BMW, Road Test Reviews

2009 BMW X5 4.8i M Sport Edition – Road Test

When BMW decided it was time to re-design the X5, I wondered – “How can you improve on perfection?” After-all the X5 was without a doubt THE best-looking SUV available at any price. When I saw the all-new 2008 version I got my answer: It’s even more perfect. The competition upped the ante a year or so ago – the Mercedes-Benz M-Class looks fantastic now that it’s been redesigned – no longer a minivan lookalike – but a very fine SUV. Lexus redesigned all of their SUV’s but sexy is not a word I’d use to describe them. The Range Rover Sport looks the part, but BMW has managed to put their SUV back on the top.

One thing I’ve found with a number of vehicles – luxury or otherwise – is that they may look gorgeous on the outside, but interiors are a completely different matter. Not only that, but just because you think something is your dream vehicle and is going to be fantastic, things don’t always turn out that way. /

First Impressions
When I was officially introduced to my “BMW Individual Ruby Black Metallic” X5, I was more than a little excited. With huge 20” tires on M performance rims – this X5 certainly has a presence. In the sun, the black metallic paint glistens with a hint of red – it’s quite fetching. I’m given a quick tour of the interior, with the panoramic moonroof and the iDrive being the obvious stand outs. I’m told this is a special X5 – it only comes one way – loaded. There are no options to choose. It’s even got BMW’s ‘M’ suspension, sport seats and sport steering wheel. Sweeeeeet! I’m gonna love this!

Jumping into the driver’s seat, I notice that it isn’t much of a step up. Getting in and out is very easy for me considering I’m relatively short at 5’7”. My wife later complained that the side bolsters kept goosing her every time she got in. After she mentioned that I became aware of how high the bolster were and realized it could be an issue for anyone shorter than me. The “Saddle Brown Nevada Leather” took a little getting used to – colour-wise – it wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s probably better than black for the summer months. The multi-way electric seat is very comfortable even though it lacked any type of lumbar adjustment – quite unacceptable at this price range. According to the detail sheet I was giving, the X5 had a lumbar adjustment – it must be hidden somewhere because I checked out the owner’s manual and the buttons for it are clearly MIA (missing in action). It certainly wasn’t adjustable via the iDrive! As comfortable as the seat was, the sport seat in a previously-tested BMW 535i were far superior to this seat for comfort and functions. The seats have a 3-stage heater system, but no cooling option (!?).

The nice fat steering wheel is electrically adjusted and can be programmed into a driver’s memory button located on the side of the seat – along with the outside mirror, seat and audio system settings. According to the owner’s manual the heated steering option isn’t available in the X5 – too bad when you consider it’s available on the much cheaper 5 series.

BMW has taken a beating for the iDrive – an all-in-one climate control/audio /navigation control system. My previous experience with it was mostly good, with a little annoyance. This time I took the time to sit in my driveway and play with it – without referring to the manual. To be honest it’s pretty good. If you take the time to understand it, it’s definitely not as bad as other journalists have made it out to be. Once you’ve chosen your preferences for the heating, cooling etc., it is quite easy to operate. Unlike the awful Audi system, the iDrive can be circumvented when you want to adjust the cabin temperature and fan speed. Changing and storing radio stations was an ordeal and completely frustrated my techno-savvy wife, but I did it in seconds while I was sitting at the traffic lights – with no problems.

The test vehicle had the satellite navigation system installed. As a SatNav system it is quite good, with the directions conveniently placed right in front of the driver within the heads-up display in the windshield. Programming it is relatively painful using the iDrive however. I tried four times to program a destination into the system and just when I pushed the final button – poof! It all disappeared. Advice to BMW: check out the Honda system and copy it. The BMW screen is only 3” x 3” maximum, so it’s not exactly dominant in the large display – there’s no reason it couldn’t be bigger. I would recommend an aftermarket one before this.

In the X5, there’s a separate CD player and DVD player for the Navigation DVD. The test vehicle also had a 6-disc CD/DVD Audio changer in the glove box. The audio system is fantastic! As you’d expect but not necessarily get in a vehicle in this price range, the sound is stunning with crystal clear highs and thumping deep bass if you choose to crank up the subwoofers. I plugged my MP3 player into the USB port and it worked perfectly. On previous occasions when I’ve plugged it into other vehicles the volume had to be cranked up to hear it – then, when pulling the MP3 player out, the sound was way too high resulting in almost-blown speakers!! Not so with the BMW system. The USB plug is inside the centre armrest, so it’s out of the way of prying eyes – a nice feature. The standard Premium Sound Package includes: LOGIC7 Hi-Fi Sound System which has a HiFi 10-speaker sound system plus 2 subwoofers. This package also incorporates a Rear View Camera, BMW On-Board Navigation and Voice Control Navigation. For more than $70,000 I think BMW could have found a way to include a rear DVD entertainment system. If Chrysler can include it in the new $30,000 Town & Country minivans – what’s BMW’s excuse?

The Heads-Up Display (HUD) was pretty much redundant for me. During the day my polarized sunglasses washed out the display completely, and I didn’t drive the X5 at night, so I don’t know how well it works in the dark. Unlike the BMW 535i that I tested a while back, the display can be adjusted for those that sit lower and can’t see the numbers. I adjusted it to better suit me, but it always re-set itself to the lower setting thereby negating my adjustment! I like to set my seat a little higher than most people so it should have been perfectly fine for me – but not so.

Another problem I continued to come up against was the cruise control. To set it you push a button on the end of the cruise control stalk – on the left side below the turn signal. After that you either push it or pull it to set the speed. To increase the speed you lift it like you were turning the right indicator on, and to lower the speed you push it down like you’re turning left. It sounds simple enough, but in action it’s completely wrong when comparing it to other vehicles! It should be forwards and backwards for your speed and up or down to set. A couple of times I almost ran into the car in front because I thought I was slowing it down, when in fact I had increased the speed substantially!

The X5 4.8i M Sport Edition also includes as standard: the M Aerodynamic Package that adds unique bumpers and Rocker Panels as well as body-colored extended wheel arches; Aluminum Satin Window Surround and Roof Rails; 20” V-Spoke Alloy Wheels (with Run flat Performance Tires) Front: 275/40 R20 / Rear: 315/35 R20; Sport Suspension; Sport Seats; Anthracite Roofliner and 3-Spoke M Multi-Function Leather Sport Steering Wheels

Comfort Lock is one of the most convenient features available from BMW. With the key fob in your pocket or purse, you simply touch the top of the door handle (any of the four doors) to lock the car, and place your hand beneath/behind any of the door handles to unlock- far easier than using the fob to lock/unlock the X5.

Rear seat accommodation is extremely good. Rear passengers are treated to plenty of space with plenty of foot, knee, hip and legroom. For shorter passengers, the legroom is astounding. It’s far more comfortable for 2 passengers than 3 in the back because the seat in the centre spot is unusually hard and somewhat uncomfortable. As an added bonus though, the rear passengers get their own heated seats and HVAC temperature controls. The second-row seats slide fore and aft up to 5” and even with the seat pushed all the way forward, there’s plenty of knee and legroom – I measured 2” to 5½” from my knees to the back of the front seat. Combined with a ski pass-through (the X5 even comes with a ski sack so that you don’t get the interior wet or dirty while transporting them to the slopes), the rear seats fold 60/40 for even more cargo capacity, and thanks to the run-flat tires there’s even more room in the cargo area because valuable space isn’t being taken up by the spare tire.

Sadly the BMW X5 4.8i M Sport Edition comes with three rows of seating – you have no choice in the matter – a pity. Without the third-row seats, there’s would be a huge bin under the cargo floor that is approximately 24” x 37” and 10” deep. I can’t understand manufacturers’ obsession with three rows of seating in SUV’s!! Like all other similar vehicles, the BMW has to make compromises to accommodate the extra seats. First of all they are only fit for small children – children you’re not too fond of, because the seats are small and uncomfortable even for them. I climbed back there and once the second-row seats were returned to their rightful position there is virtually zero legroom, knee room and foot space is non-existent. Getting in requires carefully placing your feet on areas around “do not step here” logos. Believe it or not, it was relatively painless getting in – just sitting there was the problem. Getting back out was even easier – not much different from a minivan surprisingly.

Rear cargo in the X5 is very generous as long as the third-row seats are stowed away. Even with the sharply sloped roof at the rear, BMW have done a terrific job of making the X5 very usable. With the third-row seats in the upright position I measured a small but reasonable storage space (compared to other SUV’s) of 12”deep, 45”wide and anywhere from 25 – 30”of height. With the third row folded away, the capacity increased to 40” x 43”x 32”. Folding all the seats made the cargo area cavernous at 72” x 43” x 32”of fully usable space. I did run into one problem though: if you use the cargo cover and decide to transport anyone in the third-row seats – there’s nowhere to store the cargo cover!
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The Conclusion
The X5 4.8i M Sport Edition is a beautiful SUV that is difficult to actually love, and that pains me – literally – in the back. I had a 2-day conference to go to with a 1 hour 45 minute trip in both directions. After the first day my back was so sore we took my wife’s Mazda5 on the second day. The seats are very uncomfortable when driving for more than an hour (front or back seats). What I can’t understand is why didn’t BMW put the awesome seats from the 535i into this top-of-the-line X5? The suspension, chassis and steering in this X5 is incredible – to the point that rear passengers praised how tight the ride was while absorbing very bad road imperfections. Fuel mileage is very good for a biggish SUV.

BMW Ultimate Service is included at no charge with all new 2008 and later BMWs. BMW Ultimate Service includes: A New Car Limited Warranty for 4 years or 50,000 miles [80,000 kms]; Roadside Assistance Service for 4 years /Unlimited miles/kms & No-charge Scheduled Maintenance 4 years or 50,000 miles [80,000 kms].

Pricing for the 2009 X5 4.8i M Sport Edition
Base price / As tested: $70,750 [$94,900 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: U.S. – $775 / Canada – $1,995

Fuel Consumption: [Fuel: Premium 91 Octane]
The 4.8 Litre V-8 is rated at 14 mpg [15.9 L/100 kms] City and 23 mpg [10.2 L/100 kms] Highway
I averaged 17.2 mpg [13.7 L/100km] in mostly (95%) freeway driving.

Extremely quiet at all speeds
Best looking SUV on the road

Uncomfortable seats
No heated steering wheel
Useless glove box
Seatbelts are not height-adjustable

Back Seat Driver Test: 9 out of 10
“This is very comfortable, very roomy”. “I’ve got my own seat heaters! And A/C controls too!”

Immediate Competition:
Audi Q7, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Lexus GX 470, Lincoln Navigator, Mercedes-Benz M Class, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport, Volvo XC90

By The Numbers:
Powertrain:           4.8 Litre DOHC 32-valve V-8; 6-speed automatic transmission; x-Drive Intelligent AWD
Horsepower:         350 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque:                  350 @ 3,400 rpm
0-60 mph:             6.8 seconds
Top Speed:           130 mph / 210 km/h (electronically limited)

10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (SatNav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)

10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
10 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls

10 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
7 – Bang for the $$
9 – Fuel Economy

146 Total / 150

Copyright © 2009 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland

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