By on May 30, 2013


Well, folks, the day has come. You’ve shined your shoes. You’ve worn your good suit. You’ve called your wife and excitedly announced: “Honey, I’ll be late tonight!” You’ve refreshed TTAC for days, weeks, months, only to discover that now, finally, they’re here: photos of the all-new BMW X5.

Of course, I’m kidding. You probably saw those X5 photos yesterday on Jalopnik and scrolled right past them, thinking: Do they have any Russian dash cam videos today?

But photos of an all-new X5 are a big deal. That’s because our nation’s streets will soon be flooded with them, each driven by someone who believes that no drive is complete without a little texting. And so, on the occasion of this grand unveiling, I’ve decided to take you through some of the BMW X5’s hallowed history.

It all started in the late 1980s. That’s when BMW decided to pander to Europe’s cold-climate families by offering an all-wheel drive version of its 5-Series station wagon. Prior to that, said families were stuck driving either a) a diesel Mercedes wagon, or b) a Unimog. BMW never sold the 525xiT here in the US, but if it had, I’m sure no one would’ve purchased it.

Anyway: following the runaway success of the 525xiT, which probably even managed to convince a few Swedes not to buy a Volvo, BMW decided to embark on an entirely new project: an SUV. Development began in the 1990s, and by model year 2000, the X5 had hit the streets.

But BMW was late to the party, since Mercedes already debuted the M-Class in 1998. Then again, maybe it’s a good thing Mercedes waited, since the M-Class was 40 percent luxury SUV and 60 percent panel gaps the size of a paper towel dispenser. (Actually, that’s mean: the M-Class is highly important to our nation’s history, since it singlehandedly saved Julianne Moore from being eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.)

While the first-generation X5 was largely a dull SUV driven by people who compliment each other’s handbags, there are two important models I’d like to point out:

1. The stick shift. Yes, that’s right: from 2001 through 2006, you could get an X5 with a manual transmission. There were a few caveats. Most importantly, it was only available on the six-cylinder engine, which was so gutless it probably would’ve allowed Julianne Moore to be eaten. (For those eager to point out the ML320 had less power, I’d like to remind you that Julianne Moore could’ve hidden in the panel gaps.)


Also: it was a five-speed from 2001 through 2003, then a six-speed in the years that followed. This is important because first was an unusable “crawler gear,” designed for all those people who pull out tree stumps using their X5. (Note: no one has ever done this in the history of the X5. In other words, it was probably featured prominently in a brochure.)

2. The 4.6is. This is a far more important version of the X5. Back then, BMW didn’t want to make an “M” version of its X5 for fear of bastardizing the high-performance division (a fear which went away a few years later one they realized how much money they could make). But they did want to do a performance model. The result was the 4.6is, which was offered from 2002 to 2004.


BMW fans are probably wondering why I’m not including the 2005-2007 4.8is, which was an even higher performance model. There’s a reason for that: it wasn’t available in Estoril Blue. You see, while the X5 4.6is had to make do with only 315 horsepower, the availability of Estoril Blue places it only just behind the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing on the list of “most attractive vehicles ever conceptualized.” I’m not kidding: say what you will about SUVs, but this thing looked awesome. There’s one for sale locally with a red interior, and I would happily buy it, if not for the fact that its annual maintenance budget would be similar to that 300SL Gullwing.

On with our history lesson. In 2007, the X5 reached another milestone: its first redesign. By that I mean: it still looked approximately the same, but it was around 600 pounds heavier.

Actually, while exterior changes weren’t drastic, the interior was heavily updated. For instance: gone was the previous model’s normal transmission selector. In its place was a silver thing shaped like a defective potato chip.


Since the manual was gone, the only highlight of the 2007-2013 X5 was the availability of the high-performance X5M. Once again offered in a blue color that makes me weak at the knees, the X5M used a turbocharged V8 that made 555 horsepower. I’ve actually driven an X5M on a racetrack, and the experience was quite amazing. It went like this:

1. Slide inside the sporty, glove-like bucket seats.
2. Press the start button; hear the enormous V8 roar to life.
3. Put the potato chip in Drive.
4. Hang on for dear life.

Actually, the X5M was quite composed on the track, as I’m sure the all-new model will be as well. My only hope is that they continue to offer that gorgeous blue color. Even if camouflage would be better for escaping Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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68 Comments on “The BMW X5: A Look Back...”

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    These things created an entirely new stereotype BMW driver. You went from assuming the driver of the BMW that just cut you off without signaling was a overly-testosteroned d-bag who probably did it just to make you angry and try to decide what you SHOULD have done for the rest of your trip. And you went to a BMW driver cutting you off without signaling who probably honestly had no idea you were there since she hasn’t checked her mirrors since she got in and fixed her lipstick and besides, paying attention while driving is much harder when you are yelling at your gardener on the phone.

  • avatar

    Does anyone else think the newest one looks so much worse than this one?

  • avatar
    Jason Lombard

    As a former owner of an ’02 model with a 5-spd manual, I always shudder when I see these articles. Inevitably the supposed cost of maintenance comes up, and then the comments start flying about how they aren’t really the proper car for an enthusiast—and are instead a yuppie pretender mobile (right Danio?).

    We drove ours to 100k and in over five years of ownership we had exactly one non-maintenance service visit for a window regulator (which was less than $300 to fix). Yes, the 5-speed box was vague and rubbery. Yes, the power was not overwhelming for a vehicle that heavy (225hp IIRC), however, the 0-60 time was in the low-to-mid 7 second range, which as far as SUV’s go, wasn’t slow.

    We lived in Colorado at the time, and it got us through some crazy snowstorms on 70, some crazy ice on 25—all while coddling us in the glory of BMW leather and heated seats. I was ready to sell it at 100k and move on, but I’ve always felt that they got a bad rap for being maintenance intensive, when that was completely counter to our experience. Who knows though, maybe the V8 models were worse…

    • 0 avatar

      “and then the comments start flying about how they aren’t really the proper car for an enthusiast—and are instead a yuppie pretender mobile (right Danio?).”

      Huh? Did I say this somewhere before?

    • 0 avatar

      The only mention I made of maintenance cost was the 4.6is, and if you don’t think a used, ten-year-old “performance” SUV with 100,000 miles on the odometer will be expensive to maintain, then I expect we have highly different definitions of the word ‘expensive.’ I have many friends with 3-liter X5s and they never complain about maintenance.

      Where in CO did you live, by the way? I grew up in Denver.

      • 0 avatar
        Jason Lombard

        Totally understand Doug. That’s why I qualified it at the end. My sample size of 1 is admittedly small, but our experience was quite good.

        We lived just North of the ‘Springs—outside of Monument.

        • 0 avatar

          Beautiful area! I glance in every single first-gen, six-cylinder X5 I see in case it’s a manual but I have not seen one yet. One of the few other SUVs I would consider buying.

          • 0 avatar
            Piston Slap Yo Mama

            Why are you hiding your unnatural desire to buy and make sweet love to a mint condition Vehicross?

          • 0 avatar

            I would never hide that desire. I flaunt it, proudly.

          • 0 avatar
            Piston Slap Yo Mama

            That damned Patrick “Pretty Good” George was probably looking over my shoulder when I posted my paean to the Vehicross yesterday.

          • 0 avatar

            Just got back in from vacation and read this and thought you should see this for sale thread…act now to realize your X5 dreams!


          • 0 avatar

            They are out there. There weren’t a lot of them sold in the U.S., and the people who bought them seldom let go of them. The first time I encountered one was while I was working as a dealer tech. I got in, went to start it without looking in the center column and nothing. Then I looked down and saw the clutch pedal. (this is despite having manual gearbox car as my daily driver at the time) It was always rare to encounter manual gearbox cars outside of the M cars and performance cars there. (the bread and butter of the company here are 3’s X3’s, and X5’s with automatics.

          • 0 avatar

            That thread aerojammin sent is classic BMW forum. First the guy tries to sell his manual X5 for $32,750 in January, and actually ends up selling it to CarMax for $10K in May because he can’t find any offers.

            That’s the problem with buying certain other enthusiast favored BMWs. The owner always thinks it’s worth more than it really is and always thinks its better than all the other similar ones available, even though there are several things that need to be fixed.

    • 0 avatar

      100k is your benchmark for reliability?

      That’s why I can’t buy a BMW.

      • 0 avatar
        Jason Lombard

        Nobody said anything about benchmarks. Just making an anecdotal point that ours was trouble-free for 100k miles. It was meant to contrast the typically sweeping internet generalizations about BMW maintenance and the X5 in particular. I’ve owned 6 Bimmers and only one of them had what I would consider to be higher than normal maintenance requirements (and it was also the one that I owned for the shortest period of time).

  • avatar

    I took a press-loaned X5M on last year’s One Lap of America race. Why, you ask, did I take an SUV on a race meant for sports cars? Because I’d never beat Leh Keen in his 800 horsepower GTR, and I had a better chance of winning in the four-car SUV class.

    A side effect of my strategy was that I learned that, if you can ignore the purists who will bitch about any BMW that doesn’t start with E and end with 30, the X5M is an incredible vehicle that, despite being the heaviest car on the One Lap grid by over 500 lbs, is capable of finishing in the top 25 out of 80 sports cars on any given race track on any given day. If you allow fresh tires to be installed when needed (rather than racing for a week on a single set as per One Lap rules), it’s capable of finishing top 15.

    Not only that, it was the single best road trip vehicle I’ve ever piloted. It handled torrential rain storms with huge puddles of standing water no problem, it carried not only our personal gear, but all the gear and luggage for our four-car team, and it will make 600 horsepower *at the wheels* with a simple ECU flash. Don’t ask me how I know that.

    When I got home from One Lap, I offered to buy the X5M from BMW. Not any X5M, that one. A used press car, that I had just kicked the shit out of for 8,000 miles. Ultimately, they felt they could make more money by taking it to auction than selling it to me (which I still feel was a huge mistake given the marketing value of a journalist actually buying a press car), but I still think about that thing every day and how badly I’d like to own one.

    Probably because it was Estoril Blue.

    • 0 avatar

      Christ, you’ve made me want one again. When I bought my Range Rover I considered spending way more to get an X5M under the theory that it would be both a sports car AND an SUV, so I wouldn’t need a second car. I didn’t, and, of course, now I am starting to look at sports cars.

      I wonder what ever happened to the ex-press car you drove. Probably sitting at BMW of Whatever right now with a banner on the side that says “EXECUTIVE DEMO!”

    • 0 avatar

      Save for the steamroller tires, a proper Q ship. These get “the nod” at intersections. “I see that you are an automotive enthusiast. To you, a car is not merely a transportation device. I share your enthusiasm”.

  • avatar

    You do make reading about cars I normally wouldn’t read about a total blast. Please keep that unrestrained snark and sarcasm on full boil!

  • avatar

    Driving the X5M around the track is a hoot. It feels like you’re drifting the Death Star.

  • avatar

    I have to disagree with you about the first generation X5 3.0i. I drove that back to back with my dad’s E39 530i, and the X5 pretty much felt like a lifted version of that car in the hills of Berkeley. The straight-six in that was amazing and much more involved especially with the manual.

    Other than that, the first-generation X5 was pretty good, and I’ve been looking for a manual one, which are really difficult to find.

    • 0 avatar

      BMWCCA (Roundel)did a X5/e39 wagon comparison and concluded that the Touring was sportier(lower center of gravity) and more utility (larger cargo space); pretty much more SUV than the SUV.
      We have a 528iT / 5 speed manual.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Yeah. I laughed when the X5 came out, which IIRC, had less cargo space with the second row seats up than even the 3-series wagon. The BMW M54B 3-liter engine is a sweet and reliable engine. I know; it powers my Z3. Other than the well-known plastic cooling system issues, I believe the only other weakness is the rubber o-rings in the VANOS system which may fail over time and, supposedly, should never have been used in the first place.

        • 0 avatar
          Jason Lombard

          “I laughed when the X5 came out, which IIRC, had less cargo space with the second row seats up than even the 3-series wagon.”

          You recall correctly. That’s completely true. But we have dogs (see TTAC article earlier this week). ;-)

  • avatar

    I actually liked the looks of the second generation better than either the first or the current.

    The X5 is a revelation on the racetrack. A revelation in the sense that it doesn’t suck, though it’s still not as good as a front-wheel drive “hot hatch” that costs less, goes around the track quicker with less power and rubber, and doesn’t plow as badly in the corners.

    Still, it’s amusing threading a condominium-on-wheels through an autocross.

  • avatar

    I picked up a super-clean, low mileage, loaded 07 X5 4.8i a few months ago for $30K. It’s a wonderful vehicle; I can’t imagine getting more vehicle for 30 grand. Even if I were to spend $2K a year on maintenance, which I won’t, it’s still a better value than anything else with comparable features at this price. I’m glad the new version looks similar, as mine will continue to look fresh for a long time.

  • avatar

    ” 3. Put the potato chip in Drive.”

    Made me laugh a lot. The new shift levers (even in the 2013s) are comical.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    I take exception to the implication in this article that BMW SUV drivers are inconsiderate texting, unblinkered, rich snobs.

    In my neck o’ the woods, that distinction belongs unquestionably to Acura SUV drivers.

    “Holy crap! That woman in the Acura MDX almost wiped out that family in the crosswalk!”

    “No, that was just a brushback. A warning for crowding the street whilst she was late for her mani-pedi. If she wanted to hit them, she would have.”

    “Doesn’t she know the law says to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk?”

    “Her husband says law has nothing to do with justice or fairness. And that it’s stacked in their favor. Drive however you want. Little people are expendable, anyway. He’ll get her off with nothing but a warning from the judge.”

  • avatar

    The X5 was before the ML: the first ML was body on frame.

  • avatar

    I live about 5 miles from the plant where these beasts are assembled, and some days I can’t get out of my neighborhood without getting cut off, swerved at, or nearly backed over by one of them. So yeah, not a fan.

    Also, Doug, the M-B ML series is quite clearly a minivan; just look at it.

  • avatar

    People can bash the X5 all they want. It’s for soccer moms. It’s an anathema to the BMW brand. Stupid lease fodder for vein pricks who aren’t smart enough to buy an X with 50,000 miles on it and drive it for next to nothing into the ground.

    My (tiny) business makes stuff. I drive around town all day, dealing with our suppliers and running errands. I spend a LOT of time in my car. I bought a 2012 X5 Diesel (after owning an E36, E46 and E90). For the real world and on real roads in real traffic… I don’t think anyone makes a more capable, competent and flexible vehicle.

    1- It works on damn near any road. Wet. Muddy. Snowy. Pot-holled. Overgrown. Slippery. Gravely. Dirt. Is it a rock crawler that will climb a cliff? Nope, but anything short of a hurricane or severe blizzard, the X5 will not just handle, it will inspire confidence.

    2- Throw it in curves and it will put a (slight) smile on your face. Is it a back road barn stormer? Hell no, but on the occasional on-ramp or set of switchbacks that your daily routine happens by, the X5 is just quick enough to give you a bit of fun. At the very least, it is an exceedingly competent, sure footed vehicle.

    3- It’s economical (the Diesel). 26 city/32 interstate is what I typically get, driving moderately. For lugging around as much bootie as she’s got, that’s pretty fantastic.

    4- It’s plenty quick enough for driving around town all day. Definitely not a fast beast, but who cares? When the hell does an M3 driver get to use his 400bhp in daily driving without either getting big tickets or looking like a total douchebag?

    5- The interior is a very very nice place to spend time. The F15 looks like it’s taken everything good about my E70 and kicked it up a notch, and the E70 is a pretty fantastic place to spend an hour per day.

    For what I need from a car, I can’t imagine a better vehicle and mine is a privilege to own.

  • avatar

    Not to rain on any parades or anything, but do we recall that the first gen X5 shares the title of most recalled vehicle in the history of the US, tied with the Ford Escort?

  • avatar

    This article has some errors in it, the 4.6is has 340hp not 315hp.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Don’t forget how Land Rover (which was owned by BMW at the time) helped with the development of the X5’s AWD prowess. BMW paid them back by saddling the third-gen (L322) Range Rover with finicky electronics from the E39, and expensive German engines….all of which was, sadly, probably better than whatever British kit Land Rover would have otherwise used.

  • avatar

    Unlike most of these contributors I do not much like SUVs but I’ve had a few since my wife was an endurance rider (horses) and we needed to tow a two horse float on bad roads and also off-road. I traded a Land Rover Discovery (which was very successfully converted to LPG for cheap motoring) on a BMW X5 4.4 in 2002. It was a better vehicle in every way except one. The LR was great at climbing over fallen trees up unbelievably steep slopes.
    The X5 was a terrific tow vehicle with over two tonnes behind. It was almost a sports sedan on country trips. It never got stuck. It cost me no more to maintain than a Holden. It used no more fuel than my BMW 535 six cylinder. Now the bad – I dropped $60,000 in depreciation.

    P.S. The Land Rover WAS very expensive to maintain.
    P.P.S. I now have a Citroen C5 and no horses. Very happy.

  • avatar

    My most vivid memory of X5s are the high-quality interior electronic components.

    I o ly e er t i g we e wr t en us g B W’s in o c ter isp ay …

  • avatar

    Well, if you’re into BMW history, which I went checking after reading this post, well whaddya know, X5s are also made in Mexico, plus 1s, 3s and 5s, and there’s a motorcycle factory there too. Tolucca, so ex Dodge Journey assemblers can apply across town.

    Go to BMW global, and Mexico isn’t mentioned. Seriously. Go to Wikipedia and find that Lerma Motors, a private Mexican company, opened making 3 series in1994. Now they make many other models, and the supplier base is such that BMW itself buys parts for its other factories from them.

    BMW itself is building a new factory in Mexico. Looks like they got a head start from this weird setup. Don’t know why they keep it quiet since they mention Steyr as contract assemblers on BMW worldwide.

    Of course, Mexico has long been a bit of a haven for Germans, right back to various Mexican revolutions and following various “difficulties” in Europe.

    Most odd. Anyone here know any more about these two “privately” owned BMW factories in Mexico? I’d never heard of it before.

  • avatar

    Hallowed? I think you’re being ironic ’cause this car is just moronic (just to rhyme of course).

  • avatar

    You mentioned that shifter. I attend auctions from time to time and sit in various vehicles and was kind of surprised that that entire “potato chip” is plastic. If you squeeze one hard enough it will creak…reminded me of a video game controller. Seemed kind of surprising in a BMW.

  • avatar

    Not a big fan pre-2007. Can’t get over how the exhaust pipes look like flaccid penises poking out of the fly. I was actually a big fan of the X5 since the refresh, but this new one looks really toned down. I suppose BMW wants a larger share of the soccer mom market from MB.

  • avatar

    I remember when that 4.6is came out and the buff books had this to say about a possible M:

    Road & Track
    ” [W]hy didn’t BMW’s new high-performance variant of the X5…receive that most coveted of badges, the Motorsports tricolor?
    As Martin Birkmann, series manager for 5 Series and X vehicles, explains, “It just did not feel right — it did not deliver the right driving experience,” adding that M-badged vehicles are typically rear-drive only, have manual transmissions and have their torque peaks shifted nearer to redline.”

    Car and Driver
    “BMW considered using the M5’s…V-8 but didn’t because of its peaky torque delivery and the fact that no stock slushboxes will handle the power. Hence, no M badge, either.”

    How times have changed for the worse. I don’t doubt that the X5 is a great SUV, just like the Cayenne is a great SUV, and that both have their uses. No matter how good it drives though, an equivalently sized wagon would still drive better and carry as much or more. Most people never use their off/soft roading or towing capabilities anyway. Both are still anathemas to what their brands used to represent and are part of the dilution that they have suffered. I still think the X5 was the beginning of when BMW began cashing in on “the Ultimate Driving Machine” to sell vehicles instead of actually making vehicles that live up to that reputation.

  • avatar

    I’ve driven a few early X5s and was not impressed. They were trash then and I’m sure they’re trash now. Overweight, ugly, BMW. A typical SUV in all aspects. I wouldn’t be caught dead in one.

  • avatar


    E34 all wheel drive model was 525ix, not 525xi for both Sedan and Touring.

    I believe that engines in 4.6is and 4.8is were developed with help of Alpina.

  • avatar

    Yes, first xi vehicle for North America was E46 330xi. And of course, later we got such nonsense as x-drive and s-drive in the names of BMW. Like X was not enough to distinguish all wheel drive and S to distinguish a Sport.

    P.S. I think BMW has the best shades of Blue – Estoril Blue (first shown on E36 ///M3), LeMans Blue (E39 ///M5).

  • avatar

    There is so much incorrect information in this article..

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