The BMW X5: A Look Back

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro

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 PlaysWithCars.com. 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.

Doug DeMuro
Doug DeMuro

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  • Bimmer Bimmer on May 31, 2013

    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).

  • Giomod44 Giomod44 on Oct 19, 2016

    There is so much incorrect information in this article..

  • Jonathan IMO the hatchback sedans like the Audi A5 Sportback, the Kia Stinger, and the already gone Buick Sportback are the answer to SUVs. The A5 and the AWD version of the Stinger being the better overall option IMO. I drive the A5, and love the depth and size of the trunk space as well as the low lift over. I've yet to find anything I need to carry that I can't, although I admit I don't carry things like drywall, building materials, etc. However, add in the fun to drive handling characteristics, there's almost no SUV that compares.
  • C-b65792653 I'm starting to wonder about Elon....again!!I see a parallel with Henry Ford who was the wealthiest industrialist at one time. Henry went off on a tangent with the peace ship for WWI, Ford TriMotor, invasive social engineering, etc. Once the economy went bad, the focus fell back to cars. Elon became one of the wealthiest industrialist in the 21st century. Then he went off with the space venture, boring holes in the ground venture, "X" (formerly Twitter), etc, etc, etc. Once Tesla hit a plateau and he realized his EVs were a commodity, he too is focused on his primary money making machine. Yet, I feel Elon is over reacting. Down sizing is the nature of the beast in the auto industry; you can't get around that. But hacking the Super Charger division is like cutting off your own leg. IIRC, GM and Ford were scheduled to sign on to the exclusive Tesla charging format. That would have doubled or tripled his charging opportunity. I wonder what those at the Renaissance Center and the Glass House are thinking now. As alluded to, there's blood in the water and other charging companies will fill the void. I believe other nations have standardized EV charging (EU & China). Elon had the chance to have his charging system as the default in North America. Now, he's dropped the ball. He's lost considerable influence on what the standardized format will eventually be. Tremendous opportunity lost. 🚗🚗🚗
  • Tassos I never used winter tires, and the last two decades I am driving almost only rear wheel drive cars, half of them in MI. I always bought all season tires for them, but the diff between touring and non touring flavors never came up. Does it make even the smallest bit of difference? (I will not read the lengthy article because I believe it does not).
  • Lou_BC ???
  • Lou_BC Mustang sedan? 4 doors? A quarterhorse?Ford nomenclature will become:F Series - Pickups Raptor - performance division Bronco - 4x4 SUV/CUVExplorer - police fleetsMustang- cars
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