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  • Roger Witherspoon

The BMW X5 and Land Rover LR3: A Competing Pair of Super SUVs

By Roger Witherspoon


It was that early time of morning when the sun is just sliding over the mountains

and extending warm tendrils to the dark surface of the highway and breaking the

lingering morning mist. The deer have trotted off to sleep off the night’s grazing, and it is

too early for traffic to disturb the morning crickets.

Which made it a perfect time to floor the pedal of the BMW X5, watch the gears

seamlessly shift through six gears as the speedometer nudges past 120 and the New

England roadway passes in a grey-green blur. This model had only a 3.0-liter, six-

cylinder engine, but it could quickly top out at 130 miles per hour – more than enough for

a morning jolt that was better than coffee. The only sounds were the mellow notes from

Trane’s Blues wafting over the car’s 12 speakers with the two subwoofers amplifying the

bass line fro the single CD player.

At times like this, it is easy to forget that the X5 is an SUV, essentially a small

truck which, if it were not made by BMW with all wheel drive, roll-over and traction

control, would have no business approaching triple digits. But then, BMWs are meant for

those who like power and finesse, style and speed, and that tradition was not lost in the

shift form a sports car to a small truck.

But in the afternoon I was in a different mood. The sun was high, the heat was

oppressive, and the highway was baking and covered with carbon-belching traffic while

steam shimmered above the lakes not far from the road. The big, 4.4-liter V-8 could push

the Land Rover to about 125 miles per hour – but not at this time of day. Which meant it

was time to leave civilization behind and roam. So I turned the Land Rover LR3 off the

highway, went down an embankment and followed a dirt track. I switched the navigation

system to “off-road” mode, so its satellite system not only tracked where I went, but

would remember the trail and bring me back to the highway when the exploring was


It was no time for mellow. So I gave Coltrane a rest and slid Gerald Levert into

the LR3’s six-disc CD player, cranked up the 550-watt, 14-speaker sound system till it

reverberated off of the hills and followed the dirt and gravel road through a small,

muddy, meandering stream about a foot deep. Land Rovers began life as off road

commercial trucks which were refined into luxury all-round SUVs. As a result, bounding

through more than two feet of water or bumping over rocks and downed logs are jolts

easily absorbed by the LR3’s air suspension. Levert never missed a beat during our forest

ride, or when I bounced back onto the highway and continued home.

If you have reached a point in life where you have need for a flexible SUV which,

in a pinch, has three rows of seats, a bucket full of amenities, and a price tag of about

$60,000 then the BMW X5 and the Land Rover LR3 offer two distinctly different


If you are looking for style to tool around the city and its suburbs, then you will

probably gravitate towards the X5. It has the svelte, angular, stealth fighter look of this

generation of BMW vehicles, the kind regularly parked in front of the fancier restaurants.

It is not the fastest in the fleet – the six cylinder engine cranks out only 260 horsepower.

BMW does offer a more powerful, 4.4 liter V-8 engine producing 350 horsepower, but

that boosts the price by about $10,000. In either case, the X5 is an SUV designed to rule

the roads.

The X5 is intended for effortless driving in comfort. Gear shifts are seamless, and

thee is no play at all in the leather steering wheel – the car responds instantly to the

slightest turn. The SUV has an airy feel, primarily because of the panoramic sun roofs

over the front and second row of seats. But the third row of seats, located at the push of a

button in the cargo area, is designed for children only. It is difficult to get into, there is no

real leg room, and a passenger more than six feet tall could only sit there with his head

bowed in a permanent state of prayer. It is also plush, with thick leather seats and padding

accented by real wood trim.

This is also a car for the computer age, with virtually all functions controlled by

BMW’s iDrive computer system. This system is not intuitive, and has a steep learning

curve which older drivers might find daunting. But once you learn it, the system is

comprehensive. It will pair up to four cell phones, for example, and recognize them as

they come near the vehicle.

If you ask the computer for a traffic update, it will show the level of traffic on all

the roads on your route and, upon request, will find you an alternate route around the

major bottlenecks. The entertainment system in the test vehicle had an iPod connection,

but no satellite radio, which is surprising in a vehicle in this price range. Generally, X5

buyers have to choose between satellites and iPods, though for a fee they can have both.

The designers of land Rover had a different concept in mind in crafting the LR3.

It’s boxy, rugged exterior – resembling the Marlboro Man of vehicles – is an acquired

taste. But the LR3 does not skimp in interior luxury – complete with leather seats and

wood trim – or off road capability. On the highway, the LR3 also has traction and

rollover control. At 5,700 pounds, the LR3 outweighs the X5 by half a ton, but has a 300

horsepower engine to handle the extra load.

Off road, the LR3 is not going to rule the woods – that’s still the top terrain of the

Hummer and Xterra – but it does come close and has many of the capabilities of the

larger and costlier Range Rover. The LR3 is capable of rolling figure 8’s on the side of a

45-degree slope, bounding over rocks or tree trunks without jarring the passengers or

causing the CD to skip.

The designers at Land Rover, unlike their counterparts at BMW, put together

vehicles for motorists who are more comfortable with show and tell than with computer

simulation. As a result, if you want to drive over rocks or water, you look for those

images on the dash, push the lever and the LR3-s drive systems shift accordingly. The

same system also lets you lower the chassis to make it easier for people to get into or out

of the car.

The LCD screen in the dash is touch activated, which makes it easy to look at

what you want and then order it. For entertainment, the LR3 has satellite radio and an

iPod connection, as well as DVD and game players and individual screens inset into the

rear of the front head rests. This allows the two second row passengers to simultaneously

play different movies, or play a movie and a video game while wearing wireless headsets

so they neither hear nor disturb the front and rear passengers who are listening to separate


You still have to fold out the second row of seats to access the third row in the

cargo area, but the LR3 has enough head and leg room to comfortably put two six-foot,

six-inch passengers in the rear with room to spare.

The Land Rover LR3 and BMW X5 provide two very different experiences for

those who need an SUV to cover all their work and play needs. But if you match one to

your lifestyle, you’ll have few reasons to complain.

08 BMW X5

MSRP: $59,975

EPA Mileage: 15 MPG City 21 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity: 6,000 Pounds

Top Speed: 130 MPH

Performance/ Safety:

3.0-Liter DOHC 6-cylinder, magnesium/aluminum composite engine producing 260

horsepower and 225 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission; full time all

wheel drive with electronically controlled, front and rear torque split; stability and

traction control; hill descent control; double wishbone front suspension; multilink rear

suspension; 4-wheel, antilock ventilated disc brakes; xenon adaptive headlights; halogen

foglights; driver and passenger’s front airbag; front and rear compartment head protection

and side impact airbags; 19-inch cast alloy wheels.

Interior/ Comfort:

AM/FM high fidelity radio with 12 speaker sound system; CD player, USB port and iPod

connection; panoramic sunroof; powered, leather seats; heated front seats.

08 Land Rover LR3

MSRP: $60,450

EPA Mileage: 12 MPG City 17 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity: 7,716 pounds

Top Speed: 124 MPH

Performance/ Safety:

4.4-Liter DOHC aluminum alloy V-8 engine producing 300 horsepower and 315

pound/feet of torque; 6-speed, electronically controlled, automatic transmission with

manual mode; two-speed transfer gearbox; permanent four-wheel drive with locking

torque converter; normal, sport, and command shift manual modes; 4-wheel anti-lock

disc brakes; electronic air suspension with automatic load leveling; dual front and thorax

air bags for driver and front passenger; side curtain airbags for second and third rows; 19-

inch alloy wheels.

Interior/ Comfort:

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; iPod connection; 6-disc CD player; iPod and MP3 conection;

550 Harmon Kardon sound system with 14 speakers and 2 subwoofers; 2 DVD players

with wireless headphones and headrest screens; touch screen, on and off-road navigation

system; 3-row sunroof; leather seats with wood trim.


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