From Beetlebug62 on the Edmund's forum:
My BMW dealer called and said he had a couple X5s in. I popped over and took out the one with the Sports Package - 19" wheels.
As my dad has had an 85 735i, a 94 740i, and a 97 540i, which I drive frequently, I can say that the X5 struck me as very similar in feel to the 540i. Same engine, on the same wheelbase. Unfortunately, I haven't driven an ML430 to compare engines. However, the 4.4 liter BMW engine is a sweetheart, as all the car mags have enthused. It's powerful, making the X5's heft seem nimble.
The X5 is noticeably smaller, in height by 2". Step-in height is much lower. Back seat room is smaller, and the back seat is much less comfortable than an ML. Almost a bench. Driver's footwell is smaller, but has a nice dead pedal. Pedals are nicely placed for active driving. Very BMW-like. Steering wheel, telescopes as well as tilts, and has the standard BMW buttons for radio, phone, and cruise.
BMW's are typically a bit more spartan than a MB, and thats the way I found the X5. Some have complained about the cheap plastics on the ML, but they'll be even more dissappointed with the plastics on the X5. In my opinion, grained plastic seems high-class, while smooth plastic is regarded as cheap. The plastic around the window switches, which are one-touch up and down, is smooth, and thus cheap looking. Just my opinion.
The steptronic shifter is nicer, as it is closer to the driver, unlike the Porsche tiptronic, and has a fore-aft mechanism, unlike the side-to-side ML manumatic, just like in motorsports. I preferred the BMW steptronic. In steptronic mode, it was hard not to drive aggressively, as the engine revs so freely. Unfortunately, I can't compare the feeling to a ML430.
Chassis handling was excellent, with little lateral lean. The sunroof seemed noisier, but with less buffeting, due to a more precise popup fence, and the front windscreen seemed noisier as well. I have noticed in the past that BMW's have more windnoise with crosswinds, as they have a protruding lip alongside the windshield's A-pillars.
The LCD appears smaller, but the buttons are to the left of the screen which will please some. The DSP sound system was very nice with user-settings. I've used the BMW nav system in the past, and it works well. The ACC, dual auto climate controls are the standard BMW version, and works well, though it is quirky. Though it was 40 degrees outside, I had to set the thermostat to 68 degrees in order not to get roasted.
Windows were the double-pane kind. Back seat has no kickspace under the seat so, maneuvering is a bit more difficult. Backseats fold-down just like in most cars, with a one-step operation, much easier than an ML. Cargo area is tiny, partly due to the higher liftover height due to having a full-size spare in the floor. The cargo cover is great, as it opens from the back or front, allowing backseat passengers to access stuff, easily.
My dealer told me that the tow capacity has been changed back to Class 3. He was dissappointed that I had already bought an M-class, but was hoping to get my dad when his 540i goes off-lease in June. In response to Mercedes, BMW is now offering an optional upgrade to its standard maintenance package of 3yr/36k, to 4yr/50k.
My general opinion is that people who like BMWs are going to love the X5. I generally consider myself a BMW-type personality, but I like the extra utility I get from my M-class. I need a SUV with a Class 3 hitch for my boat, and often go camping off-road, so I need the extra capacity and low-range gearing. No regrets for me. However, I believe the X5 will be a big hit amongst most consumers with minimal off-road needs.
Pricing is interesting that the base X5 is $5000 more than a ML430, but then again the X5 can't be cheaper than a 540i, and that's a $50k car. For those in the ML320 price range, the 6 cylinder X5 should also be a winner, as BMW is noted for its superb 6 cylinder engines.
As parking distance controllers have come up as a discussion item here, I would point out that one is optional on the X5.