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The X5 may be the best of its breed, and I did the UDE and had fun flogging it around, but...

1) The unloaded CG may be only 3" higher than a 540i, but the seats and load area are much higher and the CG goes up considerably when fully loaded. Graphic demonstration of this during the DSC demonstration at the UDE, when (due to a lack of soap) it came off the pad at a 40-degree angle and, as the tires came off the soapy area, WHEE! Up on two wheels like one of those SUV things it's not supposed to be, then THUMP! as it came back down on all fours.

2) The 540i wagon is a little roomier, a little quicker, and IMO looks a lot better.

If I wanted 4WD I'd probably be shopping the Audi store - they don't seem to be selling much interesting in wagon form right now, but the '95 S6 Avant was a nice piece of hardware that was also the most cop-boring shape imaginable.

If I didn't want 4WD the choices are obvious.
 

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Here comes Mr. Contrary...

First, on the ML55: had occasion to flog one of those around at a MBZ drive event a couple weeks before the X5 UDE.

It's got a really nice, flexible engine and if the interior isn't overall up to the X5, it's decent and a massive improvement over the earlier MLs.

However - it drives like a truck. Yes, it's got tons of grip and huge brakes, but it's also got long brake pedal travel, slow steering, and overall I was surprised at the amount of work it took to make the thing go around the cones.

Now, back to the X5: it's my opinion that anyone who prefers that high a seating position just doesn't drive fast enough.

Good as the X5 is, I'm still not as comfortable driving it at the speeds I normally drive decently-grippy cars through offramps, etc. It's no Land Cruiser, but I still don't like wobbling around that much.
 
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