2002 BMW X5 Reviews and Ratings

Utility 4D 4.4i AWD

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2002 BMW X5
Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief

BMW's X5 is fast, comfortable, and prestigious. It delivers superb handling and excellent performance. As if its 4.4i wasn't quick enough, BMW has introduced a 347-horsepower 4.6is model.

Logically, the X5 makes little sense. It is not highly capable off road when measured against other capable sport-utilities. It offers less cargo capacity than a 5 Series wagon with an uncomfortably high load floor. It does not offer quite the on-road performance, handling or braking of a sports sedan or sports wagon in their respective price ranges.

Logic may not be the key factor here, however. The X5 is sporty and stylish, often attracting attention. It's quick. It works well in foul weather. And it offers that commanding seating position that many people like. It also has that twin-kidney grille and BMW's reputation for quality and driving excitement. Perhaps those are among the reasons X5 sales are strong. BMW sold more than 40,000 X5s during the 2001 calendar year.

The new BMW X5 4.6is model takes SUV performance to new heights with a powerful V8 that delivers 0-60 mph acceleration times in the 6.5-second range, which is very quick, indeed. It offers a potential top speed of nearly 150 mph, which is seriously fast for a vehicle this large. Massive tires offer impressive cornering grip and stopping power.

It may be the best-handling SUV on the road. Muddy trails are easily negotiable. Inside, it's luxurious and comfortable. Model Lineup
Three models are available: 3.0i ($38,900); 4.4i ($49,400); and the new 4.6is ($66,200).

BMW launched the X5 for 2000 as one upscale model powered by a 4.4-liter V8 engine mated to a five-speed automatic Steptronic transmission. It comes standard with 18-inch wheels. For 2002, power from the 4.4-liter V8 has been increased to 290 horsepower.

For 2001, the 3.0i model was added with a 2.8-liter six-cylinder engine. It comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox (ZF Type C); BMW's five-speed Steptronic is optional. The X5 3.0i comes standard with 17-inch wheels.

For 2002, the 4.6is has joined the model line with a 4.6-liter V8 rated at 347 horsepower and 354 pounds-feet of torque. That falls under the category of mega-horsepower. It comes with a five-speed Steptronic transmission similar to the one found on the X5 4.4i, but it's programmed for a more sporting character and uses a different top gear ratio. The 4.6is comes standard with 20-inch wheels with W-rated 275/40 tires in front and 315/35 tires in the rear that are wide enough to impress Fred Flintstone. Unique trim cues distinguish this model, including a rear air diffusor, wind splitters at the sides of front and rear bumpers, a titanium-finish bumper grille, Shadowline trim with clear turn signal and side marker lenses, and big dual chrome oval exhaust outlets. Xenon high-intensity discharge low-beam headlamps and rain-sensing windshield wipers are standard.

All 2002 models have been upgraded with an in-dash CD player as standard equipment, optional automatic headlight control, and more options for seat adjustments. Adjustable ride height is a new option on the 3.0i and 4.4i models (not available on 4.6is). Other option packages have been added.

To help keep drivers on the road and in control, all X5s come with full-time all-wheel drive and Dynamic Stability Control, which includes traction control, electronic brake proportioning, Dynamic Brake Control, an electronic stability program, and Hill Descent Control. X5s benefit from a four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, and rack-and-pinion steering. Walkaround
There's no question who builds this vehicle. The X5 is immediately recognizable as a BMW. It looks like a 5 Series wagon on steroids, and is remarkably close in overall size. From the kidney-shaped grille to the tailgates, the curvy X5 is all BMW. The slope of the tailgate looks almost identical to that of the 5 Series wagon. The major difference is that the X5 is 10 inches taller than the 5 Series wagon. This increased ride height is the key element of making this vehicle more like a sport-utility. Big-diameter wheels with low-profile tires that lend an aggressive appearance.

BMW's X5 is called a light-duty truck by the government. Most truck-based SUVs, including the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, are built with the body bolted onto a frame. The X5, however, uses a monocoque body shell like that of a regular sedan. This unit-body construction provides a much stiffer body shell, which improves handling, reduces noise and allows better fit and finish. The X5 is not the first monocoque SUV; the Lexus RX 300 and the Jeep Grand Cherokee follow the same design concept. And the 2003 Range Rover, which BMW helped develop, uses this same type of monocoque construction. Because of the unit-body construction they share, the Lexus RX 300 is the X5's closest competitor in terms of ride comfort and handling. Interior
The X5 has a great interior. Like all BMWs, it's all business and no nonsense. But it's also very luxurious. The 3.0i comes standard with leatherette upholstery, but Montana leather is an option. The 4.4i comes with Montana leather upholstery and a choice of light or dark poplar trim.

The new 4.6is model comes standard with a choice of Nappa leather upholstery or Nappa and Alcantara. The 4.6is also comes with black piano wood trim or, at no extra cost, Imola Red or Titanium interior trim. It also comes with special instrumentation with gray dials, italic numerals and lettering, a tachometer with a variable-warning segment, and an oil temperature gauge.

A simple, uncluttered layout with touches of wood lend an air of elegance. The door handles have a nice brushed aluminum finish and the soft plastic surfaces somehow feel more like leather. The switchgear is ergonomically well designed.

The front seats are excellent, firm, supportive, with lots of adjustments. The rear seats are also comfortable. The rear seatback can be reclined; power switches in the cargo area permit moving the seatbacks forward for a slight gain in cargo space, but they move slowly. Despite the X5's greater height, inside headroom is all but identical to that of the 5 Series wagon, which is itself slightly better than that of the current 7 Series.

Surprisingly, the cargo carrying capacity is no better than that a 5 Series Sport Wagon. When opening the rear hatch we were struck by the lack of cargo space. The height of the load floor makes it difficult to load cargo. The X5's cargo deck is about 35 inches off the ground. It's about 30 inches on the Land Rover Discovery, a highly capable off-road vehicle with a high ground clearance and live rear axle, attributes that tend to increase the height of the load floor. Our 150-pound English mastiff, which has climbed into dozens of different SUVs found the pitch of his ramp too steep to climb up and into the BMW. A sturdy rollaway cover that can be removed for a larger load carrying capacity covers the rear cargo area. The rear seats are split 40/60 and can be folded down to provide a fairly flat, though not perfectly flat, surface.

The rear hatch is split with a flip-up window and a tailgate similar in design to the Range Rover's. The rear window can be opened independently of the tailgate, which is useful when you want to quickly put something in the rear cargo compartment. One annoyance: Hit the remote hatch release button up front, get out, and when you shut the door, the air in the tight cabin pops the window open enough to close it; walk around back and discover you need to go back and press the release button again; do this a few times and you feel like an idiot. This can make the X5 a bit inconvenient at the airport. Armed with groceries, you'll more likely open the rear hatch with the keyless remote control, which works well. Reflectors on the top of the tailgate's door jam enhance safety when accessing gear at night.

Passive safety has been a major part of the development of the X5. It can be purchased with no less than eight airbags to protect occupants in a major crash. Each front seat occupant gets a front airbag, a side thorax airbag and a side head bag. An optional side thorax airbag is available for the two rear-seat occupants. The airbag system is essentially the same as in the 7 Series; BMW claims its own crash tests indicate the X5 will obtain a five-star rating in the government's (NHTSA) crash tests. BMW claims the X5 is safer than a 7 Series and that it will set new safety standards for this class of vehicle. In November 2000, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the X5 as its "Best Pick" among SUVs for crashworthiness.

One great feature is the audible Park Distance Control. Sensors on the front and rear bumpers detect parked cars, tricycles, and other objects and a beeping tone increases in frequency as the vehicle approaches them. Different tones are used front and rear making it much easier to parallel park in tight spaces. When the tone goes solid the bumper is very close to the object. It's also a great safety feature for bigger vehicles.

Our X5 came with an optional navigation system that was a confusing to master in the short time we had the vehicle. It seemed harder to operate than the navigation system's from Lexus and Acura. We felt like we had to sign off on a legal agreement every time we started the car because the system would ask us to agree that we wouldn't fuss with it while driving. It took two steps to shut the thing off. And we never did figure out how to manually tune the radio, which is integrated into the navigation system. Driving Impressions
The V8-powered BMW X5s perform impressively well, nearly as well as a sports sedan, though they are tall. The six-cylinder 3.0i isn't in quite the same league and is best when paired with the automatic transmission.

The new BMW X5 4.6is is amazingly quick for an SUV. It's quick for a sports sedan. Most important, it's comfortable going up against a Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG. And the X5 4.4i is right behind them. According to BMW, the 3.0i automatic accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in a quick 8.6 seconds, the 4.4i in a very quick 7.4 seconds, and the 4.6is in a startling 6.5 seconds. According to Mercedes-Benz, the ML55 AMG takes just 6.4 seconds with 342 horsepower and 376 pounds-feet of torque.

The 4.6-liter V8 makes terrific sounds when hard on the gas. Around town, it's quiet and very smooth, very responsive.

Power from the 4.4-liter engine is seamless, with redline coming at 5800 rpm.

Shifting is also smooth, silky smooth in normal driving situations. The five-speed Steptronic transmission can be used like a stick, downshifting with a snick or two of the lever for turns, sometimes instead of braking. It's engaged by notching the lever to the left, which puts the transmission into Sport mode, and the upshifts/downshifts are accomplished by a simple quick nudge of the lever forward or backward. Not all manual-automatic transmissions lend themselves to practical or convenient use, as the lever action may be awkward or the engine's powerband doesn't care, but the X5 is made for it, and the execution is perfect. It's wonderful to use during passing on two-lanes, making that move safer and smoother.

Handling is stable and comfortable, with less twitching and head toss than the Mercedes-Benz. The Mercedes uses body-on-frame construction, whereas the BMW utilizes a unit-body, the latter better for on-road handling and ride quality. That's not to say the X5 is soft. It feels firm in the twisties and at high speeds. It can be driven like a sports car. This firmness can make it feel jouncy, particularly when traveling at low speeds over a bumpy road while holding onto a hot cup of coffee.

On the freeway, the X5 changes lanes with the lightest of touch and with total precision. Compared to the Mercedes ML430, the X5's track is one inch wider and it rides 2.2 inches lower.

This is likely the best handling SUV on the market. Other vehicles you drive will prejudice your opinion as to its handling. If you get out of a regular truck-based SUV and get into an X5 you'll be amazed at its handling. If you get out of a BMW sports sedan, however, you'll find the X5 is not as confidence inspiring. BMW says its test drivers have driven the X5 around racetracks at speeds close to that of the 328i sedan. This is probably true for experienced drivers, who know the limits of themselves and the vehicle's capability, but for ordinary drivers the X5 is a tall vehicle; it leans more going through corners than a sedan.

X5's straight line and freeway manners are great. It feels stable; the steering is even better than in the 5 Series and the ride is smooth. The V8 engine provides plenty of power, making it faster in the race away from traffic lights than most cars. The automatic transmission offers the Steptronic mode, which turns it into a clutchless manual transmission. This is a wonderful system for those who want an automatic with manual control.

Huge four-wheel disc brakes ventilated in front incorporate every electronic trick known to man. They are easy to modulate, and, they enable the X5 to stop as quickly and securely as the BMW 7 Series luxury cars. The 4.6is model gets bigger brakes and the rear brakes are ventilated; add the super wide tires and this thing really stops.

The X5 3.0i is available with a manual transmission. That sounds sporty, but we didn't like it. Clutch engagement is quick and the torque characteristics of the engine, a bit abrupt at throttle tip-in, make smooth, brisk takeoffs a challenge. Lose concentration for a moment, get in a hurry, and it's easy to stall it at intersections, annoying because the power-adjustable steering column starts moving while you're trying to restart it. And it doesn't seem easy to use good smooth driving technique when braking and downshifting for corners, then accelerating out of them. A good driver may find it challenging to drive the X5 3.0i smoothly. A poor driver, one who moves the steering wheel about unnecessarily, will make his passengers uncomfortable with head toss. The 3.0i accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in about 8.6 seconds with the automatic; it'll do that in about 8.1 seconds with the manual and an experienced race driver. At times, the ride quality in a 3.0i felt annoyingly firm and bouncy while running errands around town; suspension undulations and head toss seemed excessive. But as we understand it, the suspensions of all three models are essentially the same, though the 4.6is is calibrated differently.

Heading off the highway in an X5 is fine, just don't attempt the Rubicon Trail. The X5 is not designed for serious off-road use. However, in a drive through a muddy test track, it proved capable of staying on course and not getting stuck.

The X5 comes with a permanently engaged all-wheel-drive system that is more akin to one found in sedans. It does not use a transfer case and does not offer low-range gears. But the X5 is loaded with electronically controlled systems to assist it in bad traction conditions: ASC (Automatic Stability Control), DSC-X (Dynamic Stability Control), CBC (Cornering Brake Control), DBC (Dynamic Brake Control), ADB (Automatic Differential Brake), HBA (Hydraulic Brake Assistant) and HDC (Hill Descent Control). There is not room to explain all this alphabet soup here, but it works. Although the X5's all-independent suspension is the key to the vehicle's ride and handling, an important part of the X5's handling capability is the use of electronic stability programs. Much of this technology is already found on BMW sedans, while other systems are new to the X5. For 2002, the system has been programmed to detect when a trailer is hooked up and to take appropriate action if the tail starts wagging the dog.

Hill Descent Control, a superb system developed by Land Rover, controls the brakes automatically as the vehicle descends steep grades; this provides an eerie experience as you can steer the X5 down a slippery slope without having to touch the brake or gas pedal. Hill Descent Control keeps the wheels from slipping and prevents the vehicle from going too fast for the conditions. When HDC is engaged and operating, the speed of the descent can be controlled by pressing the plus and minus buttons on the cruise control. Summary
The BMW X5 may be the best-handling SUV on the road. It may not haul much cargo, but the V8 models sure haul themselves. They are big, high-performance machines that can hold their own in any on-road situation.

We have somewhat mixed feelings about the BMW X5, however. It's cargo capacity is no better than a BMW 5 Series wagon. The height of the cargo area is much higher than the 5 Series wagon and getting in and out is more difficult, so it's less practical than the 5 Series wagon. Ride, handling and overall performance are not as good as the 5 Series wagon. Off-road capability is not as good as a serious 4x4 sport-utility. And pricing may be a consideration. Compared with the X5 4.6is, which retails for $66,200, a 540iT Sport Wagon lists for $53,600 and an M5 Sedan retails for $69,900.

X5 buyers don't care about any of that, however. They like the X5 because it is prestigious, fast, and luxurious, roughly in that order. It shouts success, it goes like stink, and it coddles driver and occupants in sporty, upscale accommodations.

The X5 offers BMW luxury, character and panache, and it's fun to drive.

Model as tested
X5 4.6is ($66,200)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Spartanburg, SC
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
rear door-mounted side-impact airbags ($550); navigation system ($1,800)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
3.0i ($38,900); 4.4i ($49,400); 4.6is ($66,200)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front and side airbags with dual-threshold deployment and two-stage smart airbags; height-adjustable front safety belts with automatic tensioners and force limiters; three child-seat tether anchors in rear seat area; automatic locking retractors on all safety belts; front-seat head protection system; front-seat side-impact airbags; ABS; DSC
Safety equipment (optional)
4.6-liter dohc 32v V8
5-speed automatic with Steptronic

Specifications as Tested
automatic climate control, remote locking with key memory, power/memory front seats, leather upholstery, wood trim, stereo radio/cassette 10-speaker sound system; 4.6is adds two-stage heated rear seats, ski bag, privacy glass, rear-window sunshades, premium audio system w 10 speakers and 2 subwoofers, 6-disc CD changer (glove box or cargo area), in-dash cassette player, two-way power moonroof, Anthracite headliner, special instrumentation, sport steering wheel, 8-way power/2-way manual sport front seats w 4-way lumbar support, 3-stage heated front seats, dual chrome oval exhaust outlets, automatic-dimming inside and outside mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, Shadowline trim, clear turn-signal and side-marker lenses, Park Distance Control, automatic headlight control, Xenon low-beam headlights with dynamic auto-leveling, rear air diffusor, wind splitters at sides of front and rear bumpers, self-leveling rear axle

Engine & Transmission
4.6-liter dohc 32v V8
Drivetrain type
all-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
340 @ 5700
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc w/ABS and Dynamic Brake Control
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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