- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

It's an old argument: the husband wants a sports car and the wife demands a sport utility vehicle. I know this is true because it has been going on in my household for several years.
Who wins? Is there a compromise?
The answer may be BMW's X5 series. There is no doubt that it's an SUV, though BMW prefers to call it a sports activity vehicle.
It combines the best features of an SUV with the performance and handling for which BMW is known. It provides the commanding driving position, feeling of safety and substance and muscular design with BMW's performance, road manners, driving pleasure, sophistication, luxury, quality and safety.
I drove the BMW hard for a week and even put it through my favorite drive that I use for sports vehicles. It passed all the tests with flying colors. It is a BMW through and through.
Its ability on twisty roads surprised me. The X5 lives up to its claims and the 4.4i test car with V-8 power made acceleration just a tap away on the gas pedal. It is capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds with a top speed of 128 mph.
All three engines offer low emissions, but fuel economy is not the V-8's strong point. The test car had figures of 13 miles per gallon city and 17 mile per gallon highway. During our test period we averaged 13.9 in combined city and highway driving.
BMW offers two other versions of its X5 series, 3.0i and, new this year, the 4.6is.
The main difference among the three versions is the engine. The 3.0i is supplied with a double-overhead camshaft, 24-valve, inline six-cylinder engine. It provides 225 horsepower at 5,900 rpm. The test car gets the four-cam, 32-valve V-8, as does the 4.6is. The difference between the latter two is in horsepower and torque. The 4.1 offers 290 horses at 5,400 rpm and 324 foot-pounds of torque, and the 4.6 pumps out 340 horses at 5,700 rpm and 350 foot-pounds of torque 3,700 rpm.
Pricing is another major difference. Base price for the 3.0i is $39,545 with a manual transmission. The other two models do not offer a manual transmission and come standard with a five-speed automatic with the ability to be shifted manually. BMW has named its automatic Steptronic.
The test car is priced at $50,045 including destination charge. Options brought the price to $58,330. The ultrasports version, 4.6is, has a base price of $66,845.
As you can see, the cost of compromise can be hefty. At the same time, BMW's entry is an exceptional vehicle. It truly offers the unusual combination of a sports sedan and an SUV.
The powertrain is near perfect. The chassis is perfectly balanced, and it offers quick reflexes and a tenacious grip on the road. All three models feature full-time all-wheel drive with planetary center differential. Thirty-eight percent of the power goes to the front wheels and 62 percent to the rear wheels.
BMW proves it isn't kidding about off-road ability with the Hill Descent Control. This allows the car to go down the steepest grades at a walking speed.
If I were ordering the car and planned to do some tough off-roading, the optional adjustable ride height that provides a choice of three heights would be a must. It was not on the test car, so I can't report on how it works; but I know the higher you sit on rocky roads, the easier the job becomes.
A sophisticated independent suspension system and standard self-leveling rear air springs are two of the reasons for the 4.4i's great handling.
The stability-control system includes four-wheel traction control with engine and brake intervention, electronic brake proportioning, dynamic brake control and stability enhancement in cornering and avoidance maneuvers. All are on hand to help the driver.
The disc brakes at all four corners are large and bring the vehicle to quick stops.
Trailer and boat owners will be happy to know that the X5 is capable of pulling loads up to 6,000 pounds.
Step inside and you find the traditional fit and finish of a BMW. The test car was equipped with the optional sports steering wheel with two large wooden spokes on the lower half.
The front leather bucket seats provide excellent support during all types of driving. The rear bench seat is comfortable but legroom is in short supply if the driver and passenger have their seats all the way back.
There is no doubt in my mind that the BMW X5 is currently the ultimate crossover vehicle. If my wife will pony up the purchase price, I'm willing to compromise.

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