2004 BMW X5 4.8is

I’d like to formally introduce my latest vehicle acquisition: a 2004 BMW X5 V8 4.8is. This story has its origin in July 2011, when I sold my M5.

I miss that car. It looked like this, and had a big V8.

The X5 looks like this, and has a big V8.

Hmm, black grilles. Anyway, the M5 lacked a couple of things that made it difficult to use much: Isofix points for child seats, and a boot space suitable for a large dog. The X5 has both of these things.

While I love a RWD car with LSD – and make no mistake, that M5 was the finest of them all – it is also nice to have a four wheel drive car. So it is necessary to confess that I have arrived at this X5 via a Subaru Impreza. It was four wheel drive, but did not have a V8, and looked like this:

I had that Impreza for a year, and decided that it wasn’t for me, even though it could move kids and dogs around pretty quickly. The best thing about that car was its ability to demolish roads like The Hardknott Pass while carrying four people and a load of luggage. I’ve never owned anything so capable in that regard. Its brakes were also noteworthy.

The worst things about it were its general ambience and that it had a horrible petrol habit. Prior to the X5, I’ve never owned anything more inefficient, and so that brings us neatly back to the X5. Can it – at 2,275 kg with an automatic gearbox – use more petrol per mile than the 1,340 kg Impreza? The jury is still out. Astonishing.

Another vehicle I miss is my transit. It was my go-to tool when I needed to Get Stuff Done.

So this tale is coming together now. Yet the thing is that I never realised that I was looking for a big V8 car / van / money pit until Ste Nelson got one. Well, specifically, this one.

He’d had a V8 E70 before and that didn’t really do it for me, but his E53 feels much more like an old M car, looks great, and sounds simultaneously filthy and delicious.

Over time I began hunting for one, and without wanting to commit too much, I bought a cheap one that was a bit rough around the edges.

That car proved a variety of strange things:

  • It was very useful to have around.
  • It fitted in the garage for maintenance.
  • I really enjoyed driving it.
  • It was rather more rough around the edges than I feared.
  • If I was going to have one of these things, I wanted a good one.
  • My daughter (Jess) was very much taken by it – suddenly extremely keen to help me work on it in a way I’ve not seen with the diesel chuggers.

So I moved that X5 along and continued the hunt, this time with more commitment to get a good egg from the outset. I flirted with a number of examples – even a Le Mans Blue one up for £8,000 – but kept coming back to another Carbon Schwarz example with only 80,000 miles on it, that had been kept under extended warranty until December 2018.

The guys at Cookham Classics were patient and showed good humour. Their asking price and my tyre kicking were akin to a volcano and the ocean, but we won each other over in the end and a deal was done. I brought it home last Saturday and Jess was elated.

Since then I’ve rattled through a bunch of jobs to bring it up to standard: including fixing a second key and refurbishing the headlights. It’s off to my trusted local garage on Monday to have some suspension bits and pieces replaced, and then it’ll have a four wheel alignment. At that point all the urgent work will be complete, and I can then address more routine matters such as replacing the brakes in the spring when the weather is more forgiving and, I hope, my finances will have recovered!

In the meantime I hope I’ll be able to enjoy it as it is – perhaps with a little air suspension fun in the mix. We’ve already had a family day out in it, where it managed a 200 mile trip with all five of us without a single niggle.

Some initial thoughts then for the record. It is very easy to drive. That V8 means that although it can be getting on for three tonnes fully laden, the X5 wafts about effortlessly. The automatic box, despite obviously being an awful thing (as automatic ‘boxes intrinsically are), is at least less stressful in traffic. It is the same ‘box as we have in the 335d, and it could use the steering wheel paddles we have in the 335d for the same reasons (forcing it to change up rather than revving needlessly as it has plenty of torque).

Road presence: a controversial topic. SUVs are to some extent like nuclear weapons – once other people have them, everyone needs to have them. Maybe that’s not the best parallel. My point is that in a car, visibility is often blocked by SUVs and they can be intimidating. While I can see the benefits of forcing everyone out of SUVs into cars, in the absence of such draconian measures, and not forgetting that vans exist, hopping into an SUV levels the playing field.

I can put a lot of stuff in it. Not as much as a Transit, of course, but way more stuff than I can squeeze into either of the diesel estate cars. And the roofbox is compatible. A real mover.

I can put a lot of people in it. Three people across the back isn’t uncomfortable. Four burly adults have plenty of personal space on a long journey. Really useful.

Age related – it is easier for me to get into this car and extract myself from it than the diesel estate cars. Oof, my back, etc.

The cockpit feels like a special place. It has got more than a nostalgic whiff of M car about it: the variable red-line feels so E39 M5 it hurts. The DSP audio is right up my street, and that carbon effect steering trim excites me more than it should.

And finally, it has built in child entertainment. This is perhaps the most bitter sweet thing about it. At no point during the purchase process did I intend this car to become a long-haul family wagon. It was supposed to be my Get Stuff Done tool.

Yet as the other cars don’t have this level of entertainment, I am now faced with explaining to an 8 year old and a 1.5 year old why they should stare out the window without a TV screen in return for me getting something called ‘better economy’ and permitting me to ‘drive past a petrol station without refuelling’. Wish me luck with that!