HOW DOES THIS SOUND?
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This podcast episode was recorded in the spring of 2020.
The fog swallows up all noise. Here, high in the Berchtesgaden Alps, along the border between Germany and Austria, there’s not a soul around. Yet, as suddenly as the sun pokes through the clouds for a brief moment, a subtle but deep rumble can be heard approaching. Just then, a red BMW nimbly takes the corner of Rossfeldpanoramastrasse. This storm of sound turns out to be an eight-cylinder engine under the hood of the BMW X5 4.6is (known internally at BMW as the E53) from 2002. At the wheel of this fire-engine red classic car – what the Germans call a “youngtimer”: not old enough to be an “oldtimer”, but a classic nonetheless – all you can see is a big grin as it drives by.
Shortly behind it comes another SAV, the current BMW X5 xDrive45e (G05). More subtle in terms of color and sound, but no less agile. The young man behind the wheel sports the same smile on his face as the driver of the BMW X5 4.6is. No wonder – Max Hesse, the man steering the dark blue BMW PHEV around the corners of the Rossfeldhöhenringstrasse – is a works driver for the BMW Junior Team. His father, Mario Hesse, is driving a future classic, the first-generation BMW X5.
The motto of the day in the Berchtesgaden Alps is aim high. And doubly so, the Rossfeldpanoramastrasse is the highest continuous road in Germany (➜ Read more: Bucket list for car enthusiasts). Surrounded by majestic mountains, their ambitions are equally lofty: Max Hesse, along with his colleagues from the BMW Junior Team, is driving a BMW M6 GT3 in the current Nürburgring Endurance Series. His talent is surely in his genes – Mario Hesse, after all, was an ambitious amateur racer in his day.
While the cars are left to rest in a parking lot, the Hesses take a closer look at the two BMW X5 models. Max says how he first sat in a kart at the age of just three. At the time, the first BMW X5 had already been on the market for a good four years. In other words, Max Hesse is younger than the car he’s going to be driving. “My father is and has always been the best support you can imagine. He’s taught me a lot,” Max continues. And no doubt passed on some talent, too.
And while we’re on the subject of genes… the family DNA of the two BMW X5 models is obvious. They both proudly bear the famous BMW kidney grille (➜ Read more: Landmark designs of the BMW kidney grille), you can see the likeness in their silhouettes; BMW’s characteristic Hofmeister kink is more or less clearly recognizable in both vehicles; and they both like to live in style. The 20-inch rims with 315 tires don’t leave the BMW X5 youngtimer looking old today either, when viewed alongside the 21-inch aluminums on the BMW plug-in hybrid (➜ Read more: Plug-in hybrids and other electric cars). “The two BMW X5 generations have a surprising number of similarities in terms of looks,” Max Hesse says.
A little over 20 years ago, the German luxury automakers presented the first ancestor of all BMW SAVs. This model founded a series of BMW X models that has since grown into a large family: from the X1, through the X4, to the X7. A family that also includes the sporty offshoots of the M branch, such as the X3 M and the X6 M. And then there’s the BMW i branch of the family, whose models such as the iX3 and the iX (➜ Read more: 10 years of BMW i) are electrically powered.
One thing that all the X models share is sheer driving pleasure (➜ Read more: The history of “sheer driving pleasure”). It’s in every BMW from birth. Which brings us to Mario Hesse’s satisfied smile. Because racing the mature but sprightly BMW X5 4.6is from BMW Group Classic around the hairpin bends and steep inclines of the Höhenstrasse is clearly something the former amateur kart driver enjoys. He once competed against future 7-time Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher in a classic entry-level motorsport vehicle. Today, he’s enjoying the massive torque (➜ Read more: Torque in cars explained) of the eight-cylinder BMW X5 engine.
The latest generation of the BMW X5 provides a different kind of driving pleasure. Its turbo-charged, in-line six-cylinder engine is supported by an electric motor, with a combined maximum torque of 442 ft-lb (600 Nm) (➜ Read more: 12 Outstanding BMW engines). And with the combined power of the combustion engine and electric motor, the BMW X5 xDrive45e powers up slopes as if they weren’t even there. And that explains Max Hesse’s easygoing smile behind the wheel of the BMW X5 PHEV.
At launch, the 2002 BMW X5 itself impressed with previously completely unheard-of vehicle dynamics for an off-road vehicle (➜ Read more: The Old World bike movie). And that hasn’t changed today, as the Hesses confirm, man and boy, on switching cockpits. Even the elder car manages to pull off an astonishing combination of off-road properties (➜ Read more: Delhi to Bhutan: Roadtrip to happiness) and outstanding sporting talents. Both vehicles fully live up to their Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) tag.
So, it’s time for a quick driver change on their road trip (➜ Read more: Grand Tour of Switzerland) through the wintry alps. Now the youngster drives the oldie and vice versa. Max Hesse is fascinated by the sound of the BMW youngtimer (“It sounds really good,” he says), while Mario is impressed by the comfort features of the BMW X5 xDrive45e. When it comes to the interior, a direct comparison between the inside of the two BMW X5 models shows just what developments there have been in automotive engineering over the past 20 years. The comfort level of the BMW X5 xDrive45e is one level higher still than that of its ancestor.
For driving pleasure, age absolutely doesn’t matter – neither for the drivers, Mario and Max Hesse, nor for the two generations of BMW X5. The question of generations (➜ Read more: The 7 generations of BMW 3 series) doesn’t arise. Just whether you prefer old school or modern. What will Mario go for? He quickly slides into the “old” BMW X5, while Max gives a laugh and opens the driver’s door of the X5 xDrive45e. The red, eight-cylinder SAV swings out of the parking lot. The PHEV follows it out with an electric hum. They quickly disappear into the fog, headed for the valley. Things are then completely quiet on the mountain, once again.
Author: Nils Arnold; Photos: Marc Wittkowski