2001 BMW X5 4.6iS E53

2001 BMW X5 4.6iS E53

The E53 X5 V8 has aged gracefully and is now available for under £3000. But just what does the ownership prospect have to offer? Rob Lye and his rare Carbon Edition shed some light… Words: Simon Jackson. Photography: Jason Dodd.

The Big Bang Theory

Such is the prevalence of the SUV – or SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) in BMW speak – in our modern world that it’s almost impossible to remember a time when they weren’t the default choice of transport for the majority. Believe it or not it’s now 22- years since BMW launched the X5, the E53 being the first iteration, and since that time the model has grown in popularity – from a somewhat luke warm reception in the early days the X5 is now a massive hit in its modern guise. But how kind has the passage of time been to those early models?

2001 BMW X5 4.6iS E53

Enthusiasts wishing to satisfy an urge for performance had the choice of a petrol V8 variant from the outset – and this big, powerful model has long provided the best ‘bang for buck’ to many a mind. At first BMW offered the X5 4.4i with its 286hp, but that was soon usurped by the 4.6iS model which arrived in 2001. Powered by the M62 4.6-litre V8, it produced 347hp and 354lb ft of torque, propelling the 2.2-tonne X5 to 0-62mph in just 6.5-seconds. This is the version you see here, owned by Rob Lye, now self-employed but once a BMW company man through-and-through.

“I used to work for my local BMW franchise and climbed the ranks from Saturday boy through to Sales in both BMW and MINI, BMW Business Manager and then left as a MINI Brand Manager,” Rob recalls.

“Owing to this I have a strong connection to the brand and have owned several R50/2/3 MINIs, a R56 MINI, two E87 118d M Sports, a E82 120d M Sport, E89 Z4 23i, an ‘Individual’ F31 330d M Sport and five E53 4.6/4.8iS X5s!” Add to that epic list more than 20 company cars – all BMWs from the humble F20 116i to F15 X5s and everything in between, and it’s safe to say that Rob knows a thing or two about BMWs. His current line-up consists of the X5 you see here alongside a Le Mans E53 4.8iS version, a Porsche 911 (996) Turbo, R53 MINI Cooper S and a Land Rover Discovery. But it’s the E53 Carbon Edition that brings us to his door in Hythe, Kent, today. Just what first established his love affair with the model, we quiz?

“I’ve owned several iS variants of the E53 and mostly because a parent at my secondary school had a Black Sapphire with Imola Red 4.6 – I loved the way it burbled onto the school grounds and vowed to have one. “When I first started to work for BMW we had a used 4.8iS Edition in Stratus Grey in stock, it was the first automatic car I ever drove. But I bought this particular car because of it’s exceptionally low mileage, one previous keeper and full Park Lane BMW service history. One day these cars will be sort after and collectable – here’s hoping – and I wanted the best one I could find.”

The Carbon Edition came under the BMW Individual umbrella, arriving from the factory with Individual Carbon Black exteriors, Individual extended Champagne Nappa Leather, Light Wood and a brace of factory-fitted options like the Navigation Pack with TV and phone, heated seats, Xenon lights, and privacy glass.

“My car was in fair condition when I bought it. The first owner spent a lot of time in Cyprus and had the car shipped there in the UK winter months and bought it back over in the summer,” Rob explained.

“Sadly, the Cypriot sunshine did not do the paintwork any favours, it was very flat and looked tired so that’s been my biggest expense to date. The wheels were peeling and curbed due to its London life, a set of old tyres didn’t help so they have been sorted. The suspension’s rear airbags were on their last legs, in fact suspension seems to be an Achilles heel with these cars – every single one of mine has had problems. Mechanically speaking though, the car is spot on – he says touching wood and crossing fingers!”

The 2004 example here boasts a low mileage of 51,000-miles, and other than the aforementioned rear suspension issues, reliability has been on Rob’s side. Though, admittedly, he’s only owned the car since March this year and it has been away having its wheels and paintwork corrected so there’s not been a huge amount of time for something nasty to pop out of the woodwork. And that leads us to question who maintains this car for Rob, as with a car like this it’s surely a case of staying on top of any problems before they end up costing a packet, right?

“I use a friendly local garage for the odd jobs and mechanical gremlins on all my cars – they are not afraid to get their hands dirty and actually fi x something rather than just plug it in and see what the computer says!” we’re told. “That said, I will use my BMW dealer for the routine service and maintenance of this car just to keep up its main dealer service history.”

While potential owners should budget for the accepted costs of running a V8 petrol SUV that is approaching its 20th anniversary, the initial outlay here is more than affordable for every pocket, as Rob highlights: “They represent outstanding value for money and are a lot more capable than they get credit for,” Rob enthuses. “For £2000 to £3000 you could get an E53 30d Sport and – if it has been looked after properly – it would be all the car you ever needed and it shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to keep on the road.” Rob’s already hinted that he’s in this for the long haul, and that’s probably because he believes this generation of, and partiality this model of, X5 to be a future classic.

“Without doubt,” comes back Rob’s answer when we pose the question. “This car was a game changer for SUVs and BMW. The iS models especially as they were built in lower numbers – I think there are less than 100 Carbon Edition 4.6iS in existence. Hopefully, the love for Land Rover products can be merged with a growing passion for E39s and the E53 will get the attention and respect of those in the know in future.”

For a man so schooled in the virtues of these models, we wonder what are his favourite aspects of this particular car? “I love the wheels, the body kit and the stance of my iS – it looks purposeful and aggressive without looking thuggish,” we’re told. “This car looks especially classy and traditional – I would love to have it without the privacy glass to really finish off the ‘less is more’ look. My absolute favourite thing is the noise it makes – nothing this practical has any right to sound this good. Although annoyingly the 4.8is sounds a bit better!”

All valid points – ones with which we can’t argue – and surely they’re the main reasons why these early V8 X5s are likely to appeal to enthusiasts. That leads us to wonder what Rob thinks of today’s BMW world?

“I think the BMW scene today is a very different one to when my X5 was new,” he ponders. “Back then I think BMWs where akin to how Porsches are today. There were long waits for new cars, high levels of anticipation for new models and a rock-solid brand image. Whereas today, although the cars are great, there isn’t the buzz around BMWs like their used to be. I cannot imagine today’s X5 being as special in feeling and character as an E53 is today.

“My parents own a latest shape car, and it is by far the least reliable BMW we’ve owned as a family – it is hamstrung by being too clever for its own good. I’m not immediately fond of the latest BMW designs but they are growing on me. I have spent some time in my parents 2019 X5 which is lovely, but the tech on the car removes some of the driving enjoyment and some of it, like the virtual “Hey BMW” assistant and gesture control, are frankly annoying and put me off owning the latest generation of cars.”

For a man with such a long and rich history with the brand those are interesting insights. For Rob, then, the appeal of BMWs is clearly based firmly in the past and not so much in the future, but what are his plans going forward for this car? And, are any other juicy BMW purchases likely to find their way onto the Lye driveway?

“I would like to keep the X5 long term. The 911, this and the MINI are not going anywhere – if I could wind the clock back to 2003 and make them all brand new that would be great!” Rob laughs. “But I’d love another F31 330d – they really are the best everyday car you can get, and I really miss my old one.”

BMW offered a petrol V8 in the X5 from the word go, this is the 4.6-litre version. The E53 has aged gracefully and can now be purchased for peanuts. The original X5 scores on practicality, performance here isn’t too shabby either.

2001 BMW X5 4.6iS E53

  • ENGINE: V8, petrol, normally aspirated
  • CAPACITY: 4619cc
  • MAX POWER: 347hp @ 5700rpm
  • MAX TORQUE: 354lb ft @ 3700rpm
  • 0-62MPH: 6.5-seconds
  • TOP SPEED: 149mph
  • ECONOMY: 19mpg
  • PRICE: £54,000 (2001), circa £3000 (today)
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