Better Than a Trackhawk? This 700HP V12 BMW X5 Was The Original Muscle SUV
In terms of modern SUVs, the first generation BMW X5 was a gamechanger. Developed by BMW at massive cost during the 1990s, the E53 platform X5 debuted for the 2000 model year and would become one the most important luxury SUVs ever.
An Iconic SUV is Born
Rather than a rugged off-roader, the X5 was engineered essentially as a taller, roomier and more practical version of the E39 5-series sedan, and wound set the stage for the countless BMW SUVs and crossovers to come. Despite having AWD and much-improved ground clearance, great care was taken to give the X5 that famous BMW driving feel—and that included both inline-six as well as V8 engines in top trim models.
Enter the X5 Le Mans
But in addition to that, BMW built a one-off X5 project for the 2000 Geneva Motor Show that might just be the greatest performance SUV of all time.
It was called the X5 Le Mans, and while it might not look much different from a standard issue X5 on the outside, it was a radical machine beneath the skin—hinted by its vented hood and widened fenders.
Looking inside, the X5 Le Mans again didn't look much different from the production X5, but the four-racing buckets suggested there was something serious going on.
Part Race Car, Part SUV
That's because BMW decided to power the X5 Le Mans with an S70/3 V12 engine pulled directly from the company's endurance racing program.
It pumped out over 700hp and more than 530 pound feet of torque—naturally aspirated, of course, and making the kinds of sounds only a race-bred V12 can. And yes, it had a manual transmission too.
And more than just a show piece, BMW campaigned the X5 Le Mans on the track, including at the Nurburgring where Hans-Joachim Stuck set an SUV lap record that stood for nearly 20 years.
Laying the Groundwork
Not surprisingly, there was never a production X5 Le Mans offered, but it did help clear the way for some impressively fast BMW performance SUVs to come including the the X5 and X6 M—and later, other models like Jeep's Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
Many of these modern performance SUVs which could probably outrun the X5 Le Mans and its late 1990s technology. But in terms of motorsport engineering, rawness, and just plain craziness of the X5 Le Mans (especially for the time period) might just be the greatest high performance SUV ever built.
And it's guaranteed there will never be anything quite like it again.
More From Driving Line
- Speaking of the Trackhawk, here's an example that's been made into even more of a sleeper thanks to some extra horsepower and other upgrades.