The First Generation BMW X5 M (E70)

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Originals are hard to follow up on. Don’t get me wrong – it’s easy to fall in love with a brand-new car. Current technology, fancy sound system, a wallet-friendly warranty. But as all car enthusiasts know, there’s a certain amount of intangible, illogical infatuation that accompanies nostalgia – something raw that can’t always be matched by the newer cars. A little bit more Alien than Avatar – both notable, but for hugely different reasons.

The First Ever M SUV     

The E70 X5 M was nothing if not original. Not only was it the first M-certified Sport Activity Vehicle released to the public, but it was one of the first of the “Super SUVs” – rivaling, and besting, its contemporaries, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and the Mercedes ML63 AMG.

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The powerful S63 is a twin-turbo V8 , derivative of the N63 engine, delivering its peak 500 lb-ft of torque between 1,500 and 5,650 rpm, and serves up a tire-frying 547 hp at 6000 rpm. All of this goes through a reasonably quick-shifting automatic ZF 6HP gearbox, routing the power to all four wheels using BMW’s xDrive.

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In fact, power delivery in the X5 M I drove felt surprisingly modern. In manual shift mode, upshifts were responsive, only offering milliseconds of hesitation before firmly clicking off the gear change. Downshifts were crisp, especially in Sport mode with the throttle depressed.

547 hp on tap means overtaking at highway speeds comes quite naturally, regardless of shift mode, although in automatic mode, full throttle downshifts required a little bit of thought while it figured out the optimal gear. Even the powerband felt surprisingly linear – much more so than say, an N54-powered car. Overall, nothing to complain about.

Old School Interior

The interior of the E70 X5 M still feels somewhat special, even nearly a decade on. While you would never confuse it for a modern interior, the M-specific gauges vaguely call on the E9X M3 gauges and remind you which car you’re driving with a giant “M” in the middle of the tachometer.

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It’s even got a neat little configurable Heads-Up Display that gives you the full “target acquired” experience as you mat the accelerator pedal and barrel towards redline. As far as connectivity goes, iDrive 3 isn’t the worst system in the world, with fairly intuitive controls if you’ve been around any BMW with iDrive before. Bluetooth is easy to figure out and most vehicle options are laid out in a very easy-to-digest format.

The Driving Experience

Driving dynamics aren’t bad. When the car was released in the early 2010s or so, it probably felt like you were driving a colossal mobile fortress with limitless power. In 2020, it feels like you’re driving a moderately sized crossover with limitless power – which isn’t at all a bad thing.

Ride quality is very good, despite riding on 21” wheels wrapped in performance tires, and it’s a nice feeling to be able to gun it on a city street and cut through the passers-by while not having your teeth rattled from your skull, like some later, stiffly sprung options in the high performance SUV segment.

Still a hydraulic steering car, the E70 returns excellent road feel and leaves no question to the driver where the front wheels are. Naturally, this means the steering feels a bit heavy, especially compared to more modern offerings – but I have a feeling you won’t mind.   

Still A Great Deal Today

The verdict, for me, on the E70 X5 M is that it’s an excellent value buy these days. Starting at right around $20,000, you get a powerful, comfortable, utilitarian vehicle for less than the price of a new Toyota Camry. While surprisingly reliable, repairs will be moderately expensive so be sure to prepare for that.

This car was featured in my “best boosted BMW’s under $20k” article, and after driving one, I’m happy I included it – it really is quite a fantastic car.

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Despite the current X5 M promising a whopping 617 hp and all of the Avatar age electronics you could ever hope for, I’d like to think that there’s still room in the world for cars like the E70. Definitely existing in the “in between” as far as balance between analog feel (like hydraulic steering) and the full blown digital age, it has aged well and never felt boring.

And as much as I love the new X5 M, it always feels a little bit more insulated, a little bit more “bouncy castle” than “ball pit with questionable origins”,  maybe too much “pillow fight” and not enough “paintball match”.

Which brings me to another, maybe interesting point – how is it that this ten year old BMW with nearly 65,000 miles on it rides correctly? As wonderful as 617 hp is in the new G05 X5 M and X6 M, the car rides a little too stiff and that takes away a lot why people buy SUVs.

I imagine someone buying a car like this has little desire for the stiffest suspension all the time, and likely just wants something that goes like a cruise missile and offers great visibility. You could say “well, that’s what the X5 M50i is there for!”, but I kind of disagree – I shouldn’t have to spend $30,000 additional just to get a little more power and a less compliant suspension.

There was no need for this, original X5 M to ride like a Jeep – why does the new one have to?

I’ve digressed a bit, but it makes me wonder how these newer cars will feel in 10 years or so – will cars be riding even stiffer? Will I be here eating crow, praising the G05, lamenting that we never knew how good we had it?

I have a feeling I won’t be. And perhaps the more dire question is, “will we be driving at all?”.

There is no logic behind it, of course – it’s just a feeling, like nostalgia or cynicism – which also explains why I found driving the E70 X5 M a lot more preferable compared to the new X5 and X6 M. Easier to park, too. I’m not sure this niche exists, but if you’re weighing options between this E70 and a brand new G05 X5 M and for some reason are now looking for buying advice, I can offer only a question in return.

It depends – which movie did you like more, Avatar or Alien?

     



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