The BMW X range – A brief history

Whilst BMW attempt to be pioneers in the next generation of hybrid vehicles with the upcoming ‘i’ cars, it’s easy to forget that the Bavarian manufacturer was arguably the predominant innovator in what we call the modern Sports Utility Vehicle with its range of ‘X’ models.

It’s amazing to remember that it is 13 years since BMW dealerships put the ever popular X5 on sale; a car for those after a rugged vehicle, but one that also acted as stylish get-around for footballers and school-run mums alike. Over a decade later, and we have a total of four cars that make up the range of sporty four-wheel drive cars.

The current line-up now includes the X1, the X3, and theX6 joining the well-established Genesis that is the X5. Each offers something slightly different for the driver, but every one as capable as the last.

The X5

BMW launched the X5 way back in 1999 and I should probably correct myself in calling the car a sports utility vehicle, with the manufacturer labelling it as a Sport Activity Vehicle (SAV) instead; BMW’s reasoning being the car’s on-road ability despite its size.

Their rival Mercedes had beaten them to the market by a year, but BMW made sure they’d do it differently and more importantly, more efficiently, as they were the first manufacturer to produce such a vehicle with a unibody chassis, while their compatriots based the M-Class on a light truck platform. Whilst the first carnation of the X5 got people interested, it was the second generation of the model that began trying to be a bit cleverer; the xDrive system, for example, offering a sophisticated four-wheel-drive platform that made the car comfortable in pretty much any situation.

The X3

Four years after the X5 had made its public bow, BMW decided that some sectors of consumers were after a car similar to the impressive but large X5, and wanted to offer something little smaller for those with not such demanding driving asks.

This is where the X3 came in after being revealed in concept form at the 2003 Detroit Motor Show. Admittedly, the initial X3 models struggled to follow quite so gloriously in the footsteps of its big sister. However, BMW made sure to improve its four-wheel drive system and made it a little easier to live with, the second generation being a much more impressive individual.

The X6

Not content with breaking one niche with the X3 creating the small four-by-four market, BMW created the X6, dubbed a Sports Activity Coupe. The model was unlike any car of its type, the roof falling away at the back in a waterfall esque style to create a hatchback type look, but with the lines of a coupe.

The X6 sits considerably lower than most cars of its type and attracted a different kind of driver and consumer, one slightly more concerned with style than driving dynamics – not to say it didn’t offer the latter. The ActiveHybrid model, revealed in 2009, changed the game once more, offering a large four-wheel drive car with the potential to drive solely on electric power, the combustion engine or both.

The X1

Launched in 2009, the X1 was more of an evolution of a pre-existing model, the 3-Series, and is very much a compact crossover SUV. The car shares a similar platform as the X3, but styling influences are taken from BMW’s entry-level model and is another example of reaching out to the niche markets and BMW being successful in recognising the gaps.

X5M and X6M

Seeing Mercedes’ M-Class get the AMG treatment may very well have influenced BMW’s next move with the X range, as the manufacturer made the decision to place its 555bhp twin-turbocharged, 4.4-litre V8 powered unit in the front of both the existing X5 and X6 models. The move produced stunning affects, with both cars reaching 62mph from standstill in 5.0 seconds despite their immense size.

BMW’s goals with how the engine worked was to offer a powerplant that would virtually eliminate turbo-lag, but maximise efficiency and power output with the help of a consistent torque curve feeding each turbocharger with a regular “charge pulse”.