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BMW's "bargain" wagon

Well-equipped: The X5 3.0 comes standard with most of the V8 4.4 version's extensive equipment list, plus the optional sports package (above)

The impressive X5 3.0 all-terrain wagon is easy on price despite an extensive equipment list

29 Mar 2001

BMW Australia has lobbed another curve ball into the burgeoning all-terrain wagon segment with the addition to its impressive portfolio of the six-cylinder X5 3.0.

Employing the 3 Series' brilliant new M54 straight six and with an entry price of $79,950 in five-speed manual form, the X5 3.0 comes standard with most of the V8 4.4 version's extensive equipment list, yet undercuts it by a massive $28,000.

So it is no surprise the 3.0-litre will comprise 60-70 per cent of the 1300 X5s BMW Australia has been allocated, a figure that amounts to about 10 per cent of the hotly contested SUV market.

The six-packed X5 will compete with the likes of Audi's new Allroad, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Range Rover 4.0, Land Cruiser GXV, forthcoming Porsche Cayenne and VW Colorado, and of course Mercedes-Benz's popular and inexpensive ML320 and ML270 CDI. And it has the potential to further slow sales of BMW's niche market 530i Touring, which sells for $104,665.

With a kerb weight of 2065kg making it at least 100kg lighter than the $107,850 X5 4.4, the 170kW six-cylinder is said to propel the X5 3.0 to 100km/h in just 8.5 seconds, only 0.3 seconds slower than the V8. In $82,350 five-speed Steptronic automatic guise, 0-100km/h acceleration is claimed to be 9.2 seconds.

Bolted unchanged from the 3 Series to the chunky X5 body, BMW claims the 24-valve Double VANOS engine delivers 80 per cent of its 300Nm of torque at just 1800rpm.

A slightly lower drag coefficient of 0.35, due to narrower 17-inch wheels and tyres, allows the smaller engined X5 to reach an impressive 202km/h top speed, just 4km/h slower than the V8.

The X5 3.0 is difficult to separate from the 4.4 visually, with 17 x 7.5-inch alloys and 235/65-section rubber taking the place of the V8's 18 x 8.5-inch wheels with 255/55-section tyres, twin exhausts instead of quad tailpipes and some subtle front quarter panel badging being the only discernible differences.

The 3.0 has the 4.4's full array of safety features and driver aids, including ABS, DBC, DSCIII, ASC-X, ADB-X, HDC and CBC, but skimps on parking distance control (PDC), self-levelling suspension, electronic front seat adjustment, on-board monitor with trip computer and 10-speaker sound system.

But with full leather upholstery, climate control air-conditioning and 10 airbags, the standard equipment list remains impressive.

And if the V8's entire options list is not enough, X5 3.0 buyers can always go for the Sports Pack which includes 19-inch alloys, sports suspension, sports seats and sportier leather trim. It's available for $6350, or just $3950 for 4.4 customers.

Drive impressions: THREE litres of BMW power and more than two tonnes of mass is far from the optimum power to weight ratio, but the ease with which the gritty new M54 engine copes with a vehicle the size of BMW's X5 is remarkable.

Standing-start acceleration is more than adequate and although rapid progress is hard to come by when the engine is spinning anywhere below 2000rpm, midrange and top-end progress is nothing short of spirited.

Indeed, for the unchanged 3 Series powerplant to power the X5 as efficiently as it does is testament to the new 3.0-litre's ability, though a 2000rpm-wide gap between the third and fourth ratios in the Steptronic transmission does tend to burden the X5 3.0 driver unnecessarily in fast going on the open road.

The smaller engined car has lighter front spring rates to compensate for less weight up front and, if anything, it result in more accurate steering than the 4.4. The 3.0 exhibiting slightly crisper turn-in and feeling less willing to push its nose wide during ambitious cornering.

Like the 4.4, the 3.0's driver aids are impressive, the stability control program allowing the X5's rear-end to drift gently wide into gravel bends before its yaw sensor-activated brake distribution systems activates each brake individually to bring it gently back into line every time.

The 3.0 X5 does not go as hard or sound nearly as good as the 4.4, but it remains an all-terrain wagon with serious handling and performance credentials. And for almost $30,000 less, we can't see many buyers complaining.

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