You may be excused if you can't spot the differences between a 2006 X5 and a 2007 model -- I do this for a living, and I can't really tell which is which. The first indication that you're looking at a 2007 X5 is that it is substantially bigger than the earlier edition in nearly every measurable exterior dimension. At nearly 16' long, it is almost 8" longer. It is 2" taller. It is 3" wider. It has a 4" longer wheelbase. And those added inches equal extra poundage -- the 2007 X5 weighs in at 4982 lbs, a whopping 330 lbs heavier than its predecessor.
For all that added girth, X5 retains its essential X5-ness. Big multi-projector headlights are deep-set behind clear shields. The BMW signature kidney grille openings look like feral nostrils. Assertive creases highlight lines down the athletic sides of the body. The tailgate is a little more bulbous, a little rounder than before, giving the whole vehicle a bit of a teardrop shape. X5 reminds me of a body builder whose bulk gives the impression of power.
Fit and finish are exemplary, as you should expect from a vehicle that costs over 45 grand. I especially liked the standard gleaming 18" alloy wheels, a step up from most stock alloys.
In the Driver's Seat
Let the annoyance begin. I don't expect to get into a new SUV and immediately figure out how every feature works, any more than I expect to take a new computer out of the box and immediately access all of its features. You have to really study the owners manual to master some of the deeper functions. So I give a new SUV a break, and give myself some time to figure out how everything works. If you've ever used a joystick, you'll immediately understand how BMW's driver interface works, and you'll be able to customize its functions to suit your style.
But then BMW throws in a few completely unnecessary twists. The gear selector, mounted in the center console, works in a way that I found annoying and counterintuitive. We've spent years operating gear selectors in the same way, pulling back from Park to Reverse to Drive, etc. I'll bet you don't even think about it anymore, and most manufacturers stick with the same basic formula -- because it works. Not BMW -- they have to tweak the system. You pull back to go into Drive, but you push forward to go into Reverse. Annoying.
Then, there's the parking brake, an electronic goodie that is operated by a lever in the center console. I'm a fiddler. No, I don't play the fiddle, I just have busy hands. When I'm driving, I'm touching surfaces, fiddling with knobs, reaching around all the time, even when my hands are on the wheel. I lived in fear of that parking brake lever. It was right in my busiest zone. I had to make sure that I didn't accidentally fiddle myself into an electronic disaster. Annoying.
On the Road
Safety features abound on X5, which is great considering that seating capacity is up to seven with the addition of a pair of third row seats. The extra wheelbase made room for the seating, though access is a little tight. Kids and small adults should be quite comfortable in the third row, and three adults can sit snugly in the second row. The front row is the place to be, with an extremely comfortable driver's seat that's both heated and ventilated.
If you're considering a BMW X5 3.0si, there are several other SUVs to look at before you make your decision. The German competition abounds -- the Audi Q7, the Porsche Cayenne and the Volkswagen Touareg are all incredible, and folks just rave about their Mercedes-Benz GL450s. Acura's MDX, Lexus's GX470 and Infiniti's EX35 are also worth considering. Don't overlook the Cadillac SRX, the Lincoln MKX or the Mazda CX-9 either.
I still stand by my right to be annoyed by the X5, even though I recognize that every relationship is a two-way street. Perhaps if I were more patient, I might come to appreciate X5's unique qualities more. On the other hand, I might be forced to crash it into a tree out of frustration. I know myself pretty well -- and I'm going to stay away from the BMW X5. Don't let me sway you, though -- go try one out and get annoyed for yourself.
After all, misery loves company.