Hidden Desires #2 – BMW X5 4.8iS

With this week’s announcement of the new third-generation BMW X5, I felt it was time I owned up to the irrational inclination I have towards wanting to own the original iteration.

#2 – BMW X5

Way back in 1999 when the millennium was just around the corner, Bill Clinton was President of the United States and Lou Bega was popular (I know!), BMW still owned Rover. More importantly it also owned Land Rover, which meant it was able to use technology such as LR’s Hill Descent Control to produce its own range of off-road vehicles. BMW had offered 4WD versions before in the shape of iX branded 3 and 5-Series models, but the X5 represented a substantial leap forward into the field of Sports Activity Vehicles.

In the UK it’s fair to say BMW’s “X” models do suffer from something of an image problem, especially if offerings by Sniff Petrol are anything to go by. It’s also fair to say that it’s 4×4 abilities are wasted on most of the people who buy one; unless they’re attempting to escape from the police by going cross-country. But, for some unknown reason, there is part of me that would like one. In particular, it’s the rather rare (and even more pointless) 4.8iS version offered from 2004 to 2006.

Taking the N62 4.8 litre V8 engine, later found in other creations such as the Morgan Aero 8 and Wiesman GT MF4, BMW endowed a rather large SUV (sorry, SAV) with more power and torque than a contemporary Porsche 911. A slick shifting 6-speed automatic box transferred 360 bhp and 369 lb ft to all four wheels. The end result was a large off-roader capable of hitting 60 mph in under 6 seconds, whilst propelling itself onwards to 153 mph flat-out. Sitting on 20″ wheels with wide grippy rubber, the uprated suspension of the 4.8iS meant Evo found it was “far more agile (and more fun to drive) than logic and physics” should allow.

That is possibly the reason why I have a strange yearning for an X5 4.8iS. The logical car enthusiast part of my brain tells me it is all wrong; there is no need for such a thing to exist. An SAV like the X5 has questionable purpose in the first place, making a performance version only furthers the doubt as to its existence. But there is something strangely compelling about the NASCAR soundtrack, the oversized bodykit and wheels, and the fact it could easily shame any hot-hatch at the lights.

Yes, it only averages 20 mpg (officially), yes it’ll make you look like a drug dealer and yes similar era 545i Touring is probably a much more sensible proposition. But you cannot talk practically about a testosterone-heavy 4×4; it is illogical, it doesn’t make sense and the ridiculous nature of it only adds to the appeal.

Back in 2004 the X5 4.8iS would have set you back at least £58,000 plus all the expensive options you’d have wanted. Today you’ll need less than £9,000 to put you behind the wheel of a 100k mile black example, whereas a lesser mileage version in M5 style Le Mans blue is only £10,000. If I could allay the fears of bankruptcy, or falling into a life of petty crime, due to its fuel consumption I would happily own one. Although there would always be the knowledge that it wasn’t the fastest first-generation X5 ever produced by BMW.

For that you would have to convince the guys in Munich to part with the one-off X5 LM. Using the engine from BMW’s 1999 Le Mans winning prototype, a specialist team inserted the 6 litre V12 engine into an off-the-shelf X5. Due to the LMR V12 no longer needing to run air-restrictors to comply with Le Mans rules, the result was an X5 packing 700 bhp. A top speed of 176 mph was on offer if you were crazy enough to dare (Hans Joachim Stuck was) although the lack of ABS might concern most. It’s difficult to encapsulate the X5 LM in words, so here is a German video which may help:

So the 4.8iS might not be the fastest X5 made, but you can at least buy one. Next to the LM version it also starts to look slightly more sane…

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