When BMW unveiled the X5 for the 2000 model year, its rivals in the over-$50,000 SUV market were few and far between. Times have changed. Despite record gas prices, the market appeal of large, well-appointed, and thirsty 21st-century station wagons has only increased.
The 2006 BMW X5 shows that the model has aged quite well in terms of overall driving characteristics, with running changes--including an improved xDrive AWD system (standard on the X5) and larger engines--giving better performance.
But the X5's interior infotainment systems have not kept pace with recent improvements. The redesigned 2007 X5 will likely adopt iDrive for control of cabin systems, and for once, we can say this will be a big improvement. Whatever form they take, BMW's next-generation equipment packages can't arrive soon enough. Few new cars at any price come from the factory lacking a CD player, but the 2006 BMW X5 we tested was equipped with navigation, which replaces the CD system with--wait for it--a tape deck. With the total suggested retail price for our X5 at $62,275, it's time for BMW's tech offerings to fast-forward into the 21st century.
The interior of the 2006 BMW X5 is visually warm and pleasant, with beige leather nicely offsetting the dark wood accents. Our test car had the optional Sport Package ($1,600), which includes 18-inch split-spoke alloy wheels (different 18-inch alloys are standard); an anthracite headliner; various exterior trim pieces; sport suspension; sport seats; and a sport steering wheel.
The Premium Package ($2,500) adds a huge power moonroof, autodimming mirrors, and a power-adjustable rear seat back, as well as the BMW Assist system, which includes Bluetooth integration, roadside assistance, vehicle service notifications, and emergency calling services.
So far, so good. But the main control interface in the center of the dashboard is a stark reminder of the 2006 BMW X5's age. The optional DVD navigation ($1,800) system's screen is nicely sized, but resolution is low, and the plastic buttons surrounding the screen feel cheap and lack intuitive functionality. These buttons switch between major commands with further input via a small twist-and-click knob. Setting destinations this way is tedious and distracting and would be improved by the use of the iDrive knob, which is larger, is closer to the driver, and offers tactile feedback.
The real problem with the navigation system is that it replaces the X5's in-dash CD player. BMW surely expects most buyers to upgrade to a six-disc changer, which mounts behind a cover in the left rear cargo area, but our test car was not so equipped. Imagine our surprise the first time we pushed the button, which lowers the navigation screen, and realized it was hiding a slot for cassettes (you remember--the things we used to listen to in the '80s). Buyers of a $62,000 SUV outfitted with a $1,200 Premium sound system shouldn't have to pay more to be able to play CDs. We'll withhold judgment on the sound quality, as our favorite (weak) FM radio station was all we had to go on.
Bluetooth integration is limited to BMW's list of compatible phones. Once paired, address-book information is available and can be dialed with steering-wheel controls or a voice command. Some phones can be docked in the center armrest with custom cradles, which allows quicker direct access and charging.
Other steering-wheel controls in the 2006 BMW X5 are for audio and cruise control, and the wheel itself has power tilt and telescope adjustment, with memory positions matched to the outside mirrors and driver's seat. Climate controls reside separately beneath the main screen, with a row of switches below them for park assist, hill-descent control, dynamic stability control, and a rear-hatch release. The rear hatch is a two-piece clamshell affair, which also seems outdated and cumbersome, although a heavy-duty sliding load floor ($380) compensated somewhat.
The 2006 BMW X5 may no longer measure up on the interior-gadgets front, but its overall driving dynamics still feel modern. Our test car's 4.4-liter V-8 is now BMW's middle-range X5 engine option, with an available 4.8-liter motor starting at $71,100--compared with the 4.4-liter's base price of $53,600. With VANOS variable-valve timing, Valvetronic variable-valve lift, and a variable intake manifold, the 4.4-liter engine puts out 315 horsepower at 5,400rpm and a useful 324 pound-feet of torque at 3,600rpm. These numbers will satisfy all but the most delusional SUV buyers--or those lucky owners of the Porsche Cayenne turbo.