BMW performed a major redesign on its biggest SUV, giving the body a more modern look, adding power, and upgrading the cabin with some decidedly futuristic details. Like many new SUVs, the 2007 BMW X5 also gets optional third-row seating to maximize its people-carrying capabilities. And, like other BMWs, it offers a strong performance character.
The new X5 has pronounced wheel arches, a design cue not exactly unique to BMW, and more curves all over the body, though most prominently in front. Bold, prominent creases mark the hood and the side of the car. These changes give the sheet metal a more flowing look than the previous generation. Large ducts below the traditional BMW kidney grille suggest a big power plant that needs to take big breaths.
As technology enthusiasts, we had a lot to explore in the X5's cabin, from its rear-seat DVD system to its intriguing shifter. Some of it we had seen before, such as the iDrive system. Other features, like the multicontour seats, gave us a lot of buttons to push. Our test car lacked navigation and only had the base stereo, but the audio quality was still strong, as good as some premium systems we've seen. Handling and performance were everything we would expect from a BMW, too.
Test the tech: The burger ring
The BMW commercials that attest the new BMW X5 was tested on the Nurburgring, the famous racetrack in Germany, inspired us to do some performance driving with our test car. Lacking the time or funds to go to the real Nurburgring, we plotted out our own Northern California Burger Ring, or Norburgring for short.
We decided our ring would go from the Taylor's Automatic Refresher in San Francisco's Ferry Building up to the Taylor's Automatic Refresher in St. Helena, in the middle of wine country. Taylor's Automatic Refresher in St. Helena is a classic drive-in-style restaurant with excellent hamburgers and an extensive wine list. To make our trip a "ring," we went via Santa Rosa, took mountain roads east to St. Helena, and then headed back to San Francisco.
The first leg of our journey took us through the streets of San Francisco, where the X5 handled well for an SUV. It actually felt like a smaller car as we merged in heavy traffic and stayed between the lines of narrow street lanes. As we passed the In-N-Out burger just off Hwy. 101 in Marin, we acknowledged this fine burger chain with a wave, but it wasn't our destination today.
Once in Santa Rosa, we looked for Los Alamos Road, which our printed Google map showed as having the right kind of twists for our purposes as well as being a route to St. Helena. Unfortunately, our X5 didn't come with navigation and we never found this particular road, so we settled for the St. Helena Road, which fortunately proved to be as winding as we could want. We pushed the X5 hard through the many turns on this road, and it felt amazingly composed throughout.
The X5 uses variable ratio steering, changing the lock-to-lock steering wheel distance depending on your speed. This technology goes virtually unnoticed as the car always seems to have the right steering range. The steering is somewhat heavy, but that was perfectly fine on this mountain road, as it translated to a solid handling feel. We felt no body roll on hard corners, although we were cognizant of the car's height. It's not a low-slung sports car; however, it handled better than any other SUV we've driven.
When we finally descended from the mountains and the adrenaline rush started to wear off, we pulled up at Taylor's Automatic Refresher. The BMW X5 was perfect in keeping with the well-heeled wine country clientele "slumming it" at a burger joint. And that bacon cheeseburger was certainly tasty after our fun drive. We avoided sampling from the wine menu, as we had more driving to do.
The ride along the eastern side of our burger ring was tamer, mainly involving highways. The X5 proved comfortable for this part of the run as we switched from our auxiliary input-connected MP3 player to the Sirius Satellite Radio. Another nice feature to cool our posteriors on this sunny day were the X5's seat fans, which blow cool air up through the seat and the seat back.
In the cabin
Our tester BMW X5 had all the luxury we expected from the car maker, such as seats covered with thick leather, black dashboard material with just the right amount of give, and appropriately placed metal accents. The steering wheel is satisfyingly thick, and the shifter looks like a sculpture. As with other recent SUVs, the X5 also gets a third row of seats, although these are small and have little legroom. But they do fold away into the floor of the cargo area.
One of the more remarkable features is the panoramic moonroof, a vast expanse of glass over the front and middle-row seats. Push a button in the overhead console and a large portion of it slides back, letting in lots of fresh air and possibly serving as a landing bay for remote-controlled airplanes. The optional multicontour seats not only had heating and cooling but came with buttons to raise and lower the headrest and to extend the front of the seat out for extra thigh support.