The array of options available to customers, in this day and age, is often simultaneously remarkable and confounding. Punch a simple request into a search engine and you’ll get millions of results; shop online for a straightforward item and you’ll be offered tens of thousands of possibilities.
Every facet of modern life, as markets have boomed and demands have risen, has been flooded with choice. Cars are not exempt from this explosion of offerings, either; cast your eye over any current line-up and you’ll see countless models and body styles.
It wasn’t that long ago, on the grand scheme, that things were far less complicated. Take BMW, for example; in the mid-1990s you could count its primary offerings on one hand. You had the 3 Series, the 5 Series, the 7 Series, the Z3 and the flagship 8 Series. In short, a straightforward line-up of saloons, estates, convertibles and coupes.
This began to change, though, in August 1999 – when, at the New York International Auto Show, a new genre-defining BMW called the X5 was unveiled.
THE LAUNCH OF THE ‘SAV’ CONCEPT
Luxurious off-roaders were not, by any stretch, a new concept. The Jeep Wagoneer kick-started the trend in 1962 but, even following the introduction of the Range Rover in 1970, it remained a niche market.
During the 1980s, however, the ‘Sport Utility Vehicle’ sector took off in earnest. This was in thanks part to a loophole in American legislation that granted SUVs tax benefits and reduced efficiency targets and was also down to the launch of the compact yet capable XJ-generation Jeep Cherokee.
Numerous manufacturers were offering SUVs before long, including luxury brands such as Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. BMW, watching buyers flock from conventional saloons into this new generation of upmarket high-riding SUVs, promptly decided to act in order to capitalise on this burgeoning market.
Simply building a plush, luxurious 4×4 wouldn’t be befitting of a brand that had its roots in producing ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’, though. Fortunately, BMW had noticed that true off-road capability wasn’t required by most SUV buyers – with the high seating position, and perceived safety and practicality benefits, ranking highest among their demands.
As a result, BMW could design an SUV-styled vehicle without resorting to the use of off-road biased underpinnings that would compromise the car’s on-road manners. This meant that the company could carry over some of the dynamic capabilities of its sporting saloons into its new project, helping justify it further.
The product of BMW’s efforts, in which it drew upon resources including the then BMW-owned Land Rover, was a new model called the X5. The ‘X’ denoted all-wheel drive, as per previous all-wheel-drive BMW saloons such as the E34 525iX, while the ‘5’ signified the vehicle’s commonality with the 5 Series. A new phrase called ‘Sports Activity Vehicle’ was coined for the X5, too, which was designed to differentiate it from other SUVs and emphasise its on-road bias.
The car, internally named the E53, was stated to deliver ‘BMW’s inherent comfort, safety and performance on any road’. This was achieved primarily through the use of a unibody construction – like the earlier Jeep XJ – which avoided the refinement, handling and safety issues associated with a ladder chassis. Unlike the rugged XJ, though, the BMW featured handling-improving independent suspension all round.
Power was also distributed primarily to the rear, with the X5’s all-wheel-drive system sending 62 per cent of the engine’s output to the back wheels. This, in conjunction with a host of modern features such as stability control and self-levelling air suspension, helped the new X5 perform more akin to its saloon counterparts.
X MARKS THE SWEET SPOT
In order to maintain the brand’s ‘driver-oriented philosophy’ and performance credentials, the X5 was offered with a powerful 4.4-litre V8. Diesel and petrol straight-six engines were soon also available – which, if so inclined, could be specified with manual transmissions. Additionally bolstering the new BMW’s appeal was its comfortable interior, high-set seating position, range of advanced equipment and its versatility.
Unsurprisingly, the X5’s combination of design, luxury and capability resulted in its being a terrific hit for BMW. Some 12 months later a total of 37,927 had been delivered and, now that it had its own off-road vehicle, BMW decided to sell Land Rover to Ford.
Within ten years, more than 845,000 X5s had been sold; by 2018, on the cusp of the launch of the new fourth-generation X5, sales totalled a whopping 2.2 million – a success that also paved the way for other X derivatives, ranging from the smaller X1 through to the recently launched range-topping X7.
Search for a used BMW X5 on CarGurus
In the market for a used car?
CarGurus makes it easy to find great deals from top-rated dealers. CarGurus compares price, detailed vehicle data and dealer reviews to give each used car a deal rating from great to overpriced, and sorts the best deals first. Find out more and begin your used car search at CarGurus.