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    Full-fat 4x4: E53 X5 4.8iS Bringing out the BIG GUNS. Words: Simon Holmes. Photography: Steve Hall.

    When BMW introduced the X5 it raised some eyebrows and so did the V8 versions that followed, including the daddy of them all: the 4.8iS.

    Bringing Out The Big Guns It’s easy to forget that BMW used to make massive #V8-engined X5s like the 4.8iS.

    The launch of the first X5 seems like a long time ago now, and for good reason as it was 15 years ago, back in 1999, that BMW first ventured into the relatively new SUV market. Only it called the X5 (and every subsequent X model since) a Sports Activity Vehicle, or SAV instead.

    The new model was met with scepticism at the time as there was some speculation over how well this new wave of larger four-wheel drive cars actually drove on a day-to-day basis. Despite the pumped-up ride height the majority of these cars spent their time on the road rather than off it but that’s what set the X5 apart. Instead of being developed primarily as an off-road vehicle that was then adapted to drive like a car, BMW turned that theory on its head and developed a platform that shared its suspension design closely with a road car. This ensured its roadholding capabilities were preset, so it was then a matter of adapting it to work as a four-wheel drive afterwards. The upside was that on the road it felt and handled like a larger, high-riding car. The down side was its off-road ability, particularly with its car-like large wheels and low profile tyres, wasn’t exactly exceptional but BMW gambled that in this market it wouldn’t have to be.

    The decision paid off. The X5 soon became a surefire hit and the fact it wasn’t much good at climbing mountains didn’t really matter. People understood the concept and the car-like feel of the SAV appealed to the masses. It didn’t take long until a demand for a more powerful version to suit the image and make best use of the developed chassis arose either.

    Initially, the range of engines was limited but a petrol V8 was always in the line-up to satisfy those wanting a certain amount of grunt in their new SAV. At first this was provided by the 4.4i model, producing a wholesome 286hp but after good sales and feedback BMW realised there might be a market for a hotter version. So for those yearning for more power a 4.6iS model entered production in 2001 to run alongside the 4.4i. Powered by the M62 4.6-litre V8 producing 347hp it pushed the X5 into a different realm, as despite its size and 2.2-tonne weight it offered performance that would give many of the big BMWs a scare with its 0-62mph time of just 6.5 seconds.

    However, by 2004 the X5 was due a face-lift and the M62 engine was reaching the end of its life span, so the new and improved N62 V8 replaced it. This unit featured double Vanos and came in a range of sizes but 4.6-litres to suit the previous X5 model was not one of them. Instead, there was now a larger 4799cc version and so the 4.8iS was born to replace it. The new range-topper produced 360hp at a relatively rev-happy 6200rpm and with it came a matching 369lb ft of torque at a much lower 3600rpm. The big V8 only came connected to the six-speed automatic Steptronic gearbox but performance was frankly ludicrous for the size and weight of the car. From rest, 62mph was achieved in just 6.1 seconds whilst some independent tests claimed to have breached the sub-6 second threshold. It kept on going until it ran out of gearing and aerodynamics at its 153mph top speed.

    To help distribute all that power to the floor, all of the new face-lifted X5 models also featured xDrive as standard, which meant the clever four-wheel drive system could vary power between the front and back when needed. The 4.8iS also received self-levelling air suspension with sports settings both front and rear that featured manual ride height adjustment, too.

    All that performance and technology came at a price and on launch the new replacement iS cost £58,025, nearly £10,000 more than a 4.4i Sport and some £22,575 more than an entry level 3.0i SE. For your money you did get a level of luxury unrivalled by the lower models that still holds its own today. Inside the usual Dakota leather interior fitted to other X5s was exclusively upgraded to soft Nappa leather and the headlining was finished in anthracite. The front seats were heated and offered electric adjustment with memory functions as standard. All X5 models came with gadgets galore with everything from cruise control and PDC to rain sensors and tyre puncture warning, but the 4.8iS also featured a CD changer to go with the advanced ten-speaker stereo. The standard safety equipment was topped with rear side airbags to match the existing front, side and head airbags for the driver and passenger. To match the beefy performance there were also beefy looks and the standard wheels were upgraded to giant 20-inch items carried over from the 4.6iS that measured 9.5- and 10.5-inches wide, front and back. They were fitted with supercar-wide 315/35/20 tyres at the rear and 275/40/20 at the front. To top it off, xenon headlights, chrome exhaust tailpipes and extended wheel arches were fitted.

    Despite fuel consumption and running costs not being exactly strong points for the model thanks to a claimed 20.9mpg combined figure, the 4.8iS actually sold pretty well, although ever improving diesel technology would mark the end for the big petrol engines. There are still a few around but they aren’t exactly common; fortunately reader Jag has supplied us with the 4.8iS seen here. He hasn’t had the car long and actually bought it on a bit of whim after it caught his eye for sale on the internet, which makes him a brave man! Knowing that the 4.8iS is a rare beast finished in this fetching shade of Estoril blue, Jag bought it and has since been using it as a fun family car for the weekends. He chose well as this particular iS would have been an expensive purchase when it was first ordered back in 2005 as it’s been fitted with a range of options including an Electric Panorama Glass Sunroof at £1095, Aluminium Running Boards at £215 and Professional sat nav with TV capability at £2440, among others. It’s a fine example to photograph and fine example to test-drive, which Jag has graciously let us do.

    The first thing you notice when climbing up into the capacious cabin is that you literally have to climb into the car, rather than settle yourself into it. At 1.8 meters tall the X5 is big but whilst it looks large on the outside once you’re behind the wheel it feels positively gargantuan. Even the driving position itself seems raised, more so than later X5 models as the seats themselves don’t go quite as low to the floor.

    It’s easy to adapt to, though, and it does give a great, open view of the road. The height of the pedals takes a little longer to get used to as they sit a little too high, producing a slightly strange angle for my long legs to position. But otherwise the interior is a nice place to be and the panoramic sunroof really makes it feel light and airy through the vast cabin space. The dashboard, instruments and switchgear all have a solid, late 1990s feel of BMW build quality, which is a good thing.

    Out on the road the immediately surprising thing is how well the X5 hides its vast mass. You can feel the weight of the car shift around as you accelerate and brake but it doesn’t necessarily feel like two tonnes of metal. That’s largely down to the engine, as the big V8 makes light work of pulling away with haste and once on the move it’s perfectly content to travel with complete effortlessness. A relaxed right foot sees the automatic shifting gears at 2000rpm and at these lowly speeds the engine seems super silky smooth, allowing a consistent gliding sensation. The gearbox’s changes are a little less seamless but not enough to disrupt the feel and even with those big wheels and skinny tyres the ride seems pleasant and although it’s firm it’s far from harsh.

    There’s still plenty of grunt low down and the power seems almost lazy in its delivery at first but on the more open sections of road the X5 transforms. Once you engage some more throttle and force the gearbox to kickdown a gear or two it’s then that the V8 picks up with a sudden sense of urgency. Whilst the power maintains an effortless wave of momentum the speedo quickly climbs and even at higher speed it reacts with the same smooth punch of torque, making light work of just about any road once on the move. The accompanying soundtrack it makes is glorious, too, as the deep burble it emits at low revs awakens to become a satisfying growl higher up. It sounds just like a big V8 should and it inevitably brings a smile to your face every time the revs build.

    However, on the more flowing A- and B-roads the lack of immediate steering response is notable and it almost feels a little clumsy. In tighter turns it requires the steering wheel to be fed through your hands as it hasn’t got the lock to turn without taking your hands off the wheel, something I haven’t experienced on a car in awhile. Also, when pushing on in the corners it seems to show a tendency to want to understeer, though the active xDrive system works away to ensure it remains composed. You do find yourself sliding around the armchair-style seats a little though. Whilst it’s certainly not the kind of car to be taken on regular track day outings it’s fair to say the 4.8iS is a lot of fun in the way a big power engine always is.

    It’s a very big and heavy car but it hides its bulk well thanks to that engine as a dab of throttle makes it come alive and with an associated engine note to put virtually every current BMW to shame. It’s clearly more suited as a heavyweight cruiser, although Jag tells us that 20mpg is about as much as it will do on a run. But then it’s not the kind of car you buy for the economy and that goes with the territory with an iS.

    It’s a shame BMW doesn’t do a petrol engine V8 equivalent in the current X5 line-up as although the big diesels offer similar performance, they don’t quite have that same aggressive feel or, of course, sound. The big gun X5 was definitely one of a kind…

    TECHNICAL DATA FILE #BMW-E53 / #BMW-X5 / #BMW-X5-E53 / #BMW-X5-4.8iS / #BMW-X5-4.8iS-E53 / #BMW / #V8 / #BMW-V8 / #N62B48 / #N62 / #BMW-N62 /

    ENGINE: 32-valve, V8
    CAPACITY: 4799cc
    MAX POWER: 360hp
    MAX TORQUE: 369lb ft
    TOP SPEED: 153mph
    0-62MPH: 6.1 seconds
    ECONOMY: 20.9mpg

    Out on the road the surprising thing is how well the X5 hides its vast mass
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    Bob Harper

    Buying Guide BMW X5 E53 Petrol Models

    Posted in Cars on Tuesday, 21 March 2017

    The original X5 was a great piece of kit and even today they can make a superb used buy… if you buy wisely. Words: Bob Harper and Andy Everett Photography: BMW.

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    Blast from the Past. We don our rose-tinted specs and sample Hartge’s 5.0 V8 E53 X5… it’s still a hoot to drive. It’s been a while since we drove an E53 generation X5 but this Hartge-fettled example reminded us what was so great about the original V8-engined softroader. Words: Bob Harper. Photography: Gus Gregory.

    We may well be on the third iteration of the X5 softroader, or Sports Activity Vehicle, as #BMW still insist on calling it, but there’s something that’s still rather wonderful about the original E53 incarnation. In the right colour and sitting on the right alloys it’s still a pretty good-looking piece of kit that has aged well, although conversely in the wrong colour and on the smaller wheels it does also show its age. I still have a pretty soft spot for the car – a wonderful, if slightly expensive to run, workhorse in 3.0d form, and hilariously quick and well-mannered in the fruitier V8 varieties. Even after all these years one of my favourite car launches was the face-lift E53 X5 over in South Carolina riding the Blue Ridge mountains in a raunchy V8. Stunning scenery, hospitable locals and a great car to be let loose in.

    Even today in my slightly madder moments I can’t help but have a quick trawl of used X5 values (usually in their brawniest factory 4.6iS and 4.8iS formats) so when the chance came up to sample the wildest of X5s this side of the one-off X5 Le Mans I jumped at the chance. The car in question is a Hartge 5.0-litre X5, fully converted when new by Hartge and its UK agent Birds. I can still remember sampling Hartge’s demonstrator out in Germany back in 2002 and finding it hilariously entertaining to punt along with prodigious shove from the fully-fettled Hartge V8 accompanied by a fruity NASCAR-style soundtrack.

    On a recent visit to Birds’ Iver HQ to sample its divine 435d xDrive that you can read about elsewhere in the issue we spotted this dark green example, looking ever so slightly incongruous in amongst the more modern fare. One often has the chance to sample heavily modified BMWs when they’re new, but to come across one 15 years down the line is a rare treat and we couldn’t pass up the chance to sample this car to see how it has stood the test of time. Would it live up to my fond memories of the model, or would it be a huge disappointment?

    Before we put the pedal to the metal though it’s probably worth having a quick recap as to what exactly went into this Hartge X5 conversion. At its heart was an engine conversion that took the V8 to 4930cc thanks to an increase in bore (by 2mm) and stroke (up 6.1mm) to develop figures of 380hp and 376lb ft of torque, good enough to propel this brick on wheels to 150mph while knocking off the benchmark 0-62mph dash in a smidgen under six seconds. It wasn’t just about a capacity increase though as there was a bespoke Hartge exhaust with four howitzer-sized tailpipes and to ensure it handled the extra power the chassis came in for some upgrades, too. There were stiffer anti-roll bars and a Hartge suspension set up that lowered the car by around 30mm to ensure that the big SAV’s bulk was kept in check when pushing on.

    Rounding off the package was a styling kit that included a hugely aggressive front apron and a very sexy set of 22-inch rims. Even today 22s are pretty big, but 15 years ago these really were something to write home about. And it would seem that the past 15 years have been pretty kind to this particular X5 and it’s still in excellent condition as befits a car that’s covered less than 50k miles during its life. It’s also benefited from a few pleasant upgrades such as an M3 steering wheel complete with paddle-shift gear change and a well-integrated aftermarket sat nav and entertainment system in place of the outdated standard fit nav screen.

    The proof of the pudding though is in the driving and simply twisting the key (remember keys – a joy to use after the modern fad of keyless go and push button starts) elicits a wonderful throaty roar from the rear of the car before it settles down into a bassy idle that’s just a tad more menacing than the regular X5 V8. Trundling away from Birds the X5 is certainly eager to get a move on and feels a little bit like a caged tiger prowling the streets. On rougher roads those gumball wheels and tyres do make the car fidget quite a bit and be under no illusion that this machine will provide a billiard smooth ride, but despite this the X5 starts to wheedle its way under your skin, making you smile every time you prod the loud pedal and grin a little as it tries to take off into the next county.

    Crusing up the motorway to our shoot location and the X5 garners plenty of glances from other motorists and that bold front end styling that Hartge gave to the car proves to be very effective at clearing slower moving traffic from your path as other drivers seem to be convinced the X5 is simply going to Hoover them up through the huge air intakes. If we were to let it off the leash it feels like it would still hit its 150mph maximum, but that’s a game best not played on the M40 so we make do with entertaining ourselves once we reach the backroads.

    On A roads and fast B roads it’s a real hoot to punt along, feeling pretty rapid in isolation, no doubt a feeling partially assisted by the wonderful V8 soundtrack. Its outright speed is to a certain extent put into context by the 435d that I’m chasing, but as you can read elsewhere in the issue that machine is insanely fast. The X5 corners pretty well too – grip is never an issue thanks to the huge footprint and the four-wheel drive, but when the roads get rougher and more bumpy you do end up being a little more circumspect as those big wheels can upset the ride to quite a degree.

    Overall though the Hartge 5.0 X5 still convinces as well as it did back in 2002. This one has been lovingly looked after and seems to be in fine fettle. If you’re after the ultimate X5 pop along to Birds and give it the once over, you won’t be disappointed.

    TECHNICAL DATA FILE: #2002 / #BMW-Hartge / #BMW-X5-5.0 / #BMW / #Hartge / #BMW-X5 / #BMW-X5-E53 / #BMW-E53 / #BMW-E53-Hartge / #BMW-X5-Hartge / #BMW-X5-Hartge-E53 / #Hartge-X5-5.0 / #Hartge-X5-5.0-E53

    ENGINE: #V8 32-valve / #M62 / #BMW-M62
    CAPACITY: 4930cc
    MAX POWER: 380hp / DIN
    MAX TORQUE: 376lb ft / DIN
    TOP SPEED: 150mph
    0-62MPH: 5.9 seconds
    PRICE: £15,995
    Contact Birds where the car is for sale for more information

    CONTACT: Birds Garage
    Tel: 01753 657444 Web: www.birdsgarage.co.uk
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    Physical Attraction / #BMW-X5-4.6iS / #BMW-X5-4.6iS-E53 / #BMW-X5-E53 / #BMW-X5 / #BMW-E53 /

    Re-evaluating the bonkers #BMW-E53 X5 4.6iS. Back in its day the X5 4.6iS was one of the fastest 4x4s on the planet, but how does it feel nearly 15 years later? Words and photography: Mark Williams.

    I was always fascinated by physics at school. Chemistry held an interest too, but that was more a morbid fascination with combining substances we were explicitly told not to mix by our mischievous teacher, who would often then turn his back and wander off to the storeroom for five minutes, leaving us with two half-full test tubes; one of fuel, the other of igniter and only one thing left to do. My 14-year-old niece reliably informs me that today’s teachers are a boring lot in comparison. It was the physics classes though which really held appeal.

    Across the corridor, the mysterious art of applying power or force to an object with a certain density in order to motivate it forward grabbed my interest, and that’s something which has never really left me. It’s clearly visible in some of my car purchases over the last 15 years; two-tonne leviathans stretching their legs to the tune of lusty, big capacity V12s which overcome sheer mass through brute force and power. Which brings us neatly to this, the X5 4.6iS.

    I’ve driven several SUVs over the last year or so, and I’ve doubted every single one of them upon first acquaintance. Come the time to return them though, and there’s an uneasy feeling inside which suggests that there is some logic at work here, and hence appreciation of what they can achieve. Logic? Well ask yourself this – would you rather hack up to Scotland in a Fiesta, or something with refinement through size, long-legged cruising ability thanks to a big motor, and the confidence instilled in the driver through being able to see hundreds of yards ahead? If you accept that big cars don’t have to be built in the mould of the 7 Series or S-Class, and you don’t crave the final degree of handling incisiveness which enables you to clip apices time and again, then you begin to appreciate why people buy these things.

    So let’s not think of the psychology at work here and just consider the X5 on merit. Generally regarded as the first in the line of lifestyle SUVs, or SAVs as BMW prefer it (Sports Activity Vehicle, as if ‘Utility’ conjures up off-brand images which keep marketing men laying awake at night), the X5 first rolled down the path previously traversed by later versions of the Range Rover throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s. That is, once the Range Rover had opened the door to a market for luxury off-roaders which spent most of their time on-road, BMW’s boffins got to work. Porsche then followed and the rest is living history, seen every day on the roads and in car parks the world over.


    A few years into the lifecycle of the first generation of X5, the E53, BMW gave us this in 2001. An X5 which gorged itself on a diet of M62 V8 and F1-spec rubber (315s out the back, so make sure your credit card is up to the task when you visit Kwik Fit as decent brand Reifen will set you back 400 quid a corner), equating to two tonnes plus a load more, 347hp, 354lb ft of torque and an attitude.


    The exhausts rumble, the bluff grille sends smaller fare scattering into the inside lane and the owner looks smug whilst trying not to eye the fruit-machine behaviour exhibited by the pump whilst filling it up. But there’s a promise of being able to continue should it snow, or still being able to extract oneself from the field at the local place of interest, after it rains and turns it into a mud pie (and never mind that the aforementioned 315s are about as useful in said conditions as a Teflon-coated castor would be). We all know the Modus Operandi at work here, right? BMW refined the recipe in 2004 with the 4.8 model, but the first jaw-dropper and convention-changer is what you see here.

    And it works, it really does. At the time of the test (and thanks given here to the owner for allowing us to borrow the car he had recently purchased from James Paul down in West Sussex, 01403 823723 or www.jamespaul.co.uk) this particular 4.6iS wasn’t in the first flush of youth, but still only had 78k on the odo and hence, plenty left to give. It creaked and groaned a bit over the region’s more pot-marked asphalt but in general, you’d have to say that the guys at the North Carolina Spartanburg plant where they assembled these things (and still do, 1.5 million units later) knew what they were doing. Yes it rolled a bit in the corners but one soon dialled into its responses and compensated accordingly, driving in accordance with its size and weight. That is to say, ‘considerately’.


    When I hit the throttle, velocity was gained with a baritone rumble and a feeling that anything which happened into our path would be swept away under the avalanche. At least one could see said ‘target’ well in advance thanks to the elevated driving position.


    Onto the brakes before tipping it into a bend and there’s a very clear feeling that one shouldn’t really be doing this in something so vast, but it slows with authority and the lean through the subsequent corner actually helps the chassis settle and not panic the driver. The steering isn’t fast enough for this kind of work though, even bordering on the vague (plus it’s far too light) and no matter how much lock you think you need in those early miles, you consistently need just that little bit more. Nobody ever claimed it’s anything approaching lithe as a handling device though, because clearly it’s a blunt instrument designed to bludgeon and not trim its line via the control surfaces, but the honest reality is that you can cover the ground at a good pace in one of these things without the feeling that one false move will require our cartographers to reach for their pens and start over…

    Back at James Paul, I have a good look over the interior and muse to myself that dashboard architecture and styling has come a long way in the past ten years. In terms of toys, all the high-end kit of the period is present and correct, so the seats are powered in every direction except sideways, ditto the mirrors and steering column. The air-con still kicks out an icy blast, the sound quality from the (standard) stereo makes you wonder whether BMW has cut some corners in order to pinch the pennies in that area in recent years and the sat-nav makes a decent attempt at finding its way around (and never mind that you’d need a trained chimp to reach the buttons from the driver’s seat). Praise the Lord that there’s an actual engine coolant gauge and not ‘only’ an oil temp gauge or merely warning lights, the engine starts with a key (quaint) and the shift pattern printed onto the base of the auto shifter harks back to auto shifters of old, and not the algebra expressions which appear printed atop modern shifters. It all works well enough too, save for the inevitable pixel issue on this age of #BMW and a line or two missing on the sat-nav screen. But these are niggles, easily sorted.

    Closing the doors and standing back to admire the heft, it’s not ageing too badly either. Okay the frontal aspect looks a little old and the light pods particularly, complete with separate and permanently visible washing pods, really date it. But from the side and especially from the rear three-quarter, where those 315s somewhat dominate proceedings, it looks squat, heavy and dependable. And it would be reliable for the most part, but you would have to look out for coolant leaks, some of which can cost an arm and a leg to rectify, and they consume suspension components with frightening regularity, which shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise when you consider the sheer mass of the thing.

    Bottom line, for the £7.5k this was up for prior to being sold (and I succeeded in squeezing in a video review too, so pop over to my Quently Bentin YouTube channel for that one), it represented a quite staggering amount of metal for your money, and an amusing way of poking fun at the laws of physics.

    Thanks to: James Paul
    Tel: 01403 823723
    Web: www.jamespaul.co.uk

    TECHNICAL DATA #BMW-E53 X5 4.6iS
    ENGINE: V8, petrol, normally aspirated / #M62 / #M62B46 / #BMW-M62
    CAPACITY: 4619cc
    MAX POWER: 347hp @ 5700rpm
    MAX TORQUE: 354lb ft @ 3700rpm
    0-62MPH: 6.5 seconds
    TOP SPEED: 149mph
    ECONOMY: 19mpg (17 on test)
    PRICE: £54,000 (2001), circa £7500 (today)

    When I hit the throttle, velocity was gained with a baritone rumble.
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    BMW Concepts
    The bonkers and adorable #BMW X5 Le Mans profiled. The cars they could have made The maddest and baddest X5 ever imagined was wheeled out for the first time at the #Geneva-Show in #2000 / #2000-Geneva-Motor-Show / #BMW-X5-Le-Mans-E53 / #BMW-X5 / #BMW-X5-Le-Mans / #BMW-X5-E53 / #2000

    Some of the most interesting machines to have emerged from Munich’s hallowed halls can trace their origins back to having been skunkworks projects. Ideas dreamed up by engineers under the ‘what if’ banner. The 2002 came about thanks to Helmut Werner Bonsch, the director of product planning for BMW, and Alex von Falkenhausen, the designer of the M10 engine, both privately dropping the 2.0-litre M10 from the Neue Klasse Saloon into their 1602s. Then there was the E30 Touring, designed by a BMW engineer in his spare time as the regular two-door model didn’t have enough space for his family. And then there’s the X5 Le Mans, a wild creation brought about by BMW engineers having a bit of spare time, a V12 LMR engine lying about the workshops that was surplus to requirements and an unsuspecting X5…

    BMW said that its engineers wanted to prove the ability of the X5’s chassis but we think it was probably a case of ‘I wonder if this would fit?’. Either way they shoehorned the V12, fresh from powering the LMR #Le-Mans winning car in 1999, into the X5’s body, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox from an E39 M5. As the #V12 developed 531lb ft of torque – considerably more than the M5’s 369lb ft – they expected the ‘box’s internals to be turned into swarf after a short amount of time but it was stronger than expected. This allowed the great Hans-Joachim Stuck to take to the Nordschleife with the X5 Le Mans where he managed to record a scarcely believable time of seven minutes 49 seconds, reaching a top speed of 311km/h in the process. And this was at a time when BMW’s top dog, the Z8, took eight minutes and 15 seconds to lap the same track. He also enjoyed scaring some journalists witless when he took them out for some passenger laps…

    Visually the Concept X5 Le Mans didn’t look that dissimilar from the production car although it sat 30mm lower on some custom suspension and the show car sported some fancy rims which weren’t actually used when Stuck was at the wheel. Inside, the normal seats were replaced by four buckets for the show car, but for track work these were ditched for a roll-cage and harnesses. Sanitised hot X5s were eventually released in the form of the 4.6iS and 4.8iS models, but how good would it have been had BMW put the X5 Le Mans into limited production? That would have been the ultimate Chelsea tractor!
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