Tow Test: BMW X5

BMW's X5 is truly an incredible towing machine.

As a fashionably late arrival to the luxury SUV party, BMW didn’t want to wear the same outfit as the rest of the crowd. So it purposely didn’t follow the style of rivals such as Cadillac, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, and Mercedes-Benz. Instead of a truck in a tuxedo, the new X5 is a 5-series BMW sedan with more ground clearance, curb weight, and stature. In other words, this is the first SUV that drives and handles with truly sporting intentions. Yank the steering wheel and fat Michelin radials bite down to fulfill your every command. Mash the throttle and a seemingly bottomless energy reserve hustles you through the speed limit in one smooth whoosh. Massive brakes haul you down from felonious velocities without drama. This is definitely the SUV for those who worship at the altar of the “ultimate driving machine.”

However, more mainstream tastes will be surprised at the X5’s high steering effort and its stiff ride over bumps and expansion joints. (Especially disconcerting is that BMW’s own 5-series sport wagon offers significantly more cargo space whether the rear seats are up or folded down.) Factor in pricing that starts just below $40,000, and quickly climbs above $50,000 when a V-8 and other options are added, and you have a super-premium SUV aimed at a super-select audience.

The factors that conspire against the X5 as an everyday commuter actually help it tow better. To put the X5’s 6,000-pound rated towing capacity to the test, I hitched up a 2’8″ Galaxie Thor deep-V sportboat riding a Trail Rite dual-axle trailer and plied the highways for a few days. The X5 performed amazing feats – it pulled more than five tons of gross combined weight and accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in less than 17 seconds. The same chassis that felt stiff over bumps in its unladen state controlled the long trailer with firm resolve and moved with serene composure.


No low range is provided in the X5’s driveline. None is necessary because it combines implacable traction and a five-speed automatic transmission behind a torque-rich 4.4-liter V-8 engine. A center-mounted transfer case relies on three open differentials to deliver power to all four wheels and computer-controlled brake applications to keep any wheel from spinning. As I tapped the gas at the launch ramp, the X5 hustled its load out of the water like a Caterpillar on shore patrol.

To support the active boater’s hauling needs, rear access is achieved via interlocking lift – and tailgates. The rear seats split and fold in the usual 60-40 fashion. A trap door built into the rear backrest lets you poke skis (sheathed inside their own nylon storage sack) down the middle of the passenger compartment. A convenient retractable load floor is available as an option.

Engine 4.4-liter DOHC V-8
Net hp/rpm 282/5400
Net torque (ft-lb/rpm) 324/3600
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Front suspension strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension multilink, air springs
Wheelbase (in.) 111.0
Length (in.) 183.7
Width (in.) 73.7
Height (in.) 67.2
Brakes (front/rear) disc/disc; standard 4-wheel ABS
Tires Michelin MXV4 all-season, P255/55HR-18
Curb weight (lbs.) 4,940
Towing capacity (lbs.) 6,000
Cargo capacity (max. cu. ft.) 54.4
Fuel capacity (gal.) 24.6
Estimated city/highway towing fuel economy (avg. mpg) 10.5
Price (as tested) $54,135

LAST WORD. Prestige, driving enjoyment, and awesome towing performance add up to one incredible SUV.