech features that were largely unwelcome. The first is iDrive, a relatively minor annoyance but one that's unavoidable--it's standard even if you forego navigation. The second is active steering, which proved highly controversial among our group of five test drivers. Most hated it because of its lack of linearity and its unpredictable response, and even its strongest defender acknowledged that it can feel numb at times. This controversy, however, is easily sidestepped by skipping this stand-alone option, a move that also saves $1250.

The original X5 invented this genre, and BMW's approach is still the most rewarding. Interestingly, BMW has never offered an M version of the X5. The previous model topped out with the 4.8is, which offered five more ponies than the 4.8-liter in the new car, and we wouldn't be unhappy to see a bit more power here. But even in an environment as truck-friendly as Texas, the concept of turning an SUV into an ultra-high-performance machine just doesn't gel. The price goes through the roof, the gas mileage falls through the floor, and despite the giddy acceleration, the fun factor really goes nowhere. The idea of a sporty SUV is a good one, but it's best when not pushed too far. Despite being in a land that's never been known for restraint, our time with these SUVs had us respecting that very quality. Too much is sometimes . . . too much.

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