BMW E53 X5 – 1999

What’s the difference between SAV and SUV? Obvious! The Sports Activity Vehicle is a big passenger car that can go off road with some authority when necessary, whilst a Sports Utility Vehicle is a big passenger car that can go off road with some authority when necessary. The reason BMW was so keen to claim that its new X5 SAV was not really a SUV was bound up with its takeover of Rover.

That gave BMW access to Land Rover’s world-leading off-road technology and made development of the first generation E53 X5 model much easier, but also ensured that BMW had to differentiate between its own-brand SUV and the Range Rovers that were genuine off-road superstars. The X5 was an early example of the crossover trend that would develop rapidly in the new century, whereby SUVs started switching from rugged body-on-chassis vehicles to luxury saloon-based road cars that rode high and could tackle uneven ground and slippery conditions if required to do so.

The E53 X5 was really a jacked-up 5 Series saloon with four-wheel drive, and even then most of the power was routed to the rear wheels to give smoother on-road performance and a comforting ‘tall car’ feel. The first X5 lacked any sort of serious off-road features like low-range and locking differentials, again helping to explain why BMW was so keen on the SAV tag. Various engines and manual or automatic transmission were offered during the E53 X5’s life.

The second generation BMW X5 was the E70, which replaced the E53 at the end of 2006. It is wider and longer than the original with a completely new interior. For the first time, a third-row seat was offered, addressing the criticism that the E53 wasn’t quite big enough for the X5’s holy grail — those shared multi-kid school runs.


Germany (manufactured in the USA)


1999 (until 2006)


2,979 cc Straight Six; 2,993 cc Straight Six Diesel; 4,398 cc, 4,619 cc or 4,799 cc V8


With 4.4 I engine — top speed of 129 mph (207 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.3 secs


The first-generation E53 X5 had a considerable facelift in 2004, with external styling changes, a revised four-wheel-drive system, towing stability pack and more powerful engine options.


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