Well, it was bound to happen. Back in the late 90s, it seemed that every car company on the planet was jumping on the SUV bandwagon, and for good reason: they are extremely profitable, and relatively simple to build, sometimes straight from the old parts bin! That was the case of the 1999 BMW E53 X5, although admittedly they start out from an excellent starting point, the BMW 5-Series Sedan. Adapted to four wheel drive and with most of the power routed to the back wheels, the original X5 had little in the way of actual off-road capabilities, but that didn’t stop buyers from lining up around the block to buy it. It was even labelled an SAV – Sport Activity Vehicle – to distinguish it from BMW’s latest acquisition, Land Rover, which made actual off-road kings. Needless to say, the SAV gimmicky name didn’t last long.
Like many European cars, but usually not BMW, the X5 was originally delivered with a relatively under-powered engine, a 3-liter straight six not nearly powerful enough to deliver the kind of performance drivers expect from the Bavarian manufacturer. Thankfully, that was soon fixed, and with a 4.4-liter V8, performance was a little more spirited, with a 0-60 time of 7.3 second and a top speed of 129 miles per hour.
Overall, the BMW E53 X5 was a resounding success, and the fact that it’s successor is still in production in a world that increasingly shuns the SUV is a testament to its quality. I’ve had the pleasure of driving a 2011 BMW X5 M recently, and I must say that it’s everything that a M -badged BMW should be, no exceptions.