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AutoWeek

By JOE KOVACH

OF THE MYRIAD CHANGES BMW made to its new X5, the most notable one was dropping the 4.6-liter V8. That leaves the 2004 X5 with the 4.4-liter V8 and the 3.0-liter inline six. However, as we discovered, this isn’t as disappointing as it seems.

For one thing, the 2004 4.4 V8 makes 315 hp at 5400 rpm. That surpasses the ’03 4.4 by 25 hp while also providing better mileage, 16/22 mpg city/highway vs. the ’03’s 14/18 mpg. Secondly, that power lag (the departed 4.6 made 340 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque) will be resolved with a new 4.8-liter, 355-hp V8 model to arrive in spring.

That’s about all the information we’ve been able to get from BMW on the 4.8 performance model. For our test drive we made do with the 4.4i X5, and we enjoyed its smooth power. It blended well with BMW’s trademark steering, brakes and fine handling (aided by a near 50/50 front/rear weight distribution). They felt excellent for an SUV. Oops, we mean SAV, as in Sports Activity Vehicle. BMW still calls it that because it’s “so unique it demanded its own designation.”

Somewhat unique is BMW’s Valvetronic technology, which debuted on the 7 Series tech flagship. It provides most of the 25-hp boost in the X5’s 4.4. Rather than using a typical throttle, Valvetronic varies valve lift from 0.3 mm (for idle) to 9.7 mm (for full power), avoiding the pumping losses from throttles and making the engine run smoother, BMW says. The intake manifold is also fully variable, instead of the traditional two-stage version that uses one path for low-to-medium speeds and one for high speed. And the engine’s variable valve timing includes the exhaust valves as well as the intake valves.

With those enhancements, the new 4.4i runs from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, vs. the ’03’s 7.4 seconds. The gross vehicle weight rating is 6008 pounds and the towing capacity is 6000 pounds for both the 3.0- and 4.4-liter versions.

For ’04, a six-speed manual replaces the 3.0i’s standard five-speed. The six-speed stick hurries the 225-hp, 214 lb-ft 3.0i to a 7.8-second 0-60 mph run, 0.3 second quicker than last year. A base 3.0i is $40,995, $11,200 less than a base 4.4i. A six-speed automatic is optional on the 3.0i and the only transmission available on the 4.4i.

Despite the X5’s many changes, the ’04 still looks quite similar to the first generation. All sheetmetal from the windshield forward is new. The BMW grille kidneys are higher and wider in the new model. The headlight clusters have a different shape to match those of other new Bimmers.

The roomy inside is comfortable, as both front occupants now get eight-way power seats standard. The pedals and switchgear are easy to operate, and new wood and leather colors are options. An optional retractable load floor rolls on ball-bearing rails. The interior volume is 97.6 cubic feet, and cargo volume is 54.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down.

As we reported in our Dec. 8 X3 cover story, the xDrive system also impressed us in the X5. xDrive analyzes road and driving conditions and uses a multi-disc clutch to deliver various amounts of torque to the front and rear wheels, maximizing traction and handling.

The all-independent suspension starts with double-pivot lower arms, struts, gas shocks, coil springs and an antiroll bar in front. In back is a four-link (partially aluminum) integral suspension with forward and rear upper lateral arms. The base 3.0i gets coil springs standard while the 4.4i goes with air springs (which are also optional on the 3.0i).

Our test drive included a brief off-road section, which the X5 handled okay, but we wouldn’t want to take it on a long off-road trip. Even with hill descent control and traction and stability control, the X5 just feels more sporty-nimble than off-road rugged.

The sport package offers a tighter suspension, sportier wheels and tires (the 3.0i’s jump by an inch to 18 x 8.5 inches, and the 4.4i’s 18 x 8.5s grow to 19 x 9 front and 19 x 10 rear), sport seats and steering wheel, titanium-finish front bumper grille, side window trim, black gloss exhaust tips, and, last but not least, the 4.4i’s 130-mph maximum speed limiter is deleted, allowing a 149-mph top speed. That got us thinking: What max speed and acceleration times could the 4.8i version attain? If you’re in the X5 market, weigh your situation to see if you should buy an ’04 X5 now… or if you should wait awhile.

2004 BMW X5 4.4i
# ON SALE: Now
# BASE PRICE: $52,195
# POWERTRAIN: 4.4-liter, 315-hp, 324-lb-ft V8; awd, six-speed automatic
# CURB WEIGHT: 4927 pounds
# 0-60 MPH: 6.8 seconds (mfr.)



 
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