I’m Going Off-Roading in a $1,500 BMW E53 X5

It is Thursday, August 29, 2019, and I am about to hit the road in the all-wheel-drive crossover that I purchased for our $1,500 Off-Road Challenge. Although the five competitors aren’t sharing their vehicle selections until we arrive at the Airbnb, I figured I could share my choice with the internet a few hours ahead of time.

This off-road trip has been conceptualized for quite some time, but none of us got serious about finding our cars until June. At that point, the search was on, and we all scoured the internet for options.

My search was focused on “not BMWs,” as I’ve owned nine already and figured I should branch out. I had a line on an $800 Mazda Tribute ES in Washington, DC that fell through. A racing buddy who operates a used-car dealership almost won a cheap Acura MDX on my behalf. I nearly went up to Baltimore, MD for a 2000 Ford Explorer Limited with the somewhat-rare Borg-Warner AWD system, but it sold the hour before I was to leave town. There was a $1,000 Volvo XC90 with 300,000+ miles in Leesburg, but I realized it was (oddly) front-wheel drive and had to pass.

I figured, with the way the search was going, no brand could be off-limits, and expanded to BMW. My first test-drive was of a 2004 BMW X3 2.5i, which had a completely drained battery, very bald tires, and a warning light for the “xDrive” electronically-controlled AWD system. Even for $1,200, it seemed to throw enough red flags that I had to pass.

My second BMW test drive was for the vehicle I purchased. It’s a 2001 BMW X5 3.0i – the smaller of the two engine options, but more reliable. Though BMW offered a 5-speed manual paired to the 3.0L M54, mine has the GM 5-speed automatic. The X5 is painted Topaz Blue, paired to tan leather that is mostly not torn or stained. I purchased it around 194,800 miles and have put nearly 1,000 miles on it commuting or running around town.

The first-generation X5 was considered a “Sports Activity Vehicle” by BMW, and was more or less an E39 530i sedan with a lift and all-wheel drive. The AWD system is not electronically controlled (good) but I have no idea how effective it will be in gravel and dirt.

Tires also play a big part in forward progress off-road, and my X5 has nothing but the best from Walmart – Blacklion Voracio HT. They are a Chinese tire that supposedly uses old Yokohama tread pattern designs. The date code on the sidewall indicates they are fairly new, and they do have plenty of tread life remaining.

My X5 has several dash warning lights illuminated, but nothing that seriously compromises how it drives. I’ll detail the “pre-trip prep” in a future post, as my early ownership of this X5 was not all roses. In the meantime, give us a follow on Facebook and Instagram as we’ll be covering the challenge (and our five cheap off-roaders) throughout the weekend.

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