One new BMW feature in the X5 is the smart key fob. You push the fob into a dashboard slot, which powers up the navigation system and the stereo. To start the car, you push the engine start button. We also saw this arrangement in the BMW 328xi, and it reminds us we will have to find a replacement for the word "key." The X5 has an LCD placed at the top of the stack and BMW's iDrive controller set near the shifter. The fact that our X5 didn't come with the navigation option tells us that BMW is starting to include the LCD standard, a good move in our opinion because it offers much better information than a simple radio display.
Our car came with Bluetooth cell phone integration, something BMW does very well. We easily paired up a Samsung SGH-D807 with the car, and in no time at all it had captured our phone's address book. We were easily able to make calls through the iDrive interface, either picking entries from our address book or manually dialing the numbers. And either we are getting more used to iDrive or BMW has tweaked it to improve the interface.
After first cranking up the stereo, we looked at the car's spec sheet to see what sort of premium system we had. We were surprised to see that this strong sound was coming from the X5's base stereo system. Although not as good as we heard in the Land Rover LR2, which had a premium system, the X5's base system sounded very good. It produced a strong, full sound with decent separation. It didn't hit the low lows or the high highs, but it is satisfying.
We have no complaints about the audio sources. The six-disc in-dash changer plays WMA and MP3 CDs, there's an auxiliary input in the center console, and it has satellite radio. The interface for all audio sources is excellent. For satellite radio, you can choose a category view and see a list of all stations. FM and AM radio stations are displayed in an interesting, staggered format which is easy to read, especially because it automatically shows radio call letters instead of frequency. It shows MP3 and WMA CD contents in a tree format, showing the contents of each folder separately; standard CDs are shown in a unique, radial format which neatly conforms to the iDrive paradigm. We also like that the system can show track names and read CD text from standard CDs.
We also got the rear-seat entertainment package in our X5, which uses an innovative placement for the video screen. The fairly large LCD is mounted on a bracket over the rear of the center console. It folds up, then swivels around so the rear-seat passengers can see it. The advantage of this arrangement is it can be angled to favor one rear seat or the other, offering a better viewing angle if there is only one passenger watching it. It has a self-contained DVD player, which can also play CDs or even show pictures.
Under the hood
The 2007 BMW X5, in its largest engine configuration, gets a 4.8-liter V-8 under the hood, an increase over the previous year's 4.4-liter engine. The new engine puts out 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, which is plenty to push the X5 quickly off the line. We liked the throttle response in our test car and noticed little acceleration lag. And the engine makes a very satisfying growl when pressed.
The shifter's futuristic looks match the way it works; it's an electronic shifter that you pop forward to put the car into reverse or pop backward for drive. Push the button on top and it goes into park. It works well, and we like how BMW acknowledges the electro-mechanic nature of the modern automatic transmission. In drive mode, you can push the shifter to the left to get it into sport mode or push it forward and back to row through the automatic's six gears. We really liked how this transmission held the gears up into high rpms when we mashed the throttle, giving us the acceleration we wanted. It offers good thrust in drive mode, and even more in sport mode.
We commented on the X5's superior handling in our burger ring experiment. BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system, which contributes to the handling, relies on a center limited slip differential. xDrive isn't a serious off-roading system, and you probably couldn't take the X5 into the same places you could drive the Land Rover LR2. But the X5 does have hill descent control, which could be useful for going down steep driveways in icy conditions.
The X5 has a raft of road-holding safety technology, such as stability control. It also comes standard with adaptive headlights that follow the steering wheel into turns. Its park distance sensor not only has an audible warning but shows a graphic on the LCD with indications of how close objects are to the front and the rear of the car. The system can be shut down from a button on the dashboard, which is good because it goes crazy in heavy traffic.
The X5 can also be had with a smaller, 3-liter, inline six-cylinder engine. With the V-8, the car gets an EPA-rated 15mpg in the city and 21mpg on the highway. In our mixed city and freeway driving, we ended up with 16.5mpg. The car gets an emissions rating of ULEV II, or ultralow emissions vehicle, from California, which is a good rating for an SUV of this size.
Our 2007 BMW X5, with the 4.8-liter V-8, had a base price of $54,500. Our options were the third-row seat ($1,200), panoramic moonroof ($1,350), rear-side-window sun blinds ($250), multicontour seats ($1,200), heated front seats ($350), heated rear seats ($500), park distance sensor ($700), rear-seat DVD ($1,800), Bluetooth ($750), and Sirius Satellite Radio ($595). With a $695 destination charge, the total comes out to a whopping $63,890. We might have chosen some different options on this car, such as the upgraded stereo, which uses 16 speakers, two subwoofers, and a nine-channel, 600-watt digital amplifier.
While we really like how the BMW X5 handles, it is a pricey ride. Although lacking third-row seating, the Land Rover LR2 is much less expensive and more capable off the road. The Infiniti FX45 also presents a slightly cheaper option with road performance potentially as good as the X5. All of these cars have comparable cabin tech. When compared with the Mercedes-Benz GL450, though, we would lean heavily toward the BMW X5.