These days the “SUV” is indispensable from the street scene. It is by far the most popular body variant. Although we say “SUVs,” we actually mean crossovers. We will of course come back to that in a moment. Of course there were already several manufacturers who were playing with the idea of an SUV. A car with the looks, high entry and sitting position of an SUV, but without the disadvantages.
The first two true pioneers were the Jeep Wagoneer and Land Rover Range Rover. Very briefly through the bend these were naturally working horses that were dressed in luxury. Under their chic bodywork and luxurious interiors, fairly rudimentary technology was concealed. Over the years, competitors were added, of course. They were often off-road vehicles that were possibly very luxurious.
This group of cars reached a provisional high point in the 1990s. Think of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Range Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser and Mercedes G-Class. All large and luxurious cars that turned out to be very popular. Thanks to their ladder chassis, transfer box, active four-wheel drive systems and high driving height, these cars stood their ground in the terrain. The leaflets were full of terms such as angle of inclination, wade height, freewheel hubs and differentials.
All very handy, but the cars never used it. Thresholds and curbs were the most severe obstacles. If you think there is an anti-car lobby nowadays, it was almost as bad in the 90s. The gigantic off-road cars were slow, heavy, rude and above all very thirsty.
Mercedes-Benz was the first to develop such a car for the asphalt. In the terrain you could handle it, but in the first instance it was intended as a car for the street. Compared to the G-Class, the M-Class had many more ways. The driving experience was sportier, while the M-Class was also more comfortable. The M-Class also scored better in the areas of refinement, consumption and safety. But yes, the G-Class was already an old-fashioned car back then.
Remarkably enough, it was BMW that first came out with such a car. In the 90s, the BMW range was very clear. There was a 3, 5 and 7 Series. A Z3 or 8 Series for sporty types. That was it. However, that did not mean that BMW did not look around and saw that Volkswagen was rapidly buying brands and that other brands were going to merge. BMW made a very remarkable move by joining forces with Rover.
In the early 1990s, Rover was still a fairly large player in the market. Just like Saab and Lancia, it was a bit between normal and premium. Chic cars without pretensions. However, the financial management and operations were a thorn in the eyes of the Germans. That first had to be tackled in 1994.
Also in this period, BMW gave the green light to develop an off-road vehicle. The collaboration with Rover worked out well. BMW was able to get all the missing know-how from the Land Rover gentlemen's technicians. Very handy. It was decided to use the BMW E39 as the basis. So from a technical point of view, the new SUV from BMW would be equipped with powertrains from the upcoming 5 Series.
BMW could, however, make a clear difference with the X5: it could become a pure “asphalt tiger”. The Range Rover was the car that actually did something on site and the car for the people who mainly want a relaxed, comfortable car. This allowed BMW to focus more on a sportier car. A big difference was that all luxury off-road vehicles at that time were equipped with a separate ladder chassis, to which the cabin was attached. The BMW 5 Series just had a self-supporting body. The difference with BMW and all others would be that chassis.
A ladder chassis is handy in the field and excellent for heavy work. A chassis with self-supporting bodywork is actually better in all areas. As mentioned, it turned out that very few people actually went on unpaved reasons with 4 × 4. An easy decision for BMW. That made it more suitable for Eduard Walek (chief engineer of the E53 project) to achieve the goals. Although it would be a high car, the car had to drive like a BMW.
Not only that, the “E53” also had to look like a BMW. Here there was certainly work to be done for BMW. The BMW sedans in particular all looked very much alike. In addition to a new SUV, BMW also had plans for much more expansion. The brand simply could not fall back on the “one-sausage-in-different-formats” principle (3-5-7) or retro-kitsch (Z3). For the long term an enormous expansion in models was planned, which had to have their own appearance.
The initial sketches were made under the direction of Chris Chapman in the DesignWorks studio in California. Logical, because the car also had to appeal to the American market in particular. After two years, the basis for the design is ready and the work is completed in Germany, under the direction of Chris Bangle. The definitive design was determined in 1997, after which the test phase could finally begin.
Despite the foresight of BMW, they were not the very first with an SUV with self-supporting bodywork. Already in 1997 Toyota showed the Harrier, which appeared on the market in 1998 as the Lexus RX300. At the time, Lexus was not yet available in Japan, all Lexuses are called Toyota. The RX300 was largely constructed from Toyota Camry technology, including the transversely positioned V6.
The BMW X5 was born at the end of 1999. The car was described by BMW as a “SAV”, or a Sport Activity Vehicle. The term SUV has come over from the United States. A big difference with SUVs and the X5 is that an SUV always has a ladder chassis, in technical terms the X5 thus the first crossover. Except for the RX300.
The X5 was clearly based on the E39 when you look at the appearance, the interior and the technology. However, the first creative excesses of Bangle were already visible. Consider the curvatures on the side with the convex wheel arches or the gigantic front bumper. Both gave the X5 an impressive appearance. The kidneys, double headlights, Hofmeisterknik and L-shaped rear lights were present, which made the car easily recognizable as a BMW.
There were also some Range Rover features. The tailgate that can be opened on two sides was a typical Range Rover feature. This bet combined with a typical BMW feature: the rear window that can be opened separately. Another Range Rover gimmick was the Hill Descent Control. With HDC you could easily go down a hill. The wheels were then braked individually to ensure that you could descend in a straight line with a decent speed.
The rest of the technology was known, but no less impressive. There were only two gasoline engines and one diesel. You entered with the 3.0 six-in-line with 231 hp and 301 Nm. The second step was a 4.4 V8 with 286 hp and 440 Nm. A year later a 3.0d was added, a six-cylinder diesel with 184 hp and 400 Nm. All X5s were equipped with four-wheel drive as standard. To maintain the BMW feeling, 63% of the forces were transferred to the rear wheels, the rest to the front wheels. A five-speed automatic transmission was standard on the V8, the six-cylinder standard had a manual gearbox.
In 2000 the X5 LM shown to the general public. The X5 LM was intended to make it clear that the X5 was the sportiest car in its class. That was true anyway, but the X5 LM went a step further. Under the hood there was a 6.0 V12 from the V12 LMR, the car with which BMW had won the Le Mans 24 hours in 1999.
The block was good for around 700 bhp in the X5 and ensured that with Hans Joachim Stuck at the steering wheel the X5 LM managed to get over the Nurburgring in 07:49. A time under eight minutes was then still very special and only reserved for cars such as the Nissan Skyline GT-R and jaguar XJ220, for example.
There was a top model, but that was not the X5 LM, but the X5 4.6is. This had the M62B46 engine under the curved hood. Despite the BMW code, this engine comes from Alpina. It was the exact same engine that was used in the B10 V8. At the time, BMW thought it was inappropriate to make an M version of a large SAV. A vending machine in this class was also essential, which was not possible with the high-revving V8 from the M5.
The Alpina block was therefore much better suited to the type of car. The maximum power was 347 hp That happened to be exactly the same as his direct opponent had, the Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG. The torque of the X5 4.6is was slightly lower (480 Nm against 510 for the AMG), but the performance of the X5 was more impressive: the sprint of 0-100 km / h lasted 6.5 seconds and the top speed was 240 km /you. The X5 4.6is got its own bumpers and wheels. The tires around this widest of 20 “were huge. There were 275/40 tires in the front, even 315/35 in the back! With that you were the best friends with the local fastfitter in that period.
The regular BMW X5 was an absolute hit in the meantime. Because BMW had developed the X5 and the Range Rover, the X5 could be as sporty as possible. That was rated well above average, because the X5s did not appear to be dragging on. The model was particularly popular in the United States, which is why the X5 was produced there. In fact, a BMW X5 is still an American car to this day.
In 2003 the facelift version of the X5, named by BMW LCI (Life Cylce Impulse), arrived. In that period, BMW was already a bit further with very daring cars, such as the 7 Series (E65), 5 Series (E60) and Z4 (E85). For the X5, Chris Bangle had come up with a hugely daring makeover, but because of the huge criticism, the high men decided to bet on two horses. The specially designed 5 and 7 Series on the one hand and the conservatively lined X5 on the other.
Nevertheless, it was good to see that the X5 had been refreshed. Just like other BMWs at that time, the X5 received the famous Corona headlights, which is always called “Angel Eyes” by the members of the BMW. A few small things changed in a motor way. The 3.0 remained unchanged, but the 4.4 got a few more horses, bringing the total to 320 hp. The diesel engine was also adjusted.
The 3.0d was now good for 218 hp and 500 Nm. This variant was particularly popular in Europe. The most important change was the xDrive four-wheel drive system. The pre-lift models had a fairly rudimentary system. That was completely different after the facelift with a fully computer-controlled system that could send the full 100% of the power to an axle, plus everything in between. In slippery conditions, the new X5 was better in its element.
Even now there was a new top version, the X5 4.8is. Contrary to what is often assumed, it does not have the Alpina B10 V8 S engine, but the BMW N62B48. An engine that we also know from the 5, 6 and 7 Series. Despite its simpler origins, the new engine was stronger. The maximum power was 360 hp and the torque was 490 Nm.
This allowed the 2.3-tonne X5 in 6.1 to sprint to 100 km / h and reach a top of 246 km / h. Not that the owner was interested, but the consumption is hilarious: 1 on 7.4 on average according to NEDC and a CO2 emission of 324 grams per kilometer. Fortunately, the X5 had a 93-liter fuel tank.
A larger fuel tank was mounted in the X-Raid X5 CC, which had a fuel tank of 340 liters. This car was specifically developed for Dakar and participated from 2004. Although the LCI had already been introduced, the model from before the facelift was used. To limit the weight, the entire carriage was made of carbon fiber.
The most special thing about the X-Raid X5 CC was the engine, namely the M57TUD30. This block was a 3.0 six-in-line, but with two variable turbos. Partly because of this, the engine delivered 272 hp and 620 Nm. The X-Raid X5 CC was a test case for the engine from the 535d, which would also end up in the second generation X5.
The E53 would no longer make the engine, because it went out of production in September 2006. The new generation X5 (E70) in particular. A few things were adjusted then. The X5 became much larger. The now appearing X3 was almost as large as the X5. The X5 (E70) was also considerably more comfortable. Meanwhile, Land Rover was no longer with BMW and the X3 was there for people who wanted a sporty SAV.
The new X5 was also available as a seven-seater, so that the X5 could now also replace the MPV. The X5 has been a hugely important car for BMW. Not only did the X5 provide a complete X1 to X7 model range, but the rest of the competition had followed the asphalted path of BMW.