So, we’ve recently driven the X4, the second coming of BMW’s coupe-SUV, younger brother of the X6 and fraternal twin of the X3.
We’ll talk about that in due course once we’ve sorted out our thoughts, but while doing our research we found out something pretty interesting. 2019 is the 20th anniversary of the BMW X car lineup, and since then, the range has exploded.
These days, you can find an X car in every segment of the market, from compact, to full-sized and even the absolutely gargantuan. Within those size segments, you can even find sub-models, with models carrying an even number (X2, X4, X6) denoting a sportier, more coupe-like model.
It remains to be seen whether there’ll be a “Sports Activity Coupe” companion to the monster truck that is the X7, but knowing BMW, it’ll probably only be a matter of time.
At any rate, the past two decades have thrown up a number of fascinating, and at times somewhat odd BMW X cars. We’ll take a look at some of the milestones in the range’s two-decade history.
BMW X5 (1999)
To be certain, the idea of a luxury SUV is not a new one. The Range Rover had been doing it for several decades prior, but to have a luxury SUV that had nil pretensions to off-road capabilities but was strictly a machine for beaten paths?
And the fact it was made by BMW, a company known for its fast saloons/coupes and not much else? Now, that was a new concept. So new, in fact, that when BMW debuted the X5, it warranted its own genre, the Sports Activity Vehicle.
Remember back then, the Porsche Cayenne was still three years away. It’s easy to forget how much of a trailblazer the X5 was in 1999, making genuine off-road ability in a modern SUV a socially acceptable afterthought, if it was even a thought in the first place.
But more seriously, the X5 paved the way for such contemporaries as the aforementioned Porsche Cayenne and even ultra-luxury SUVs such as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
BMW X5 Le Mans (2000)
Remember how we said earlier the X5 was a bit of an alien concept back in 1999? Well, imagine how much of an alien concept a sporty luxury SUV must have been back then. These days, of course, there are full-blown M SUVs in the X5M, X6M, X3M and X4M (more on those cars in a moment).
But in those days, BMW needed to convince people that its SUVs were possessed of the same chassis brilliance of its sports saloons. So, as a promotional stunt, it crammed the 6-litre V12 from its 1999 Le Mans-winning V12 LMR race car into an X5.
That engine produced a colossal 700hp, which is 100hp more than even the race car, owing to it not having to comply with race-mandated air restrictors. And far from being a mere display car, the X5 Le Mans ran, and run it did.
Racing legend Hans Joachim Stuck took it on the Nurburgring and set a lap time of 7 minutes 50 seconds, a record for an SUV, and one that would only be bettered nearly 20 years later when the Mercedes-AMG GLC63S set a 7 minutes 49 seconds time in November 2018.
Pedants will no doubt point out that the X5 Le Mans’ time doesn’t really count, since it’s a one-off, non-series production car, though rumours it could hit 310km/h are still phenomenal even today. Just to give you some idea, the current fastest SUV in the world in the Bentley Bentayga Speed, and that can only manage 306km/h.
BMW X6 (2008)
These days, if a carmaker decides to release an SUV with a low, sloping roofline and sports car-like styling, it would hardly cause a stir, but when the X6 was shown in concept form at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show, it caused a bit of a ruckus. And that’s putting it mildly.
As with the original X5, BMW saw fit to slot the X6 into its own genre, the “Sports Activity Coupe”. Suffice it to say, the whole idea of a coupe-SUV didn’t meet with universal acclaim, especially from members of the motoring press (ourselves included).
But as everyone knows, the press doesn’t buy cars, the public does. It sold reasonably well, shifting a quarter-million units during its first seven-year run. Not the runaway success of the X5, which sold some 730,000 units in its second generation from 2006-2013, but then the X6 was always meant to be a niche model.
And now, with the wind firmly blowing due X, BMW pulled the biggest shocker of them all with…
BMW X5M and X6M (2009)
As far as we can tell, the whole thing about BMW M swearing never to build SUVs, give its cars all-wheel-drive and turbocharged engines is apocryphal. But what isn’t apocryphal is the outrage from the M faithful when BMW launched not one, but two turbocharged all-wheel-drive SUVs in 2009.
According to the M zealots, an M car isn’t turbocharged because it dampens throttle precision and it doesn’t have all-wheel-drive because it slows down people who know what they’re doing. And an M car is certainly not an SUV because it’s too big and ungainly.
Still, the X5M and X6M gave BMW access to a market hitherto dominated by AMG and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
Objectively speaking, the X5M and X6M are searingly quick. A 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 endowed them with 555hp and a 0-100km/h time below 5 seconds.
BMW X4 (2014)
The X4 is what would happen if you took an X6 and shrunk it down by around 20 percent or so.
The sportier (or sportier-looking) companion to the X3, the X4 made its debut at the 2014 New York Motor Show, though it was shown in near-production ‘concept’ form a year earlier, at the 2013 Shanghai Motor Show.
The X4 is proof that BMW is fully committed to the whole Sports Activity Coupe genre it pioneered with the X6, and if anyone needs even more proof, they can find it in last year’s X2 that—you guessed it—is the sportier counterpart to the X1.
BMW X7 (2018)
In a handy infographic included with the press pack for the X7, it proudly proclaims that the signature kidney grille fitted to the SUV is the largest in BMW’s history.
And that’s saying something, because its cars have been the recipients of some pretty large grilles in the past. If you’re curious and wondering what’s the smallest ever grille fitted to a BMW, that distinction might belong to the first-generation 8 Series of the 1990s.
But perhaps that’s fitting, because the X7 is the largest SUV BMW has ever produced. It measures 5,150mm long, which is only 88mm shorter than a long-wheelbase 7 Series. Its length is possibly only dwarfed by its height, standing 1,805mm tall, something only accentuated by its slab-sided nature.
At any rate, the X7’s grille is massive, absolutely dominating the nose of the SUV, and making its looks even more challenging is its vertical, squared-off front-end silhouette. As with the first X5 and X6 before it, the X7 hasn’t exactly been universally praised, though given BMW’s track record in this department, we wouldn’t be surprised if it was vindicated a decade from now.
BMW X3M and X4M (2019)
Announced just a week or so ago, the X3M and X4M finally square the circle. For far too many years, its mid-sized X cars have lacked a fire-breathing M variant. Not anymore, though.
Lesser M Performance variants have existed for awhile now, but this is the first time the mid-sized pair have been treated to the full-fat M experience.
A 3-litre turbo engine powers the pair, developing 480hp and catapulting the X3M and X4M from rest to 100km/h in as quickly as 4.1 seconds. Yow.