We’ll start off with this clean-looking ’02 X5, which I found in a yard just south of Denver.

2002 BMW X5 in Colorado junkyard, hatch emblem - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAfter the runaway success of the Ford Explorer, followed during the 1990s by ever-larger trucks and truck-influenced vehicles to be used as suburban commute appliances, the facts became clear to the European car manufacturers: build SUVs or watch your sales in North America go to hell. So, the E39 5 Series got a thousand-pound hat and a bunch of Land Rover hardware, and the first X5s showed up in showrooms for the 2000 model year.

2002 BMW X5 in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIt was tall, it was comfortable, it was American-built, it drove more like a car than a truck, and the interior boasted plenty of soft bovine flesh. X5 sales went well.

2002 BMW X5 in Colorado junkyard, V8 engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis one is the 4.4i version, with 282-horsepower M62 V8 engine. With a curb weight of 4,960 pounds, every one of those horses helped.

2002 BMW X5 in Colorado junkyard, gearshift lever - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsUnlike its 5 Series sibling/cousin, the V8 X5 had no manual-transmission option in 2002. Instead, you got a six-speed automatic.

2002 BMW X5 in Colorado junkyard, RH side view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe base price of this high-tech machine came to $59,695, or about $86,600 in 2020 dollars. You’d think that such a high-zoot vehicle would get white-glove care and last for decades, but many third-through-ninth owners of costly European cars don’t keep up with maintenance, and the junkyard gets a phone call when a $1,200 repair becomes necessary. That’s why I see so many not-so-old A8s and 7-Series and S-Classes and Jaguars in the graveyard.

2002 BMW X5 in Colorado junkyard, trailer hitch - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI’m going to guess that the towing package was an uncommon option on the first-gen X5.

2002 BMW X5 in Colorado junkyard, CD tray - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsDedicated storage for audio CDs seems so old-fashioned now.


Just the thing to drive to the ski resort.

I remember the first time I got behind one of these things. It was a couple of months after its on-sale date, and I was wowed by how sporty it seemed, as opposed to the doughy/dowdy ML-class garbage. The rear tires on the X5 seemed like they were wider than those on a C5 Vette. And the V8 exhaust sounded like a sports sedan. It was a stark contrast to the SUVs (not CUVs) we all knew at the time. This was no Explorer/Blazer/Pathfinder/4Runner. BMW wanted to use “SAV”, if I recall correctly. “Sports Activity Vehicle”. It had little interest in “utility”. I remember rolling my eyes at that, even though (in hindsight) it was true.

I too test drove an X5 in 2002 and my memories were similar to yours. It was a sweet, well mannered hunk of a machine, but that $60K price convinced me that my $32K 2002 loaded Grand Cherokee was the way to go

A neighbor had one of these ages ago and I noticed the absurd rubber too. 315mm.

The Z06 of that era ran 295s.

These also came with the I6 – lovely engine – but woah, that’s a lot of weight to pull around with ~225hp.

Friend of mine had a BMW 5-series: 545? 550? with the 4.4L engine. He was the second owner. He liked the car but ditched it once a very expensive engine repair bill came up.

The M62 engine was a fantastic V8 engine and very reliable. Around 1996 they updated it and it became the M62TU. They added variable valve timing and changed the timing chain setup from an idler gear to a plastic guide. The M62TU always had issues with the variable valve timing system and that plastic guide would fail around 100k miles requiring a very time consuming replacement.

Weren’t there widespread issues with Nikasil? As well as timing chain wear (or maybe it’s just the guides that you mention)?

Ugh… I didn’t like the SUV craze in the 1990s and I didn’t like this phase of it in the early 2000s either. To each their own though.

BMW was definitely cashing in on it and I certainly don’t blame them.

I think the X5 deserves some of the credit in the evolution between the truck frame SUVs with the car frame SUVs and so-called crossovers. That’s just looking at it as automotive history and the progression of the auto industry.

What I find interesting about this is the interior – plastic *everywhere*, whereas now the standards are completely different.

The dash is plastic, the center console is mostly plastic, the door tops and steering wheel hub are plastic. I saw some people excoriating the 2019 Genesis G80 (which, of course, was designed waaaay back in 2014) because the steering wheel hub isn’t stitched leather – piece of crap! – and it’s half the price this was 18 years ago. Now if you get a top-zoot Outback pretty much everything from the knees up at least pretends to be leather.

The change in interior material standards over the last 10 years has been almost as remarkable as the uptick in performance standards, really. I’m quite curious what changes in manufacturing and design have allowed a $48k Telluride to look/feel vastly better now than a $100k X5 did in 2005 – supply chain efficiency? Complex designs are easier to make reliable due to improved design software? Economies of scale and a virtuous cycle as everyone started using nicer stuff? Breakthroughs in fasteners, glues, the cost of leather or fake suede or whatever? Automated manufacturing got better and allowed cheap assembly of complex components? Other stuff got cheaper and allowed more money to be spent on interiors?

Someone in the industry needs to fess up!

That “plastic” dash is padded vinyl, actually pretty nice feeling stuff.

Upon a second look, yeah, the dash top is, but the bottom half, the door tops, the steering wheel hub, the center console edges, the center stack – that looks like it’s all your usual textured rubbery stuff.

“Breakthroughs in fasteners, glues, the cost of leather or fake suede or whatever?”

Many Naugas gave their lives in the early 2000s to advance the state of the art of automotive interiors.

BTW- nauga meat tastes bland and it is chewy and plasticky.

Nice interiors didn’t cost much then and don’t now, past the economy car level what they give you or not is purely market positioning. A Telluride is nice because they’re 20 years in to one upping Honda and Toyota. This BMW is plastic crap because the Germans were selling taxi cab austerity as the opposite of velour.

Keep in mind that piano black wasn’t really a thing back then. That is tool of choice now to make a cabin look more premium because it looks much nicer (when spotless for the press shots and early test drives), but still very cheap material.

More screens also help eat up real estate, while presenting as premium, that older vehicles had to figure out what to do with.

The weight of a Lincoln Navigator and the interior room of a CRV. Quite the engineering achievement.

A friend had one of these… yes, with that glorious 4.4 and insane rear rubber. We used to joke that his X5 was connected to his debit card with automatic billing. Every time we met as a group our conversations started with “what’s wrong with it now” and it was guaranteed laughter for 30 minutes. I am a current BMW owner, though, so it was all in good fun.

Another temptation to avoid, as these go very cheaply now but maintenance costs will be several thousand per year.

This content was originally published here.