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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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