- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

BMW recently upgraded and expanded its “Sports Activity Vehicle” lineup. For 2004, its existing X5, which debuted in 2000, gets a slight face lift, a new engine and new traction-enhancing technologies. Also new is a slightly smaller version of the X5, called the X3.

Although the new X5 has more than 2,100 new parts, the resemblance from a distance with the previous one is very close. BMW decided to leave well enough alone, and has made only quiet changes to the exterior.

The hood contours and headlight shapes are slightly varied. BMW’s luminous headlight rings, which can be found in models such as the 5-series, appear in the new X5. The grille is also accentuated, as the traditional “kidney” grilles have widened and migrated upwards.

Additional new features include revised fog lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, Xenon headlights (both high and low beam) that are adaptive and steer themselves around corners, and brakelights that illuminate more under hard braking. New wheel packages, sized up to 19 inches, contribute to the subtle exterior variation.

Underneath the skin, a new AWD system dubbed “xDrive” keeps the new glass and sheetmetal out of harm. The old system split torque in a constant ratio, sending 38 percent to the front and 62 percent to the rear. In tricky conditions, traction was maintained when the traction-control component of the Dynamic Stability Control system supported the basic torque split system. The xDrive system normally splits torque in a similar proportion, sending 40 percent to the front and 60 percent to the rear.

The new system can send nearly all the torque to either end. In icy conditions, for example, torque will increase to the front wheels and be decreased in the back, with the possibility of all torque spinning the front wheels.

Getting all torque to the rear wheels requires special circumstances, because the vehicle is set permanently to AWD. If the X5 is understeering or the antilock braking function is on, all torque is sent to the back. As a result, xDrive is meant to keep the vehicle moving in tough conditions and enhance driving in normal conditions.

Two models are available for 2004 — the X5 3.0i and X5 4.4i. The former gets the familiar 3.0-liter inline-six engine that produces 225 horsepower and 214 foot-pounds of torque. A new six-speed manual transmission is offered behind this engine, but buyers can also opt for a five-speed automatic with Steptronic. The latter model uses a new 4.4-liter V-8 engine that cranks out 315 horsepower and 324 foot-pounds of torque. Horsepower is up by 25 over the 2003 X5 4.4i, but thanks to Valvetronic technology and a variable intake manifold, fuel economy also has improved slightly. A six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission is standard on the 4.4i.

Only a few interior upgrades occur on the new X5. The passenger, like the driver, now gets an eight-way power seat. New wood trim, and another leather color option, Truffle Brown, has been added. Customers can enhance their experiences by adding one or all of four packages — Premium, Sport, Cold Weather and Rear Climate.

In the event that xDrive fails to keep the X5 out of trouble, or if a vehicle not equipped with the system strikes it, BMW has fitted the X5 with air bags in several locations. Dual-stage frontal air bags and side-impact frontal air bags are standard, with side-impact rear air bags optional. The front seatbelts have automatic tensioners and force limiters, and all seating positions get three-point configurations.

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