When BMW decided to dive into the sport-ute waters, they weren’t content with just sending a few ripples across an already crowded pond. They went for a cannonball-style entry with a fire-breathing V-8 powered ute, dubbed the X5 4.4i sport activity vehicle. Skeptics were soon won over, but with a base price of $50,000, the cost of admission was steep. Well, the newest X5, the 3.0i, is more for the masses. But as you’ll see, it still makes a pretty big splash. Watch the 2001 BMW X5 3.0i drive past, and you’d be hard pressed to tell it from its 4.4i sibling. But a careful eye will notice the 3.0i’s unique titanium-colored grille and bumper, clear turn-signal and side marker lenses, its own wheels, body-color door handles, and black window trim. But there are more significant differences that are less visible. The biggest of which lies under the hood! The 4.4i’s V8 engine has been replaced with the 530i’s 3.0-liter, twin-cam, 24- valve inline six. Designated M54, it delivers 225 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. And unlike the V8 drivetrain, comes standard with a 5-speed manual transmission. A 5- speed automatic is optional. All X5 models put power down through a full-time all-wheel-drive system, with a planetary transfer drive that distributes torque 38% to the front and 62% to the rear. Slippery pavement is further tamed by all-speed traction control, with Hill Descent Control regulating the pace off-road. But it is the manual gearbox that gives the 3.0i 6 a true sporting character that differentiates it from the 4.4i V-8 and most other premium-utes. By the numbers our 3.0i sprints to 60 in 7.8-seconds and through the full 1/4-mile in 15.8-seconds at 89 miles-per-hour. While still over a second behind its V8 sibling, that’s very quick for a 4,519-pound sport-ute. Acceleration is hampered by the grabby clutch common to manual BMWs. But shifter action is very positive, and engine power smooth, willing, and consistent. To match the enthusiastic powertrain, BMW offers 3.0i buyers an optional sport package. It includes firmer struts, self-leveling air springs, and an upgrade from 17-inch to 18-inch rims. So equipped, our 3.0i delivered plenty of on-road grip. But in tight switchbacks, we noticed an odd, disjointed feeling, as the air springs try to compensate for sudden side-to-side transitions. Something we didn’t feel when we drove a 4.4i at high speeds on the Road Atlanta road course. But, in normal street driving, the 3.0i is very nimble with unusually flat cornering for an off-road capable machine. Steering effort is lighter than the 4.4i, while Dynamic Stability Control is standard to help cornering on slick pavement. On the inside, the 3.0i forgoes the 4.4i’s warm wood trim in favor of cooler color-keyed plastic. If you want the wood, order the Premium package. Comfortable seating is guaranteed by the tilt/telescoping steering wheel and 8-way power driver’s seat. Leatherette seat trim is standard on the 3.0i, with our X5’s real cowhide an option. Gauges are clear, precise, if incomplete. A Navigation system is optional. While most other interior X5 traits, the BMW-familiar stereo and climate controls, commendable rear seat head and leg room, and smallish 54.4 cubic feet of total cargo capacity accessed through a combination of tailgate and lift glass, remain the same between the 3.0i and the 4.4i. But the price doesn’t. The BMW X5 3.0i begins at $39,470. That’s exactly $10,400 less than the 4.4i. But if you don’t go easy on options, you can push it to the $45,115 final price of our rig. Still, 10 grand is 10 grand, and we think that alone makes the X5 3.0i a smart choice. After all, whether you’ll be romping through the muddy woods, or just the puddles of a rainy street, the impressive 2001 BMW X5 always make a big splash.
Engine: 3.0-Liter Twin-cam 24- Valve Inline Six
Torque: 214 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.8 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.8 Seconds @ 89 MPH
EPA Mileage: 15 MPG City 20 MPG Highway