People say all kinds of nasty things about BMW’s SUV—pardon me, SAV—lineup, myself included. Lately, though, I’ve had a bit of a change of heart.
Just the other week, Ms. Yuppie (also an SUV-hater) told me about “a cute BMW hatchback” that she saw. After showing her almost the whole lineup, we figured out that the mystery hatchback was a new X2 with the M Sport appearance package. And you know what? Even I thought it looked kind of cool.
This isn’t about the X2, though. We’re going all the way back to the beginning, to BMW’s first Sports Activity Vehicle: the E53 X5.
There’s a lot of people who lament the original X5 as being “the beginning of the end” for BMW’s “golden era.” In a general sense, I never understood that phrase. If it’s the beginning of the end (as opposed to the middle of the end or the end of the end), doesn’t that mean that it’s still pretty good? I definitely think so, at least in the case of the E53 X5.
I recall reading a contemporary review of the then-new X5 that described it as driving like an E39 Touring with a refrigerator ratchet-strapped to the roof. Having driven both back-to-back, I’d have to agree.
The charm of the E53 X5 doesn’t lay in its handling or road manners (which aren’t actually bad per se, just not on par with, say, an E46 or E39), but with its packaging, cleverness, and utility.
They’re comfortable, and the interiors exhibit almost all of what BMW was doing really well in the early 2000s. Visibility is pretty good for a vehicle its size, and the split tailgate is not only useful—it’s pretty damn cool to boot.
Some of the M54 inline-six powered E53s were available with a stick, and are actually capable of towing quite a bit – namely, your classic BMWs on a trailer. It’s good enough for any old 3 Series, and most older 5 Series, but I wouldn’t push my luck with an E32 or an E38 7 Series.
That might be my favorite variant, but the 4.6is—the forerunner to the X5M—deserves a second look. Powered by an Alpina-developed M62TU, it’s probably the closest this Low Class Yuppie will ever get to fulfilling his dream of owning an Alpina.
E53s in general are pretty cheap nowadays, but that means that they suffer from the scourge of deferred maintenance more than perhaps any other BMW of that era. Find a good one, spend some time and money making it right, and you’ll have a great winter car—not to mention a tow rig for your older BMWs!