Car reviews - BMW - X5 - 4.8is
Performance, grip, handling, exhaust note, six-speed auto, equipment list, safety features, stability, steering, build quality, exclusivity
Room for improvement
Aerodynamics, no manual transmission, no third-row seating, some gear hunting auto mode, premium unleaded fuel diet
24 Mar 2005
By TIM BRITTEN
THIS is the sort of car that demands superlatives. BMW reckons so anyway. In three brief paragraphs containing a total of 132 words, the X5 4.8is was introduced at the 2004 Sydney motor show using terms like "fire-breathing", "steroid-enhanced", "benchmark-setting", "tarmac-melting" and "driver-thrilling".
That the X5 4.8is is a mighty force among SUVs (sports utility vehicles) there can be no doubt. Only the Porsche Cayenne Turbo upstages its 265kW and its around-$160,000 pricetag.
The monster BMW is not likely to be a common sight either, as only a limited number of X5 4.8s are to be imported.
To put it into perspective, the 4.8is is basically a pumped-up version of the 4.4i X5 – the base X5 V8 that launched the vehicle here in 2000. The 4.8is grew out of the 4.6is that was introduced here, also as a limited import, in 2002.
And if you already thought the X5 was already a cut above the pack when it came to on-road abilities, the 4.8is reinforces that belief with a vengeance.
Why, the vehicle even saw some work at the Nürburgring circuit during its development, which is a bit different to, say, Land Rover spending much of the development time on its new 4WD Discovery scrabbling up impossibly steep tracks and fording waist-high rivers.
The X5 4.8is is focussed, possibly more than any other SUV, on the tarmac.
That’s why BMW talks about the Nürburgring thing, and why acceleration times (zero to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds) are more important than how it goes in the bush. This is an AWD one could use to joust with a sporty V8 sedan.
Its 265kW are massive enough, but the 500Nm of torque are even more impressive, exceeding the Nm-per-litre output of just about any other regular, on-road engine.
Put into perspective again, it’s the same torque figure, but produced at fewer rpm, than that managed by the latest iteration of Holden’s 5.7-litre Gen III V8, which has 1.3 litres more capacity than the BMW to play with.
The X5’s suspension has been re-worked, and there’s a set of new wheels and tyres, larger at the back than at the front, that give the BMW some really workmanlike contact patches on the road.
A bodykit underlines the intentions of BMW’s high-performance team in developing the 4.8is, as it is aimed at improving aerodynamic stability at high speeds. The Cd figure is reasonable for a big AWD at 0.38.
The all-alloy, multi-cam, 32-valve BMW V8 was already off to a good start, as it’s been a familiar staple in the company’s diet for some time. The good thing is that its obvious efficiency hasn’t been blunted by the capacity stretch, which has largely been achieved by lengthening the stroke (although it retains a short-stroke configuration).
The 4.8-litre gets things like a new engine management program, as well as modified inlet and exhaust systems with a quadrupled array of pipes thrusting out of the rear panels. In addition to providing all that extra power, this ensures an omnipresent, thundering V8 exhaust note.
All the torque and kiloWatts are directed through the familiar six-speed ZF automatic used widely across the range (and by other car-makers). There’s no manual transmission option.
The 4.8is is also something of a Carmen Miranda. It gets (just about) all the fruit, although strangely, according to the figures, it’s no heavier than the regular 4.4i X5.
Standard gear includes adaptive, see-around-the-corner bi-Xenon headlights, full leather upholstery, power front seats with memory settings on the driver’s side, power-adjusted steering column, climate-control air-conditioning, multifunction steering wheel, 10-speaker sound system with boot-mounted CD stacker, on board monitor with TV, and park distance control.
The electronics incorporate all the BMW systems aimed at minimising the chances of coming unstuck on or off the road.
The systems, and excuse us if this might be a little confusing at times, include Automatic Stability Control and Traction (ASC-X), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC-X), Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), Automatic Differential Brake (ADB-X), Hill Descent Control (HDC, which helps keep things under control, without driver intervention, on a steep off-road slope), Corner Brake Control (CBC), self levelling suspension and park distance control.
The X5 also gets a five-star Euro NCAP crash test safety rating with standard passive safety features including 10 airbags - dual front, four side, and four front and rear headbags.
The driving experience is pretty familiar X5. The inside feels quite massive, with plenty of stretch-out space even for beefy passengers. There’s no third-row seating, of course, but the load area behind the rear seat is quite spacious and covered with a roll-out blind.
The test car was fitted with the optional slide-out rear floor, which makes a handy platform for picnics or other recreational activities.
The 4.8is starts with a rumble that is at once shattering and subdued, as well as a slight suggestion of V8 shake at idle.
There’s certainly no doubt that something is in store, and this is verified with the first tentative tickle of the accelerator pedal.
Five hundred Newton-metres, even when they have to haul around 2200kg, are plenty enough, especially when supported by 265kW.
With all-wheel drive constantly available via the new infinitely variable xDrive system, there’s always traction to control any wayward kiloWatts, even on slippery surfaces.
The xDrive favours the rear wheels, where it can send up to 100 per cent of the power if needs be, but also apportions some of it to the front wheels when necessary.
It’s also connected into the electronic stability control, meaning it can juggle the power so it goes to the wheels where it will have most effect in controlling an imminent slide. Handy stuff with a two-tonne-plus, 500Nm beast.
And the tyres - 275/40 R20 at the front and 315/35 R20 at the rear - are what’s needed for the task, even if they are clearly not intended for even a whiff of off-road work.
The 4.8is feels as quick as virtually anything on the road, which in fact it is. A non-turbo, massive vehicle like this that accelerates like a WRX is something to be experienced.
And, like all X5s, the handling and road grip is something to be experienced as well. The top-heavy feel of just about all 4WDs, soft-road or off-road, is hardly noticeable here, apart from the fact you’re always aware of the elevated seating position.
The BMW, which basically uses 7 Series self-levelling suspension, steers with a sharpness and a sense of agility that it rare in this segment. Only the Porsche Cayenne shares the BMW’s sense of stable, high-speed security.
The ride is firm, but quite comfortable, making the 4.8is feel quite regal on the road, pretty silent on a country cruise where the sight of an appealing back road is sure to entice, remembering always that the tyres may not like too much sharp-edged stuff.
And if the sound of the V8 is magnificent when accelerating, it doesn’t disappoint when backing off the accelerator either, as a lovely thudding sound comes up through the floor.
It’s all a quite thirsty business though. Our test car averaged around 14.4 litres per 100km on test, which admittedly isn’t bad considering the weight, size and power of this vehicle but would have been worse had we covered more urban kilometres.
At least it is offset by a decent-size, 93-litre fuel tank. Premium-grade unleaded is a prerequisite, however.
The six-speed auto, as in the 7 Series, is a smooth shifter with plenty of ratio options to choose from although, surprisingly, it will hunt through the gears at times when left in drive mode.
The sequential pattern is standard BMW (forward to downshift, back to upshift) but non-standard compared to just about everyone else.
In the end, the X5 4.8is is a hell of an indulgence. If you want a really fast SUV, you won’t do any better - unless you start thinking about the people from Stuttgart.
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