The BMW E53 X5 is now a modern classic. It may not fit the traditional definition of anything classic per se, but soon enough, it will make its inevitable migration over to the classic section of BMW’s part catalog. We’re now on the fourth generation of the X5 (the G05 which arrived for 2019), but the importance of the original cannot be overstated. The late 1990s were when automakers from Mercedes-Benz to Lincoln first waded into the luxury SUV market, and BMW was there at the forefront in 1998 with the E53 X5. First forward nearly twenty years, when the current generation was unveiled, and BMW had already produced more than 2,200,000 X5s, the overwhelming majority of which came from BMW Group Plant Spartanburg.
Today, the E53 X5 has earned its place among other special BMW models that represent the brand’s golden age at the turn of the millennium. This was the era before big kidney grilles, before turbochargers and direct-injection, and before every conventional BMW in the lineup had an SAV or SAC counterpart. In retrospect, and with twenty years worth of hindsight, more than a few have realized just how special the original X5 was when it arrived. The imposing performance models like the 4.6is and later 4.8is are great on their own, but the entry-level six-cylinder models have also proven themselves over the years with great longevity.
There’s something to be said about the design, too. After all, this is the era of the E46 3 Series, the E39 5 Series, the E38 7 Series, the Z3, and the Z8. BMW may have very well hit its proveriable apex around 2001, and the E53 X5 was there for it.
Frank Stephenson has been called, “one of most influential automotive designers of our time” by Motor Trend and there’s no mistaking why. He’s credited with the design of such varied automobiles as the BMW Mini Hatch and contemporary Fiat 500, along with the likes of the modern McLaren lineup and a few other examples like the Ferrari F430 and 612 Scaglietti, and the incredible Maserati MC12 (which is so much more exclusive than the Ferrari Enzo upon which it is based). We didn’t know Frank Stephenson had a YouTube channel, but he does, and his most recent video recalls the process of how the original X5 came to be. Today BMW models like the X3, X5, and X7 account for nearly half of BMW sales volume. Check out where it all started below.—Alex Tock
[Photo and video courtesy BMW AG, Frank Stephenson on YouTube.]