Buying Guide BMW X5 E53 Petrol Models

Buying Guide BMW X5 E53 Petrol Models. It was ground-breaking when it arrived and the E53 X5 can still make a great used purchase.

When BMW launched the original X5 it really moved out of its comfort zone but we shouldn’t have worried – BMW doesn’t do anything by halves and when it arrived the E53 X5 was a cracking piece of kit. It’s now getting on in years but if you can find a well looked-after example it can still make a cracking used car if you’re not going to be doing huge mileages. The diesel models are obviously the sensible choice, but by the time they get to this sort of age and with higher mileages the spectre of failed turbos and the like can make them an expensive second-hand proposition which is why we’re concentrating on the petrol models here today.

When designing the X5 BMW took the unique approach of trying to work out how a car could be made to perform well off -road rather than trying to make a 4×4 handle well on-road. The suspension featured the sort of things you’d expect to see on a car, with MacPherson struts, coil springs and diagonal links up front, while at the rear there was a multi-link axle with trailing, transverse and diagonal links. To ensure the X5 could deal with the sticky stuff BMW fitted larger wheels and tyres, optional air spring struts and Hill Descent Control, from the company’s Land Rover days, which meant the X5 didn’t need a second gearbox. The ABS and various traction control systems meant that the X5 was free from diff locks meaning less weight. The end result was brilliant and the X5 proved to be everything that the engineers had wanted.

The 4.4i was the first X5 launched and early examples were powered by the familiar M62 engine with 286hp and a healthy 325lb ft of torque. Despite tipping the scales at nearly 2.2 tonnes, this muscular engine could shove it to 62mph in an eyebrow-elevating 7.5 seconds and onto a top speed of 128mph or 143mph in Sport guise thanks to the higher speed rating of the tyres, not bad at all. It wasn’t even that bad on fuel, with BMW claiming a 20mpg average where the 3.0i could manage only 21 from its significantly smaller and less powerful engine.

The second petrol-engined example to join the party was the aforementioned 3.0i model and this used the tried and tested M52 straight-six which developed 231hp and 221lb ft of torque and despite being significantly down on power and torque it could still manage to knock off the 0-62mph sprint in 8.5 seconds on its way to a maximum of 126mph.

In 2004, when the X5 received its facelift, it was also gifted a new V8 engine with 320hp, though torque remained unchanged – the 0-62 sprint was now cut to 7.0 seconds dead, top speed for the Sport models rose to 149mph, more than fast enough for most, while fuel economy improved by one precious mpg.

All well and good, but what if you wanted a bit more? BMW had the answer (to a question that few people asked, mind) in the shape of the mighty 4.6iS, which exploded into showrooms in 2001 priced at £54,000, £9330 more than the 4.4i. Under the bonnet nestled the 4.6-litre V8 that could also be found in the E39 Alpina B10, developing 347hp and 354lb ft of torque. Making a mockery of the X5’s weight, it gave the 4.6 a 0-62 time of just 6.5 seconds and a 149mph top speed while still managing to return 19mpg. Your additional £10,000 didn’t just buy you a big engine though, with BMW fitting the 4.6 with an aero kit, oval sports exhausts, 20-inch wheels and Sport suspension along with even more toys than standard. You got a 10 speaker hi-fi system with a six CD changer, M5-style dashpod, Nappa leather, rear head and side airbags, tyre pressure control and xenons. The automatic gearbox was also fitted with a new software programme to make it change down more readily and offer even more response in Sport mode.

In 2004 BMW went at least one better, and launched the 4.8iS. Benefi ting from the attractive facelift, the 4.8 pumped the X5 up to cartoonish levels of in your face aggression with the chunky bodystyling package, new seven-spoke 20-inch alloys and Sport suspension and meaty oval exhausts as before. The engine now swelled to 4799cc and power rose to 360hp with 369lb ft of torque, enough to cut the 0-62mph sprint to just 6.1 seconds and raise the top speed to 153mph. The specifi cation was as generous as before, with electric heated seats, self-levelling air suspension, ten speakers and anthracite headlining but you’d expect no less for £58,025.

Buying one

There are plenty of used X5s to choose from and prices start at around £1500 but you’d need to have taken a large helping of brave pills to take one on at this end of the market unless you happen to know the person selling it and are familiar with the car’s history. An X5 at this price point could well rinse out your bank account pretty quickly in repairs.

Better examples start at around the £2500 mark and if you’re lucky you could bag one with less than 100k miles at this price point. Decent 3.0is start at about £3000 while the V8 iS models can go as high as £9000, but for that sort of money it really does need to be mint and with a full history and evidence of plenty of expenditure.


Starting at the bottom, we have the M54 3.0-litre straight-six as seen in the E46 330i and the E39 530i. This all alloy 24-valve Vanos unit is well known as a tough old bird. It develops 231hp and whilst that doesn’t translate into a rocket ship for the X5, it’s not a slouch either and it’s also not bad on fuel – in fact it’s not much worse than a 3.0d around the houses. Problems are typical old BMW really – high oil consumption can be due to the CCV valve and breather hoses being knackered – a manifold off job ideally – and of course cooling issues. Common oil leaks are from the cam cover gaskets – on cars after late 2003, the M54 used push fit coils and a different cam cover as used on the original E60 so bear this in mind if you need to replace a cracked or warped cam cover. Vanos units can require new seals and whilst it’s not really DIY for those who can just about change discs and pads, it’s not tragically expensive and good used Vanos units are cheap enough.

Starters and alternators are all reliable and so is the electronic throttle body and ECU – really, the M54 is a great engine that has few vices and will be in a terrible state when it finally fails to proceed.

The M62 4.4 V8 is good but there’s more to go wrong. The basic engine is tough but it’s very reliant on a good cooling system – see below for more info. Cam covers leak oil both externally and also into the spark plugs wells and all X5 units are the TU Vanos units as introduced in late 1998 for the E39 and E38 cars. These use a water cooled alternator that is reliable but expensive – used ones are £150 plus, new budget ones are £350 and a Bosch unit is £500 – don’t ask the BMW price! Like the M54, the V8 M62 has it’s own weak spots – the crankcase breather (CCV) valve can block leading to a smoky exhaust and the valve is bolted to the back of the inlet manifold. Whilst you’re in there, replace the heater hose that goes from the back of the cylinder heads to the heater valve – these are known for splitting and dumping a lot of coolant very quickly. A bad oil leak from the front timing cover is a very big and expensive job so you want to see a nice dry unit, not an idling oil slick.

Replacement 4.4 V8 engines are both hard to find and pricey – any V8 that doesn’t feel quite brisk enough may well have been fitted with a 3.5 engine, far more common used and worth far less so check the engine number on the drivers side of the block if you can.

The 4.6iS model also used an M62, but a special Alpina developed unit also used in the B10 cars. This is a stonking engine but one that’s often blighted with head gasket trouble and there have been many examples that have been broken for parts following a terminal engine failure. Used engines are like gold dust and again, many broken examples have been fitted with a 4.4 V8 so check the engine numbers if in doubt.

From early 2003, the 4.4 M62 was gradually replaced with the N62 V8 from the E65 745i. This pokey Valvetronic motor is more powerful and economical than the old unit and in truth, is no less reliable. Like all N Series engines it likes to leak oil from its cam cover and Vanos solenoid seals but of more concern are failing valve stem oil seals – that’ll be a puff (or cloud) of bluey grey smoke after it’s been fired up from cold or when it’s hot and has been idling. This is a massive job to correct – they can be done with special tools with the engine still fitted but we’re talking four figures here. A car that just burns oil will be worn rings and the car is pretty much beyond economical repair by then as a good N62 4.4 is a £1500 engine used – or ten grand new. The later 4.8iS is much of the same and the best of luck finding a replacement engine for one of those!

Much has been said about the N62 coolant tube leak but at this stage they can be repaired with a special alloy sleeve along with special sealer – it fits into the inside of the existing tube with the water pump removed.

BMW X5 E53 cooling systems aren’t fragile as such but bits will need to be replaced at some stage – radiators ‘bow’ at the base, the expansion bottle (header tank) can split at the seams whilst the electronically mapped thermostat can fail in the open position leading to slow warm up and high fuel consumption. Water pumps can shed their plastic nylon impellers as well but that’s not a common an issue as you may think. But none of these bits are pricey. As ever, we’d probably use a genuine BMW rad and at around £380 they’re not too dear – the E53 radiators are all the same, six, eight, petrol or diesel. Expansion tanks are pretty decent value from BMW as well at £95 and on the V8 in particular it’s important to have top quality cooling components as their cooling systems run ‘hot’ under light and part load and at high pressure as well.

MODEL: 3.0i 4.4i (’00-‘03) 4.4i (‘04-‘06) 4.6iS 4.8iS
Engine: Six-cylinder V8 V8 V8 V8
Capacity 2979cc 4398cc 4398cc 4619cc 4799cc
Max power 231hp 286hp 320hp 347hp 360hp
Max torque 221lb ft 325lb ft 325lb ft 354lb ft 369lb ft
0-62mph 8.8 seconds 7.3 seconds 7.0 seconds 6.3 seconds 5.9 seconds
Top Speed 126mph 143mph 149mph 149mph 153mph
Economy 22.2mpg 20.3mpg 21.6mpg 19.0mpg 20.9mpg
Price (OTR) £33,000 (2001) £44,000 (2001) £46,835 (2004) £54,000 (2001) £58,025 (2004)


Virtually all X5s are automatics with just a handful of 3.0i cars with a manual box. The manual box (ZF280X) is a tough unit and the clutches last quite well but used units are very, very hard to find and are unique to the 3.0i X5. Likewise, the early pre-2002 3.0i auto boxes are unique to this car, the GM built 390R – and in late 2002 this was changed again to a revised version that in late 2003 was changed again to a revised unit. This makes finding a used box with matching numbers very difficult as you can imagine.

The V8 autos are much the same story – the 4.4 cars used the ZF 440Z-UP unit and changed to the six-speed ZF GA6 unit when the N62 arrived in 2003. 4.6i cars use the five-speed 440Z-UK box and the 4.8iS uses an upgraded version of the six-speed used in the N62 4.4 cars.

Problems? The old five-speed GM unit is a decent old box but by 100,000 miles it really needs the sump dropping, the valve block removing and a pair of new control solenoids fitted. One controls main gearbox oil pressure and the other one controls oil pressure to the torque converter. Shifting problems on all gearboxes (ZF and GM) can be due to the main solenoid but a weird ‘cattle grid’ vibration on GM boxes will be a failed converter solenoid – if not too late this can be replaced, but the vibration is the converter’s internal clutches hammering themselves to death – bits will get into the oil, turning it into a grey sludge and destroying the whole unit. Five-speed ZF units can just fail, losing forward or reverse drive due to worn out clutch discs or a broken brake drum – a rebuild or good used unit is the only answer and neither are cheap.

The six-speed ZF is a better unit than either and rarely goes wrong but of course, they’re getting on a bit now. Oil leaks from both the sump gasket as well as the O-ring on the electronic plug but the actual gearbox itself seems okay. Be aware that a faulty cam sensor, ABS sensor or a problem with the battery or alternator can cause a gearbox warning light and the dreaded ‘limp home mode’ – accurate diagnostics and the correct sized battery are essential and if you buy a cheap X5 with a gearbox problem, you may just be lucky – on cars with gear changes that ‘flare’ you may find that fitting a new solenoid on the affected circuit can clear the problem. You need to be a pretty good mechanic to do this though! The rest of the driveline is not without expensive problems either. X5 diffs are old and well known for failure and you wouldn’t be the first to buy a cheap X5 where some clown has removed the font prop to disguise a knackered front diff. These are all different ratios and cannot be interchanged – a 3.0i M54 and a 4.4i N62 both use a 4.1 ratio front diff with the same part number, but the 3.0i uses a 4.1 diff that’s different to the V8 cars – autos and manual also have different part numbers despite having the same final drive ratio.

The V8 M62 4.4i used 3.64 ratio diffs and the 4.6iS uses 3.91 ratio diffs. The 4.4 N62 X5 has 4.1 ratio diffs with the front one being the same as the 3.0i as mentioned already whilst the 4.8iS uses its own unique 3.91 ratio units. Finding good used diffs is both difficult and expensive and you cannot mix ratios – fit a 3.91 front diff to a car with a 4.1 rear and the front one will be destroyed very quickly along with the transfer box – half a mile will do it. Driveshafts are a similar minefield – you simply must fit transmission parts with the correct part number. Finally, inspect the driveshaft CV joints paying attention to the front outer boots that can split.


Very much unlike the E39 though, the X5 doesn’t seem to rust even though the first ones are now nearly 17 years old. The only rust area occurs on the earlier cars where the inside of the upper tailgate can rust badly but you can’t see that from the outside. Problems are few – the front (and occasionally rear) door handle holders break leaving the door unable to be opened from the outside, and replacement is a fiddly but not impossible task.

A new one from BMW is £100 and good used ones are only viable if in perfect condition. The plastic headlight lenses cloud over but often wet flatting with 2000 grit and buffing with a polishing mop and 3M Fast Cut Plus will restore them. Xenon headlights are an unspeakable price new (nearly £1000 each) and even the igniter units for the bulbs are £400 a throw – Xenons are nice to have but be aware of repair costs. Rear tailgate latches can fail – it’s the tiny spring inside the unit that breaks but new ones aren’t expensive and there are used ones of course. The plastic light units in the tailgate are a common problem – the plastic lenses just turn nasty over time and there’s no fix. New ones are a shocking £125 each – and that’s aftermarket, not from the dealers…

The sliding glass sunroof is thankfully not a complex twin pane job but a glass version of the regular steel sunroof used on other BMWs. It’s not a bad set up and doesn’t really give any trouble but don’t be surprised if there are rattles from within after a decade and many thousands of miles.

Other than that, there aren’t any real problems. Make sure the central locking works on the key – it’ll be the E46 style diamond key on these, and that all the windows work as they should – E53 window regulators are not especially trouble prone. The door mirrors can fall to bits and beware cheap eBay repair kits because they rarely fit and work properly – a good used mirror is normally the best option – about £150 for a decent one.


The interior is typical late 1990s BMW with an E39 style dash and excellent build quality. They all have leather and many will have the ancient sat nav that these days isn’t worth paying extra for. Many cars have it though, and if the disc is present and it works, well why not? Facelift cars from 2005 have a better-looking steering wheel and are just that bit nicer inside. Leather was standard in the UK although cloth was apparently a no cost option – has anyone ever seen a cloth trimmed X5?


There were various extras – CD players were optional on earlier cars and standard from around 2005 but as standard, the X5 was always well specced and didn’t need much else. Check that the air con works and if it doesn’t, £35 at KwikFit will soon tell you if it stands a hope in hell of working again without the expense of a new condenser (£150 aftermarket) and fitting – it’s very common for the air con electric fan in front of the radiator to be seized – using the air con every day all year round goes a long way to preventing it.

Servicing Costs

The X5 is never going to be a cheap car to run, but a 3.0i manual won’t cost much – if any – more to service and run than a 530i Touring. Many specialists such as Parkside Autos in Worksop say that the 3.0i is the X5 to run now, particularly the manual that in their experience is a superbly reliable vehicle.

OIL SERVICE £159 £130
INSPECTION 1 £249 £200
INSPECTION 11 £389 £325
BRAKE  FLUID £100 £58
FRONT PADS £159 £100
REAR PADS £149 £95
Prices courtesy of BMW (UK) and a selection of three specialists – the car chosen is a 2006 X5 3.0i Auto.


We’ve already covered quite a lot of this elsewhere but despite being modern (for the day) CanBus, it’s all pretty reliable – once again, the X5 was based on the E39 set up where not a lot goes wrong. General body modules are X5 specific but we’re told E39 Touring ones can be coded in if an X5 one can’t be found – but with the increasing number of dead X5s in specialist BMW breakers we can’t imagine finding a good used one will present much of a problem. In short, test everything and make sure everything works, even the oddball extras like the adjustable steering column. Tailgate wiring is thankfully not the problem it can be on the E39 5 Series Touring!

Wheels, tyres and brakes

X5s use either ASC or DSC depending on year and model and there are no real surprises here – but possibly some large bills. Brake pipes rust on any BMW and the X5 E53 is no exception, and most examples will have had one or two by now, particularly the rear ones.

Cars with ASC use the ‘001’ ABS control unit – this is the big valve block under the bonnet that the brake pipes go into. When this fails you get issues with the speedo, ABS lights and diagnostics pinpoint a failed wheel sensor. Well it could be that, but replace it and be prepared for the fault to still be there. Good used ones are about £100 as they also fit the E39 5 Series as well as various E38s. New from BMW they’re the usual four figure comedy price but suppliers such as Quarry Motors in Sheffield can supply brand new Bosch units for a fraction of that – around £300 plus fitting and coding. Cars with DSC have a 002 or 003 unit and these are a lot more money. There is also a DSC charge pump under the bonnet and these can fail – they are also used on the E39 and E38 V8 cars so aren’t too hard to find used but again, forget buying new.

Discs and pads are not too expensive – £120 a pair from ECP’s Eicher brand, £190 using Pagid whilst rears are Pagid only at £130 the pair – matching Pagid brake pads are £65 for the fronts and £32 for the rears so not bad at all. 4.6i and 4.8i discs are the same price, but there’s no budget alternative. Handbrake levers are a fairly common problem where the teeth on the ratchet just wear out. A new lever is BMW only but not too scary at £130 plus fitting.

Wheels and tyres present few problems. Wheels were 17-, 18- or 19-inch and a pair of 235/65×17 tyres such as Uniroyal or Bridgestone are £100 a corner with brands like Maxis being not a lot less but Michelins being around £125 each fitted. Moving up to the 18-inch wheels, a 255/55×18 Toyo Proxes is £100 and a Bridgestone D Sport is £120 fitted. 19s aren’t that much more either – a 255/50×19 Uniroyal RainSport 3 is £120 fitted.

Steering and suspension

The E53 X5 is pretty much a bigger E39 5 Series when it comes to the running gear, with similar age related problems. Springs and dampers last well as do the front control arms but of course, everything is X5 specifi c with very little carried over from the E39. Proper quality (Lemforder) aftermarket front arms are around £115 each and the cheaper stuff just doesn’t last.

The rear subframe is mounted on four big rubber bushes and they are a real cow to replace – very often a complete alloy subframe from a write off with good bushes is an easier job even though the actual bushes are only £40 each. Front dampers are around £150 for a respectable brand such as Boge or Sachs with very little (if any) budget alternatives to choose from.

X5s all have rear air suspension which again is very similar to the E39 Touring – indeed, the rear air pump unit is the same and a good used one can be picked up for £100 or less on eBay. Good used rear air bags are fairly rare but new aftermarket ones are between £125 and £300 each new. Some cars though (mainly the iS models) have front and rear air suspension and a front airbag – even aftermarket – is a scary £480.

All X5s have rack and pinion power steering with the option of Servotronic. These racks last very well but forget paying the £1500 plus for a new one – good used is the only sensible way to go.


The E53 X5 was a revelation in 2000 – it made everything else look very crude, yet comprehensively outgunned Range Rover on everything including reliability. But they’re old cars now and the potential for some massive bills is ever present – V8 cars are for the brave. Rubbish ones are around £2000 with all manner of problems, yet for £3000 you have lots of clean working examples that short term at least, won’t need anything and at this price are worth a gamble because even broken, it’s worth £1500 or so – a cheap old X5 will always be worth more in bits.

3.0i or V8? The six-cylinder car is better on fuel and mechanically is far more robust and the rare manual version drives surprisingly well – they’re cheaper to buy as well and you remove the potential of a gearbox failure at a stroke. The V8 though has some real get up and go but they can be frighteningly expensive to run and repair – beware X5s of any sort registered after 23rd March 2006 unless you like paying £515 a year for tax – cars registered before that date pay a more reasonable £295 a year.

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