2008 BMW X5 3.0si Review

By Kevin Miller


It was a gray Seattle day when the Space Gray BMW X5 3.0si was dropped off for evaluation. Opening the door of the big Sports Activity Vehicle revealed a gray and black interior with dark brown wood accents, and I hoped that I wasn’t in for a weeklong gloomy motoring experience. Climbing in to the driver’s seat revealed a nicely-assembled cabin, albeit one with nice-quality, precisely-matched materials in a dreary gray color.

I was underwhelmed with the idea of a 260 HP, 3.0 liter inline six powering the 4900 pound X5. My initial driving experience lived up to my expectations, with unhurried responses to my right foot prodding the GO pedal. The transmission was quick to drop down to a lower gear but it never made the X5 take off like a stuck pig- or like a BMW 335. However, moving the stubby gear selector to the Sport position changed the throttle mapping and shifting logic, always keeping in a lower gear than normal to quicken throttle response and make the X5 seem a bit faster.

You might think that the “Sport” button immediately below the shift lever would implement the transmission’s sport shifting mode, but that is not the case. The Sport button is for selecting Active Drive Sport Mode, which changes active steering and damping for a sportier drive. Unfortunately, I found the active steering to be irritating in lower speeds, with unexpected amount of steering input required. The active damping, however, was seamless- never standing out or feeling less-than-fully developed. Body motions were always minimal and well-controlled, providing pretty good feedback and allowing the X5 to be driven in a sporting manner without bobbing around or feeling like the vehicle might overturn, as can occur in some SUVs.

The X5 I drove was equipped with BMW’s Comfort Access system, which allows the key to be kept in the driver’s pocket or briefcase while the doors are unlocked and the car started. While driving the X5, the cabin had some creaks and rattles from the dashboard and the cargo area. Aside from those niggles, the driving experience was better than most crossover vehicles I’ve used, with good visibility and feedback. Unfortunately, although the very firm seats have many adjustments including an extendable thigh support and four-way lumbar adjustment, I could not make myself comfortable in the chair because of the shape of the backrest.

Complementing the Space Gray exterior paint were unpainted charcoal-colored plastic sill extensions below the doors, with matching trim on the bumpers and around the wheels. Too high and narrow to work as running boards, the sill extensions get dirty quickly from spray off the wheels in wet conditions, and have a large horizontal surface for collecting dirt and debris. This makes it certain that the sill extensions will get pant-legs dirty when getting in and out of the car. Also, small children climbing into the car are sure to kneel on the wet, dirty plastic. My three-year-old daughter did just that, several times.

One thing that was not gray-and-gloomy was the X5’s iDrive screen. For all of the bad things I’ve read in various publications about BMW’s iDrive system, I was expecting a bad experience with this, my first use of the system. But the system wasn’t bad at all. It was not unintuitive to navigate, even if some of the available adjustments seemed superfluous or unnecessary. Pairing my iPhone to the X5’s Bluetooth system was much easier to do using the iDrive than it was in either the Mini Cooper or the Nissan 350Z I tested recently. Inputting a destination into the navigation system was also straightforward, if not particularly fast. The DVD-based system always took several moments longer than expected to select a route. The straightforward voice-command system which is included in the Technology Package allows spoken commands to be used in lieu of the iDrive knob, and it works nicely.

This X5 included HD radio, my first experience with that technology. The iDrive system was a bit tricky to use for tuning secondary HD channels. I had to read the manual very closely to figure out how to use it. The radio tuning mode needed to be set to Manual, then the stations needed to be manually scrolled through (using the seek buttons). Only when an HD station is selected, and the HD symbol is shown, can the seek button then be used to scroll to the second (and third) HD stations on that frequency. Unfortunately, the HD signal in my area was easily interrupted by hilly terrain.

The iDrive screen also serves as the display for a backup camera (with guidance lines) when the car is put into reverse. Most of the times I shifted into reverse, the backup camera came right on. Sometimes, though, it took up to 30 seconds, by which time I’d already reversed and started driving forward again. Certainly it was a software niggle of some kind.

The X5’s Panoramic Moonroof was truly panoramic, with a huge pane of glass over the front seats and a smaller one over the rear seats. The pane over the front seats can be retracted fully so that it is even with the front of the fixed rear pane, yielding an opening almost 3 feet wide by 4 feet long. Both panels can also tilt up at the rear for ventilation. When the sun is too bright, a shade which matches the anthracite headliner can be motored into place to block out all the sun, returning the cabin to its gloomy gray sobriety.

The rear doors have a fairly narrow opening angle, resulting in a smallish opening for getting into the back seat (or for installing a car seat). Our Britax Marathon did install easily in the second row, with easy-to-locate (and easy to use) ISOFIX upper and lower mounting locations. Front seatbacks are scooped to provide rear knee room, though the scooping is done in a fairly hard plastic, meaning that if somebody with long legs is stuck behind a tall driver, there will be bruised knees.

The second-generation X5 is proud to offer a third row of seats (for hauling up to seven passengers), but the X5 I tested was not equipped with the third row. It did have a huge cargo area, which easily accepted whatever cargo I loaded up, including (separately) an infant’s changing table, two large equipment cases, or the contents of an overfilled shopping cart from a major trip to Costco. In each case, there was plenty of room to spare, as the cargo area is quite tall. The cargo hold has tracks on each side with movable anchors for securing cargo in place.

Efficient dynamics is BMW’s tagline for their balance of fuel economy, handling and performance. I didn’t find the heavy X5 to be very efficient, though as stated above its dynamics were pretty good for a nearly 5000 pound crossover. The X5 3.0si has an EPA fuel economy rating of 15/21 MPG (18 combined). I averaged 17.5 MPG on required premium unleaded over 375 miles, with an average speed of 33.3 MPH which reflects a fair amount of time spent on the freeway between 60 and 70 MPH. On the final day of my time with the X5, the Check Engine light illuminated and was on for the remainder of the day.

The X5 I tested was loaded up with expensive options, making my week in the gray crossover comfortable. The big BMW’s winter package included a heated steering wheel, which is one of my favorite indulgences. There are plenty of other options available that were not installed on X5 I drove, including premium sound system with multiple-disc changer (a single-disc player is standard), ventilated seats, rear climate package, head up display, power-operated rear hatchback, and the third row seat. And, of course, the 350 HP, 4.8 liter V8.

While the X5 3.0si wasn’t especially quick, and I didn’t immediately love driving it, by the end of the week after nearly 400 miles I realized I had grown to appreciate a lot of the details of the X5. Both the communicative suspension and the nicely-integrated interior features and electronics made the X5 a nice place to spend time, driver’s seat (dis)comfort notwithstanding.

The X5 3.0si has an MSRP of $45,900 which includes xDrive all-wheel drive, Dynamic Stability Control, power front seats, Hill Descent Control, Dynamic Cruise Control, iDrive, Tire Pressure Monitor, Xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and Panoramic Moonroof. Optional equipment included the $900 Cold Weather Package (heated front seats, heated steering wheel, headlamp washers), $2750 Premium Package (auto-dimming interior/exterior mirrors, digital compass in mirror, cargo securement in trunk, universal garage door opener, BMW Assist, adjustable front seat lumbar support), $3600 Sport Package (electronic damping control, anthracite headliner, sport leather steering wheel, 19 inch alloy wheels), $2600 Technology Package (navigation system, voice activation for iDrive, real-time traffic information, park distance control, and rear-view camera) Comfort Access System $1000, iPod/USB Adapter $400, HD Radio $350, and Destination charge $775, for a total of $58,275.

That’s a big sum for a five-passenger (or even seven-passenger) crossover vehicle, the likes of which are available from other manufacturers such as Buick and Volvo for about ten thousand dollars less with similar equipment levels and six-cylinder engines, though those competitors have a hard time matching the driving dynamics of the X5. While I did enjoy the time I spent in the X5, I can’t see spending such a big sum on that vehicle. Plenty of other people have managed to justify the cost, however, as there are a lot of X5s on the road in the Pacific Northwest- and most of them are gray.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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  1. Nice write-up. It looks more comfy than a 1994 Honda, and looks to get better fuel economy than a 1997 Volvo 855 T5. What’s not to love?

  2. I find myself agreeing with the author about it being expensive for what you get. Throw out the BMW badge and it doesn’t seem to measure up to other competitors in terms of what you get for what you pay.

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