It's as close to a McLaren SUV as we'll ever get.
Name: BMW X5 Le Mans
Debuted: 2000 Geneva Motor Show
Specs: V12 engine with 700 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque, rear-wheel drive, 0-100 kilometres per hour in 4.7 seconds, 278 km/h top speed
Why We Remember It Now:
With an engine sourced from the iconic McLaren F1, the one-off X5 LM remains to this day the most powerful SUV that BMW has ever made.
Long before BMW had an M version of its X5, the Bavarians came up with something even more intense. Billed as being an experimental vehicle, the Le Mans (LM) received its name as a nod to the engine that was lurking underneath its vented hood. A naturally-aspirated 6.0-litre V12 sourced from the Le Mans-winning McLaren F1 race car and also used by the BMW V12 LMR was crammed inside the engine bay to create the world’s only X5 with 12-cylinder power.
In this application, the legendary mill pushed out a healthy 700 horsepower and a torquetastic 531 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm. It still packs more horsepower than today’s $110,400 X5 M, which uses a biturbo 4.4-litre V8 dialed to 575 hp. Comparing the torque figures, the unique LM is slightly down as the beefiest X5 money can buy pushes out 553 lb-ft thanks to its pair of turbos.
It goes without saying there are some other big differences between the two SAVs. Just to give you a couple of examples, the McLaren F1-powered behemoth was rear-wheel drive and had a six-speed manual gearbox whereas today’s X5 M features xDrive all-wheel drive and an eight-speed Steptronic transmission.
Compared to an X5 of those days, the Le Mans concept had a stiffer suspension setup lowering the ride height by 30 millimetres. On the outside it looked just about the same as the regular production model, with the exception of the 20-inch wheels shod in chunky 315/35 at both axles. BMW never released details about the vehicle’s weight, but it did say it was distributed 51:49 front/rear, so almost perfect.
The engineers went to the trouble of modifying the interior by installing four bucket seats with frames made of aluminum also used on the centre tunnel and other areas throughout the cabin. They also got rid of the radio and instead installed three dials providing the driver with various info on the centre console.
In terms of performance, the X5 Le Mans needed 4.7 seconds to reach 100 kilometres per hour from a standstill, so it was half a second slower than the current X5 M. The official top speed was 278 km/h, but later on it actually managed to hit 310 km/h on the Döttinger Höhe section of the Nürburgring.
Speaking of which, Hans-Joachim Stuck managed to do a lap of the ‘Ring in 7 minutes and 50 seconds, so about nine seconds less than the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S – officially the fastest production SUV around the challenging track with a 7:59 lap time. Considering the LM was built 17 years ago, that performance is even more impressive.
BMW said right from the beginning the X5 Le Mans was purely a one-of-one project, without any intentions for series production. BMW will make up for lost time by giving the X7 flagship SUV the V12 treatment in the years to come.
With McLaren saying it won’t ever build an SUV, this is kind of the closest thing.
Note: The first video below is in German, but the V12 speaks to us all.