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Born in the USA. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

Born in the USA
BMW's first X5 is a hard act to follow, but it's been done. We drove the V8 version in its country of birth. The US of A.

 



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#03#Back in the early nineties, BMW decided that it needed a new factory and that it should be built in the USA. The county of Spartanburg, in South Carolina, was chosen for a variety of reasons, including the close proximity to good transportation links and the state's renowned Technical Education System, which BMW sees as key to developing a skilled workforce. Despite the Germanic-sounding name ('burg' comes from the German for hill fort), the city was named after the Spartan regiment of the South Carolina Militia in the late 1700s and this is where we are for the launch of the all-new BMW X5.

Today, the BMW plant is double the size it was when production started and 4,500 'associates' are directly employed there. According to official figures, BMW's presence in the state has encouraged 39 suppliers to relocate there, in the process creating nearly 17,000 additional jobs. Small wonder then that the authorities look favourably on the company, especially as BMW appears to give a lot back to the community too.

Other than donating millions of dollars each year to schools and charity events in the local area, BMW's most ambitious project to date is the formation of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (ICAR for short), in association with the university itself and the state of South Carolina. Though the campus is not actually finished, the first completed and operating building is the BMW Information Technology Research Center (ITRC), in which the company has already begun work.

BMW hopes to gain from this set-up of course, with access to a pool of keen students to conduct IT research for the company. In return, the aim is for some of the teaching at the college to be carried out by engineers from BMW and other corporate partners. With IT giants Microsoft and IBM and tyre manufacturer Michelin also due to have a presence on the ICAR campus, Clemson University has the chance to be a centre of excellence in automotive technology. Though you can't imagine BMW allowing another car maker into the facility...

So what does this mean to the average man on the street in Upstate South Carolina? We talked to several residents to find out what they made of the 'invasion' by a German company. Everybody we spoke to agreed that the jobs created by a car plant in the area were invaluable, but few cared what manufacturer it was. Before BMW moved in, the Big Three American car makers dominated the market in these parts and well, they still do. The workers at the plant get a great deal, so the employee car parks are full of shiny new 3 Series BMWs, but away from the factory you have to look hard to find one amongst the Ford and Chevy pick-ups. Take the USA as a whole though and BMW sells six times more cars now than it did when the Spartanburg plant first opened... #p##02# Jim Clark, an ex-racer and now head driving instructor at BMW's Performance Center had an interesting take on the situation. Having moved to the area from California, Jim is perhaps more aware of the changes than a life-long resident would be. He reckons that with the increase in college education and the migration of high technology companies to the area, the demographics are changing from predominantly working class to more middle and upper-class, i.e. BMW's target buyer. You could say that, by moving to the area, BMW has actually created a customer base for itself.

Just five minutes away from the Spartanburg plant is the BMW Performance Driving School. This sprawling facility has several different paved tracks, a proper skidpan and a 1.4-mile off-road course, along with a modern building that can facilitate many separate groups at once.

The initial reason for the driving school was to allow BMW buyers to visit the factory and collect their shiny new car, then spend half a day under the watchful eye of the team of professional driving instructors on a variety of tasks. During our visit we witnessed a procession of new BMW M5s undergoing 'spirited' cornering by their keen new owners, including the use of the facility's Water Walls, which teaches accident avoidance and car control by deploying a wall of water in the path of the car, which the driver must attempt to avoid.

BMW has found that there is overwhelming demand for the school, and not just from BMW buyers. Nowadays, the centre runs seven days a week and struggles to find enough good instructors to cope with demand. As well as hosting BMW buyers and enthusiasts, the centre is used for corporate training days and internal company training too. #p##03# With the launch of the new BMW X5, we were given free reign of the facility. The off-road course was huge fun (if not quite challenging the car's capabilities) with several three-wheeling moments ensuring butterflies in the stomach. With regards to the X5's abilities though, the skidpan was most illuminating. Even with all of the car's electronic safety devices turned off, it was pretty much impossible to get the X5 to spin on the soaking wet, low-grip surface. It just goes to show the inherent security of a four-wheel drive system and its relevance to on-road driving, as well as off.

Although the performance centre started out as a school, one of the engineers present let slip the fact that actually it has been used on occasion by the research and development team too, particularly on the up and coming X6 crossover vehicle (codename E71). With such fantastic facilities available, and more of the company's cars being developed for an American audience, it wouldn't be surprising to see BMW's engineers make further use of it in the future.

After a glance around the small but well-stocked BMW museum, we set out for the Blue Ridge Parkway to try out the X5 for size. You may have a picture of the USA in your head where everybody drives on straight, four-lane highways at 55mph. Well, that exists, but up into the mountains we found some of the best driving roads we've experienced, and what's more, they were deserted too. With nobody around to bother (or to bother us), it would be rude not to test the X5's handling capabilities.

You shouldn't be surprised to hear that the new X5 was developed as a competent road car first and foremost and this shows. Body control is exceptional, even at then tenths. Roll, pitch and dive are all kept in check. In the dry, mechanical grip is almost limitless, though the big V8 has enough torque to convince the tyres into a controlled drift out of the tightest corners. Under sustained abuse, we found the brakes to be faultless too.

There's no getting away from the fact that the X5 is a large, heavy car though, and this type of driving can decimate average fuel consumption. In comparison to most other SUVs, the X5 is a startlingly good steer, but it has a few weaknesses too. For instance, as direct and well-weighted as the steering is, there is precious little feedback from the tread blocks. More frustrating though was the six-speed automatic. It's a quick-shifting 'box and smooth, but not quite as good an installation as the new unit fitted to the BMW 335i. We're spoiled; I know. #p##04# Elsewhere, the new X5 is a significant improvement over the already class-leading outgoing car. The biggest change is inside. There is more space now, including the option for the first time of a third row of seats and every switch and surface has been enhanced. It all works very well and we particularly like the tactile new gear lever. Our only criticism is that it doesn't distance itself from the cheaper BMW ranges. So, a 3 Series buyer feels just as special.

However, the X5 does feel like a much larger, more luxurious car, sitting above even the 5 Series. Put your foot down in the 4.8-litre V8-engined version and you're in no doubt either. We had fears that the new car's abilities might have been diluted in order to appeal more to the car's country of birth, but no, the X5 remains one of the benchmark SUVs for the road; it just happens to do everything else asked of it as well.
2007 BMW X5 range overview

ModelUK (£ on-the-road)Ireland: (€ on-the-road)
BMW X5 3.0si SE£39,630n/a
BMW X5 3.0d SE£40,205€79,400
BMW X5 4.8i SE£50,070€102,950


Shane O' Donoghue - 6 Apr 2007









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2007 BMW X5 specifications: (4.8i SE)
Price: £50,070
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 149mph
Combined economy: 22.6mpg
Emissions: 299g/km
Kerb weight: 2245kg

Full technical specifications

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.



BMW USA. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW X5. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 






 

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