Photography by Dan Wagener
It was in 2002 or 2003 when I first saw the BMW E53 X5. It was a video uploaded to DTMPower.net of some friends drifting in the snow. Then I saw it in the "Powder Keg" episode of the BMW film series The Hire... and once the 4.6is model came out I was in love with the E53 aesthetics. It was one of the most inspirational pioneers for making the high-end SUV market what it is today. BMW disregarded what the average consumer wanted from a traditional mid-size SUV; reliability, fair on gas, and great snow / off-roading capabilities (speaking with the 20" wheels in mind). What they did instead was create a "soccer mom car" deserving of an M badge. At the time known as "the fastest SUV in the world" with over 300hp, 20x9.5" 275/40 front tires & 20x10.5" 315/35 rear tires, and agility that defies logic — it was almost like driving a giant M5. Good thing that BMW knows their people aren't the average consumer and can appreciate a vehicle of this caliber.
I've wanted an X5 since I was in high school and when I was looking to get my first SUV about four years later, they were still out of my price range. I ended up with a Lexus RX300, which was very reliable but had zero soul. During the ownership of the Lexus I always felt like something was missing in my life so after a couple years I decided that I needed a BMW again. This was when I got my E46 330i and all was right again. The problem with the E46 however, was that I caught the modbug bad. So fast forward through a couple years of crazy spending, I felt the need to take it down a notch and step away from the modding temptation all together. But learning from my mistake with the Lexus, I was assuredly sticking with BMW.
I was dead set on an E53 X5—though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't extremely worried while doing my pre-purchase research. From what I could gather through the Xoutpost forum and others' experiences with the E53, it sounded like a nightmare. It seemed like the V8 models were more problematic though, so I decided to go with a 3.0i model. BMW's straight sixes are solid engines and figured I'd play it safe. The only problem was most 3.0i models came with ugly 17" wheels and being that my goal was to get away from modding, I wanted to find one that wouldn't trigger my addiction.
I finally found a 2003 3.0i Sport in Sapphire Black on Black with the 18" Style 69 wheels. It had everything I wanted albeit xenons and a manual transmission, so I traded in the E46. I immediately had to address a ton of maintenance issues within the first six months. It was starting to look like the 3.0i models weren't safe from the notorious E53 gremlins and issues like I had hoped. To be fair, it was probably not well maintained before I took ownership and was just due for everything all at once. Eventually it stopped breaking (for a little) and that urge to mess with things came back again. I upgraded to the 19" Style 132 facelift 4.4i model wheels. I was able to snag the last available OEM skid plate in the U.S (thanks Jay). The odd looking turn-down, dinky exhaust tips were replaced with a 4.4 muffler. Halogen headlights were swapped for a DEPO pair with projectors that allowed me to convert to HID's. The interior received an E46 M3 wheel upgrade, AC Schnitzer style pedals, red sharpie mod needles, DDM silver gauge rings, and a titanium E90 shift knob.
One day Chris Roth of CRbimmers sent me a text with a set of 20" Style 87 4.6is wheels he had for sale. I couldn't resist as they're one of the best OEM BMW wheel designs ever. Still not 100% happy with it I added the 4.6is fender flares, which subdued the mod beast within. I had the looks of the 4.6is with the "reliability" of the 3.0 model.
Even though it looked great it still lacked my touch. In my opinion adjusting the stance of the vehicle is one of the biggest things you can do to accomplish that. You could have multiple cars with the same exact mods, but the stance can make the difference of looking good, or amazing. It's something that I think reflects the owner's taste; something that can't be bought. Although nowadays specs are expected to just be handed out and things can always be replicated, but you can usually tell when something's done with originality. I decided to go with a set of BC Racing coilovers to ensure it sat exactly how I wanted. The coilovers were able to go extremely low and were fairly comfortable with all things considered. It was definitely stiffer/harsher than the stock sport suspension, but it greatly improved the handling and body roll in the corners.
All throughout the modding process there were little problems that would pop up with the vehicle. Problems that shouldn't have happened as often as they did (in my opinion). It was almost like I would fix one thing and two new things would break. While I loved my X5, this little game got really old. It seemed like it was never going to stop and I just wasn't up for it anymore. It was time to move on. Not to mention the whole time I had it, I really missed driving a RWD manual car. So I sold a few of the upgraded parts off of it and got rid of it for my 2004 E46 M3. It was bittersweet letting my X go; I loved her but the upside is that I'm no longer in an abusive relationship.