quote:[HR][/HR]Preview: BMW X5 4.6is
Ute On Speed
By Warren Clarke
You drive an SUV. You are king of the world. Your choice of vehicle affords you a high, magnificent view of the road, ample interior room and the satisfaction of knowing that your porcine hauler grandly announces that, yes, you are "rugged" and "individual." The situation for people like you wasn't always rosy. There was a time, not so long ago, when piloting a ute almost certainly meant suffering the heartbreak of trying to rev along a vehicle whose engine was woefully underpowered relative to its bulk. But, of course, those days are no more; today's SUV buyers have available to them many utes that don't ignore performance in their overall mix. The latest of these is BMW's asphalt-chomping X5 4.6is.
The 4.6is is the newly sprouted high-performance branch of the X5 family tree (the 3.0i and 4.4i round out the brood). Visually, the differences between this vehicle and its immediate siblings are slight. The 4.6is' stance gets an extra shot of swagger thanks to huge 20-inch wheels, which are accommodated by flared wheel arches that insinuate performance. This X5 also gets a Jay Leno-style chin, thanks to its prominent body-colored front spoiler. Side wind-splitters and xenon headlamps -- optional on other X5s -- are standard on the 4.6is. And in the rear, a body-colored air dam and two oval tailpipes give this trim level's look a bit of added potency.
The 4.6is' suspension already has somewhat of a track record. It's the same as that found in BMW's recent X5 Le Mans concept; according to BMW, the suspension system did an excellent job of keeping that vehicle in stirring dialogue with the road, despite its belligerent 700-horsepower engine and the extreme racing conditions under which it was operated. A recent test drive of the 4.6is left our editor impressed; it exhibited less body roll and sway around fast corners than many in its class, and was remarkably poised. The 4.6is' relatively low center of gravity no doubt helps; as is the case with others in the X5 family, the vehicle's front driveshaft runs through the oil sump to keep the engine as close to the road as possible. This helps reduce the risk of the ute flipping over in a sudden steering maneuver.
Though the 4.6is seems designed to shine most brightly on pavement, off-road performance wasn't overlooked. The vehicle's all-wheel-drive system features electronic traction control on all four wheels, helping to facilitate grip and maneuverability throughout a host of driving situations. And like others in the X5 family, the vehicle is endowed with Hill Descent Control, which helps control speed when driving downhill on rough terrain.
The 4.6is also offers a new and improved trailer stability control system, which brings added traction and safety during towing. The system recognizes when there is pendulum motion between the vehicle and the object being towed; this tends to indicate loss of control, and if such motion is detected, the ute's brakes are applied to help restore safety.
But, of course, all these additions and upgrades are just appetizers for the 4.6is' juicy main course: its beefed-up, ultra-potent 4.6-liter V8, which boasts a snarling 347 hp at 6,500 rpm and 354 pound-feet of torque at 3,700 rpm. It was clearly meant to steal thunder from the Mercedes ML55, and it does manage to best it in terms of horsepower: The ML55 comes in at 343. The brawny V8 aims to impress and it does, hustling the 4.6is from 0 to 60 mph in a neck-snapping 6.5 seconds.
It's hard to argue with speed and power. If you're in the market for a luxury SUV, the 4.6is (which will carry an MSRP of $66,845) is a very attractive option, offering a satisfying compromise of sporty handling and SUV image and utility.[HR][/HR]