We sure are spoiled these days, are we not? When I say there is now a vehicle for everyone, I mean there is a vehicle for EVERYONE. Manufacturers have gone above and beyond to make sure their lineups have something that will appeal to buyers of all kinds on one level or another. Perhaps no manufacturer has done this better than BMW. Their current vehicle lineup consists of 10 different model lines in the US and each of those has variants within it. Many enthusiasts bemoan this fact, claiming that the once great manufacturer has lost its way. If that was the case, and I don’t think it is, then it wouldn’t be anything new. BMW was one of the first brands to build an SUV based on car architecture instead of that of a light truck, and the result was the massively successful X5. If it was such a success then why am I featuring it as an Underrated Ride Of The Week? Well, aside from the fact that success in any field doesn’t automatically translate to notoriety, there’s the fact that X5 sales reached their lowest point in 2006. 2005 and 2004 weren’t outstanding either, which is surprising given that these were the post facelift years for the first generation. Additionally, I think the X5 has a poor reputation with most folks as being a heavy luxury vehicle that is all show and no go. I can tell you from first hand experience, nothing could be further from the truth.
When the BMW X5 debuted in 1999, the crossover segment was non-existent. By using the underpinnings of their 5-Series sedan, BMW had created an SUV that actually had some impressive on road capabilities vs the prone-to-rollover, light truck based SUVs that everyone else was making. They went so far as to market the X5 as an SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle), instead of an SUV, in an attempt to draw attention to its handling prowess. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time driving a 2004 X5 4.4i, and I can attest to the validity of BMW’s claims. The damn thing handles way better than you would think a vehicle of its size and heft would be able to. Some of that is due to the 5-Series chassis on which is sits, but the xDrive system helps a lot too. From 2004 on, the X5 has been fitted with this AWD setup that is far more advanced than the previous system, and that is just one of many reasons why the 2004-2006 first generation models are the ones to look for.
In addition to the implementation of xDrive, the 2004 models also got a facelift which brought them up to par with the rest of the BMW lineup. The now signature “halos” were added to the headlights, taillights were slightly tweaked, and the front “kidney” grilles were given a more aggressive look. There were some changes under the hood as well. The 4.4 V8 saw a power bump up to 315hp from 285hp, and the 5spd manual was given an extra cog to bring it up to 6. Yep, that’s right, I said manual. From 2001-2006 BMW offered drivers the option to row their own gears in the X5, if you chose the 3.0L inline-6 as your motor. The M54, as it is known by enthusiasts, is a very strong motor that also saw duty in the 330i, 530i, and Z4. Sure, the X5 weighs in at 4,652 lbs, but you don’t notice the extra baggage as much as you might think. The driving dynamics are good for a car, and the X5 is a whole heck of a lot more versatile than a car. What you lose in tossability is more than made up for with the ready-for-anything attitude and off-road capability of the X5. Plus, it has a split rear hatch, which means you can tailgate with it.