Lifted BMW X5 Off Road Builds: E53 & E70 Projects

BMW X5 Off Road build: E53 and E70 with overland mods
Lifted BMW X5 E53 with offroad mods vs stock
Lifted BMW X5 E53 off road build
BMW X5 E70 off road build with 20" rims and mud tires
BMW X5 E70 off road build with a 3" lift and 32 inch mud tires +2
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When the BMW X5 first debuted in 1999, it revolutionized the luxury SUV segment. BMW set out to create a vehicle that combined the refined driving dynamics of its sedans with the off-road capabilities of a rugged SUV. The result was the X5 – a perfect blend of on-road comfort and off-road competence. Its powerful engines, advanced AWD systems, and responsive handling make it an ideal foundation for transformed overlanding rigs and dedicated trail trucks.

Lifted BMW X5 E53 with offroad mods vs stock

In this post, we’ll look at two creatively modified BMW X5 off road builds that illustrate the model’s potential as the ultimate weekend getaway off-road vehicle. First we’ll examine an overlanding-focused E53 X5 equipped for camping trips into scenic locations. Then we’ll check out a lifted E70 X5 featuring custom suspension, massive tires, and gear tailored for rugged terrain. Both builds showcase clever touches that enable the X5 to confidently wander off the beaten path.

So if you think a luxury crossover can’t handle getting dirty, these X5s may change your mind.

Key Takaways

  • With some lift mods and rugged tires and wheels, the BMW X5’s sophisticated AWD system can transform it into a remarkably capable weekend warrior for off-road getaways.
  • The first-gen E53 X5 featured here was built for overlanding, with rooftop tent, awning, solar power, and other self-sufficiency mods to access remote camping locations.
  • The E70 X5 build took off-road prep even further, with a 3-inch lift and 32-inch all-terrain tires enabling it to traverse demanding terrain at speed while retaining BMW’s signature luxury car manners.
  • While not a hardcore rock crawler, creative X5 builds like these illustrate the versatility of the platform – blending all-terrain competence with unibody comfort and premium interior appointments for well-equipped adventure.

BMW X5 Brief Model History

The release of the first-generation BMW X5 (E53) in 1999 marked a revolutionary step for the Bavarian automaker. Up to that point, BMW had focused primarily on luxury sedans and sports coupes. However, the emergence and early success of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class luxury SUV prompted BMW to throw its hat into the ring.

The original X5 was conceived not just as an off-road utility vehicle, but rather as the luxury crossover – an athletic, road-oriented vehicle that blended the cabin comfort and premium feel of a 5 Series sedan with the raised ride height and all-wheel drive capabilities of an SUV. Under the hood, a range of powerful six and eight-cylinder petrol engines provided brisk performance.

BMW X5 E53 offroading in the snow

Compared to the more plush Mercedes ML, the driving dynamics of the X5 hewed closer to BMW’s core brand values of sporty handling and driver engagement. While many questioned the need for a sporty SUV, the concept quickly caught on, as the X5 delivered refined on-road performance and light off-road ability in a single flexible package. Several innovations also debuted on the first-gen X5, including Hill Descent Control and electronic brake proportioning.

Seeing BMW’s initial success in the luxury crossover segment, other German rivals followed suit between 2002-2003. Porsche unveiled the Cayenne, while Volkswagen launched the Touareg – both of which echoed BMW’sformula of delivering car-like dynamics. Audi soon entered the fray with its Q7 model in 2005.

Why Consider BMW X5 for your Off Road Project

With its sophisticated all-wheel drive system and advanced traction control technology, the BMW X5 has proven itself to be a surprisingly capable weekend warrior for off-road getaways. While it may not have locking differentials like you’d find on dedicated 4x4s, the X5’s all-wheel drive system actively simulates their functionality by braking slipping wheels to divert torque to those with grip.

BMW X5 E70 off roading and rock crawling in the mountains

This allows the X5 to keep ploughing forward even when one wheel loses all traction. Of course, the limits of an electronically-controlled AWD system are still below that of true differential locks, but what’s impressive is just how well the X5’s system works to optimize traction, especially for a plush luxury crossover unibody.

With its athletic, contemporary styling and premium feel, the BMW X5 makes for an intriguing off-road project for those seeking an unconventional build that stands out from the crowds of mainstream 4x4s and retains day-to-day luxuries and dynamic handling.

Mechanic’s Advice

As a mechanic and off-road vehicle builder, I’ve gained plenty of seat time in BMW X5 crossover over the years. And while it debuted as more of a luxury pavement pounder, the X5 chassis has proven surprisingly capable when modified for rugged terrain (both E53 and E70, but not the G05).

Repairs & Maintenance

Finding a Solid Base BMW produced the first-generation X5 (E53) from 1999-2006, meaning most specimens are now 15+ years old. Average pricing on used examples currently falls between $4,000 for higher-mileage units and $8,000 for lower-mile cream puffs (check current pricing here). Factor in a repair budget to address common issues.

Common issues with the BMW X5 E53 & E70 that I observed throughout the years:

  • Problems with the gasoline vapor recovery system, especially in older models where replacement may be needed.
  • Issues with the crankshaft sensor around 80k miles (150,000 km) for gasoline engines.
  • Problems with the exhaust manifold in early diesel models.
  • Wear on the torsional vibration damper for diesel engines requiring replacement.
  • Glow plugs and ignition unit needing replacement.
  • Faulty injectors causing starting issues.
  • Coolant leaks due to faulty thermostat.
  • Cylinder scuffing.
  • Failures of the DSC unit (which controls the AWD – so keep an eye on it).
  • Wear on the transfer case chain and cardan splines.
  • Wear on the servo motor gear.
  • Sensor failures for air suspension around 60k miles (100,000 km).
  • Broken upper rubber bands on spring suspension requiring shock absorber replacement.
  • Instrument panel issues like dead pixels in early models.
  • Contacts wearing out causing license plate light and door opening failures.

*Follow directions in workshop repair manuals if you do DIY repairs.

Luckily the X5 was engineered to a high standard, evidenced by class-leading safety scores. The stout unibody structure, advanced AWD system, generous ride height and favorable weight balance give this Bimmer solid overland bones from the factory. I especially like the silky inline-6 gas engines (3-liter M54B30 gasoline engine – the least problematic option).

Off-road Capability

Once you’ve ironed out any gremlins, the modifications can begin. While the X5 was never intended for Moab, its 7.5” of ground clearance, 28 degrees approach angle, generous wheel articulation and advanced traction controls can be surprising off pavement. Upgrading to 32” AT tires on aftermarket wheels yields a cost-effective improvement that maintains on-road drivability.

Beyond that, a budget lift kit with 1-2” lift helps clear the new rubber while opening up the possibilities for slow-speed overland travel. Upgrading the differentials to add limited-slip function front and rear further aids traction in low-grip scenarios (but it’s a more of a hard-core tech). Not to Jeep levels, but again impressive for a luxury unibody crossover!

Camping & Overlanding

Larger tires do squeeze the wheel wells, so remain realistic with expectations. Where the X5 lacks hardcore off-road talent, it excels as a self-sufficient adventure rig thanks to generous interior space. With the 2nd row seats folded flat, a sleeping platform over 70” long can be created. Toss a mattress in and you’re camping in comfort!

The robust factory roof rails also enable mounting a rooftop tent for increased overnight capacity. And that unique split-opening tailgate? Handy place to sit and prep food at camp after a day hitting the trails. Other overland goodies like onboard air, 12V refrigerator/freezers, solar panels and cargo drawers work great here too.

BMW X5 E53 Overland Off-Road Build

Lifted BMW X5 E53 off road build

This first generation BMW X5 has been transformed by its owner @x5_xplorer into the ultimate overland adventure mobile, allowing him to travel off the beaten path to scenic locations and camp in comfort.

After installing a lift kit and plus-sized all-terrain tires wrapped around aggressive wheels, the owner went the extra mile to armor and protect the X5’s underside and driveline when out on the trail. The build specs include Off Road wheels with 275/70/17 Pirelli Scorpion tires, a 2 inch lift kit with Bilstein shocks, a custom front bumper housing a Badlands winch, and replica Baja Designs LED lights.

Camping in Lifted BMW X5 E53 overland build with a roof top tent

For self-sufficient overlanding capabilities out in the wild, this X5 carries an Outnest rooftop tent, Ironman4x4 awning, 200W solar array, lithium battery bank, fridge, and other accessories to camp in remote locations. Recovery gear like traction boards and tow straps round out the build in case things go sideways on rugged terrain.

Build specs

Off Road Wheels

  • 275/70/17 Pirelli Acorpion All Terrain Tires
  • BMW style 130 rims with a full-size spare

Lift Kit

  • 2” inch lift with bilsteins 

Body Armor

  • Custom front bumper with badlands apex synthetic winch

LED Lights

  • Off brand LED Baja designs replica LEDs
  • Amazon Lightbar 

Overland Gear

  • Outnest rooftop tent with annex
  • Ironman4x4 awning with room
  • 200w Renogy solar panels
  • Renogy DC to DC mppt charger
  • Weize 100ah lifepo4
  • Ecoflow delta 1300
  • Massimo 52quart fridge
  • Wolfwise privacy tent
  • Zerobreeze mark 2 and battery combo
  • Weboost 
  • Xbull traction boards
  • Deadman offroad v2 recovery gear
  • Rhino usa gear
BMW X5 E53 with a roof top tent and roof rack

What do you love the most about your X5?

See Also
bmw x2 off road wheels

Handling, it feels like I’m driving my E39.

Why did you choose a BMW for your project?

The m54 engine is so easy to work on. Parts are not expensive and I know I can easily work on it if something happens…which happened when I went out with my wife on a trip to a Hot Springs out in Eastern Sierras.

BMW X5 E 53 Offroading in the mountains

What was the most difficult part of the build?

It was hard trying to get someone to custom build the front winch bumper. I’ve had a very hard time putting on the lift spacers in the rear suspension.

BMW X5 E70 Off Road Build

BMW X5 E70 off road build with 20" rims and mud tires

Distinct from the previous E53 feature, this second-gen X5 has been purpose-built by Dustan Elledge @drive.harder for dedicated off-road duty, with extensive lift and wheel upgrades to help it traverse rugged terrain.

A custom 3 inch suspension lift creates ample clearance thanks to strut spacers up front and adjustable coilover spring sleeves in the rear that adapt for towing needs.

Massive 32 inch Nitto Ridge Grappler all-terrain tires provide traction, wrapped around custom-drilled and powdercoated staggered Cosmis XT006R wheels in 20×9.5 +10 and 20×11 +8 widths. The unique offset paired with by the wide 285-series rubber creates an imposing aggressive stance perfect for crawling over rocks or powering through mud.

BMW X5 E70 off road build with a 3" lift and 32 inch mud tires

Build Specs:


  • Custom 3” Strut spacers
  • Adjustable coilover spring sleeves in the rear to adjust for towing.


  • 32” Nitto Ridge Grappler tires
  • Custom drilled / powdercoated staggered Cosmis XT006R rims sized 20×9.5 +10 20×11 +8 285/50r20
Lifted BMW X5 offroad build with porsche cayenne


In Conclusion The BMW X5 may not tackle Moab tomorrow, but smart upgrades let this solid German SUV deliver surprisingly capable outdoor adventure. Stunning design with Hofmeister kink make it attractive even today. Combining long-haul comfort and all-weather safety with generous gear capacity, the X5 has all the makings of a special overland rig after factoring some functional mods into the equation. Just don’t expect rock crawling!

As demonstrated by these capable, creative X5 builds, BMW’s Sports Activity Vehicle possesses immense potential as an off-road platform beneath its luxury trappings. With the right wheel, tire and suspension upgrades, owners can tap into the X5’s well-rounded blend of on and off-road competence without sacrificing interior comforts. For those seeking a premium adventure-mobile that flies under the radar compared to popular 4x4s, the X5 makes for an intriguing canvas to outfit for overland exploits or extreme terrain. Its unique personality sets X5 builds apart, letting owners enjoy bespoke high-end touches even when far from civilization.

Interested to see more unconventional crossover off-road builds? Be sure to check our articles showcasing customized Porsche Cayenne and other lifted crossovers.

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