The X5 Le Mans pictured during its record-breaking run at the Nurburgring
The X5 Le Mans pictured during its record-breaking run at the NurburgringBMW X5 Le Mans

The BMW X5 Le Mans is a forgotten super SUV

At a time when SUVs were more about utility than sport, BMW made the X5 Le Mans –a one-off V12-powered X5

Back in the late 90s and early noughties, SUVs were seen as utilitarian, practical ways to get over unfavourable terrain. They certainly weren’t great to drive and weren’t particularly fast either. Over the years, BMW has introduced cars that shape categories of their own — the X6 comes to mind, so does the 6 Series for that matter, but what you might not remember is that the X5 was one of the first SUVs that preferred to stay on the tarmac. Sure, it came with xDrive, but that was like bringing a pen to a gun fight. Nevermind that though because to demonstrate just how sporty the X5 was, BMW built a strictly one-off experimental vehicle — the X5 Le Mans and it was far ahead of its time.

The X5 Le Mans' V12 made more power than the Le Mans-winning V12 LMR it borrows the engine from
The X5 Le Mans' V12 made more power than the Le Mans-winning V12 LMR it borrows the engine fromBMW X5 Le Mans

Why do I say that? Well, look around you. Behind the shutters of every locked down showroom is an SUV, from the lower rungs of the automotive sector to top dogs like Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls-Royce, even Ferrari is making one! While all of those pride themselves with bonkers horsepower figures and Nurburgring lap times, the X5 Le Mans’ 6.1-litre V12, taken from the Le Mans-winning V12 LMR no less, produced 700bhp, 720Nm and was mated to a six-speed manual transmission! The X5 could sprint from to 100kmph from a standstill in just 4.7 seconds which is fast even by today’s ridiculously skewed standards! It also had a top speed of 278kmph (BMW clocked 311kmph without the rear seats) and as far as Nurburgring times are concerned, one fine day in June of 2001, Hans-Joachim Stuck lapped the Nordschleife in 7 minutes and 49 seconds — faster than any SUV before it. That record stood for almost 20 years, before supercar-SUV frankenstiens like the Lamborghini Urus and the Audi RS Q8 pipped it. That said, the latter of those two, which is the current record holder for production SUVs around the ’Ring is only seven seconds quicker with a time of 7 minutes and 42 seconds!

Changes to the exterior include a massive slit in the carbonfibre bonnet to let out hot air, 30mm lowered ride height, wider arches and BBS Le Mans rims which are shod on 315/35 section tyres. There’s also twin, centrally mounted exhaust pipes at the rear, but not too much would give this away as something other than a regular X5. On the inside, there are bucket seats and a fairly standard interior, except for an M badge on the gear shifter and the massive central tunnel. But while the cosmetic changes are subtle, when the X5 Le Mans was fired up, you would have no doubt as to what this is. Watch BMW Classic’s video below to take a listen, and yes there’s a handwritten note for the starting procedure for it, if that isn’t cool, I’m not sure what is.

The X5 Le Mans might have been an off the charts, unfathomable product that no one could conceive to be a mass market product back then, but in today’s world (rich) enthusiasts would jump at the opportunity to buy a V12-powered, manual BMW X5! Yes, it would be too loud to have a conversation in, and that starting procedure would perhaps prove a bit too cumbersome before a trip to the shops, but as a piece of automotive history, as a game-changer, the X5 Le Mans is right up there with cars like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the Lamborghini Miura. It paved the way for not just the first X5 M but also the slew of super SUVs that have followed after it.

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