The first generation BMW X5, known by those in the scene by its chassis designation, the E53, is a full-size SUV with tons of potential. The E70 X5 continued the tradition set by BMW’s first SUV, which straddles the center of a Venn diagram that balances performance, practicality, and rugged dependability. Whichever generation or engine option you own or are considering, either are great platforms that can scratch your enthusiast itch in plenty of different ways. Specifically, we’re talking all things overlanding in these first few weeks, so it shouldn’t surprise you that we’ll be focused primarily on how to make your stylish family hauler into something that can take the kids from school to the backcountry. This week, it’s an in-depth look at what we’ve got to help you get wherever you want to go with your E53 or E70 X5, even when the road ends and things get bumpy.
Both generations have a range of engine options with their own particular nuances. The early V8s in the E53 are known to eat timing chain guides and cylinder walls, the later engines are hungry for valves. That is if you believe all the horror stories. Many of the engine options in the E70 generation have their own host of problems ranging from electronic water pump failure to turbo failure in the N5x-powered versions, but none of that is truly unexpected considering the marque. Regardless, the last thing you want to do is neglect your engine maintenance. An ounce of prevention, etc. So, before you start building your dream rig, set up a good foundation with our helpful Assembled by ECS Service Kits and find out exactly what’s going on inside your X5’s brain with the Schwaben Professional BMW Scan Tool.
What started the whole venture for us was the skid plate. You know our well-loved street shields, which provide oil pan protection for lowered vehicles. The Overland Skid Plate is the same concept, except arguably more critical. When you’re off the beaten path, there are all kinds of hazards you might encounter that beat up your X5. Our overland skid plates were designed by our crack engineering team to offer full protection on and off the road to ensure you aren’t stranded by a random impact. To hear more about the E53 X5 skid plate in particular and to see it in action, be sure to check out the Built By Mike episode highlighting that project.
Winch Bumper/Winch/Brush Guard
Nothing is more important when you’re out in the wilderness than recovery gear, chief among which is a solid winch setup. As it stands, with your E53 or E70, you’re going to need to do some custom fabrication to fit a winch for pulling yourself out of the worst quagmires. However, a winch mount and winch bumper setup are coming. Check out Mike’s episodes showing both the winch setup and the optional light mounting system to see what that’s all about, but in the meantime, it’s a good idea to start preparing.
Winches aren’t cheap, neither are the provisions to mount them if you don’t have the means to fabricate bumpers yourself. So it’s a good idea to go ahead and jump on a winch setup now to spread out that cost before things start getting pricy. Unfortunately, we don’t carry winches, but Warn is a well-loved brand you can find just about anywhere that carries them. Just make sure whatever you’re buying is rated well above what you need to pull.
Lift Kit/SLS Delete
First things first, going offroad requires ground clearance. If you were to make one single mod (besides tires) to your X5, it would be to equip our Overland lift kit. Gaining ground clearance allows you to traverse more extreme terrain than your X5 could stock and will give you more articulation to keep those tires in contact with the earth for better traction. All this means you’ll be able to go more places and do so with more confidence thanks to the added height. Plus, it looks cool and will give you more space to clear more tire without hacking into the body.
Additionally, as handy as that self-leveling suspension is on the road, the last thing you want out on the trail is to risk losing ride height from an airbag puncture or some failure of the SLS system, which is more than common. Many lower-trim or specifically optioned X5s were equipped with the alternative spring setup in the rear, rather than air bags, so looking for a set to convert is ideal before going with the lift kit. Though not entirely necessary, as our kits were designed to accommodate either suspension option, you will have one less thing to worry about if you delete that often problematic setup entirely. Finding used springs is one option, as are going with brand-new sets for a conversion, which we do offer.
Thrust Arm/Control Arm Ball Joint Monoball Upgrades
Speaking of articulation, have you looked at your X5’s suspension lately? How are those old bushings and ball joints holding up after up to more than two decades of road usage in the worst possible scenario? Even if you have done some preventative or routine suspension maintenance, those stock bushings and ball joints allow for deflection and an isolated feeling from inside the cabin. Upgrading to Turner Motorsport Monoballs (where applicable) provides a zero-deflection upgrade that gives you better feedback behind the wheel without increasing NVH or reducing the ride comfort. You’ll benefit from a better turn-in response on the road, but most importantly, you’ll be able to better feel what’s happening between your steering wheel and the ground. It’s like a little added sensory mapping of your terrain to help you stay on track even when you’re off-road!
Interior/Exterior Light Upgrades
Overlanding generally means you’re going to spend time away from civilization after the Sun goes down. That means you’re going to need to see what you’re doing in the dark. Inside the car is easy, you know we have those interior LED packages that will bring a crisp, modern, and practical light upgrade to your interior. For the outside, though, you’re going to want to shed more light on the subject, especially when wheeling after dark.
Hella lights were trusted enough for us in South America with the Rallywagen, and they’re what Mike recommends to use with everything from a stage rally car to a weekend overlander. Naturally, that’s what we suggest. A set of center lights mounted high, mounted low, and some directional lights give you full control over how much output you have and where that output illuminates. But what about the ditches? Well, Mike has you covered there, too. Coming soon are the ditch light brackets that integrate with your existing hood hinge mounts for a sleek, easy-to-install, and convenient location to mount pod lights to complete your lighting package. Naturally, he shows you just how to do it in the latest Built By Mike episode. Hey, seriously. Go watch it if you haven’t.
For now, that’s about all we have for your E53 or E70 X5, but that doesn’t mean it’s all we’ll have forever. As Mike keeps building, and innovating, and his needs change, we’re going to keep adding to our lineup. So stay tuned as we bring more overland goodies to our catalog and keep an eye out for next week’s article – we’re going off the beaten path with more than just BMWs, after all!
See you next week for another Overland edition of Tuned In Weekly!