When we last left off, I had just purchased a new Subaru Outback and found that car to be an excellent appliance, but lacking in personality. I wanted something more upscale. I’ve always been a fan of the X5, even after the horrendous 2011 model I owned, and I figured it might be safe to give it another try.
(I’m sure you’ve figured out that my car tastes are anything but rational. If something stirs me, I’ll make all sorts of excuses for it, whether or not it’s good, and probably buy it again after it turns out to be a disaster. If not, it gets the heave-ho and is the Worst Car Ever™.)
But for due diligence, I did test-drive several competitors. Those included the Genesis GV80 3.5T Prestige, Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, Lincoln Aviator Reserve and Audi Q7 55 TFSI Prestige. The GLE 350 was immediately eliminated because its standard 4-cylinder was not up to snuff for a $70K+ SUV, and the cost to jump to the GLE 450 and its I6 engine—with any options—was laughable. The Q7 was difficult to find in Prestige trim anywhere in the country—I believe there were 4 such units nationwide at the time I was shopping. Bob Moore Audi in Oklahoma City actually had one, but it didn’t have the right options, nor did I love the Q7’s smattering of touchscreens and capacitive controls for everything. The Aviator and GV80 were commanding markups far above what they should have, given the badges they wore. The local Hyundai dealership was especially off-putting on the GV80. I had to beg them to quote me a price, which turned out to be $8K over sticker. Nope.
Everything else in that category was either laughably overpriced for what it was (Range Rover Sport, Cayenne), likely to irritate me (XC90, not doing that again), or inadequate (MDX, XT6).
But the X5 fit like a glove. It felt familiar and new, it handled with aplomb, and the B58 I6 engine was everything it was cracked up to be. I should note that at that time, I was looking at the xDrive40i, which is the non-PHEV powertrain. This was in August 2021, when just about every brand was experiencing shortages. So, X5s were as thin on the ground as anything else. I knew pretty quickly there were some options I wanted (Executive Package, Towing Hitch, Air Suspension, Multi-Countour Seats, Driving Assistant Professional, M Sport, AWD)…and the dealer inventory cars that would trickle in lacked one or more things I wanted.
Which had me focused on ordering one. Fortunately, the BMW plant in Spartanburg, SC assembles the X5 for worldwide consumption…so while a buyer ordering a German-made 5 Series could expect it to take months, the American-made X5 could be had in a matter of weeks. I went online and built my ideal spec for an xDrive40i, then gave the build code to Garrett, my salesperson at Jackie Cooper BMW.
And then…I read a review on the PHEV, which I somehow hadn’t noticed previously. I discounted it because of the awful, underpowered, 4-cylinder-based PHEV of the prior “F15” generation X5, which was the “xDrive40e.” But the “xDrive45e” on the new X5 started out with the I6. It had 389 system horsepower, as opposed to the gas-only model’s 335 hp, and could do an honest-to-goodness 30 miles on electric power. Not only that, but the xDrive45e worked out to be cheaper. Some of the features I wanted were either already standard on the xDrive45e (air suspension) or were nontrivially cheaper to add than on the gas model (M Sport package). And then it qualified for the full $7,500 tax credit. With a $3,200 military discount, I also qualified for and a loyalty discount from when I had the 535i, a $78K-and-change X5 xDrive45e with all the trimmings I wanted would transact for more like $65K.
I immediately called Garrett and told him I’d like to switch to an xDrive45e.
The problem was that the dealership didn’t currently have an allocation for an xDrive45e and didn’t know when they’d get one. Garrett told me that they’d likely be able to put in a request for an additional build slot, for which I’d be first in line. I told Garrett I’d wait for that build slot. It finally came in September 2021, a month after I’d submitted for it. Garrett let me know that I could expect my X5 in late November.
For the longest time, BMW has had a process that allows customers who order their cars to see where it’s at in the build phase. It’s everything from “Order Accepted” to “At the Dealership.” The next several weeks were exciting, and I refreshed the system multiple times a day to see where my car was.
The fun stopped abruptly when I heard about option code “6UY.”
Many automakers’ car configuration lists consist of three-character build codes that denote specific options installed on a specific car. Some of those options end up famous enough to be on the tongue of the general public (GM’s famous “Z/28” package for the Camaro is one such option). BMW has had its fair share of them, as well (ZHP 3 Series, anyone?), and a lot of them refer to exciting, rare and desirable packages.
Remember those parts shortages? Well, I was perusing the BMW forums when someone who had an in at BMW corporate posted a new thread. BMW’s iDrive system had included touchscreen functionality in at least most models since version 6. At the time, BMW was on version 7 for most models (though the i4, iX, refreshed X7 and refreshed 3 Series would soon debut version 8). Anyway…according to this anonymous forum user, BMW’s supplier was unable to build the touchscreen panels, and so sent the automaker a batch of non-touchscreen panels. This affected the X5, X6, X7, 3 Series, 4 Series, Z4 and possibly a few other models. Any car so afflicted would also have “Deletion of Backup Assistant” (somehow that and the touchscreen were intertwined) appear on the options list after the car entered stage 150 (Production Begins) on the build-tracker. And those cars would lack touchscreen functionality, meaning you’d need to stick to using voice commands or the iDrive joystick, as with prior iDrive versions. For this, those buyers would receive a $500 discount line item on the window sticker.
And, wouldn’t you know it, 6UY appeared on my car’s build list the day after.
A further announcement came a few days later, which was that BMW needed to update the iDrive software in order to accommodate these newly minted lack-of-touchscreen cars. Some of them had already been delivered to customers, but any that hadn’t would receive a stop-sale. Dealers were not to deliver them to customers until the updated software was available from the Munich Mothership. Customers who’d already received their non-touchscreen cars would get an OTA update.
Believe it or not, that part gave me hope. Since I’m in software development, I know a bit about how these things work. My guess was that BMW simply built the cars with the non-touch-enabled screens, but the iDrive software was still listening for touch-input events and would prompt users for touch events. All the software engineers had to do was write a new option flag that would stop listening for touch-input events and remove all mentions of a touchscreen if the car had the “6UY” option, and then release that as a patch.
But…if a clever person were to re-code the car’s internal systems to remove that 6UY option and retrofit an OEM panel with the touchscreen, they just might restore that functionality. I went ahead and sleuthed online, figured out the part number for a 2019 X5’s touchscreen panel, declined to buy it from a dealer for the princely sum of $2,700…and located a seller in China that had a warehouse full of new ones for just $500. I already had the software and equipment to “code” BMWs from Bimmers past, so in theory I had everything I needed. Around that same time, I had an electrician wire a dryer plug to my electrical box, so that I could install a Level 2 charger. I ended up ordering the Grizzl-E charger from Amazon, which seems to have gotten quite a bit pricier since I bought mine (I paid less than $500; it currently lists for $800 on Amazon).
On November 1, 2021, the system said that my car had been finished. It didn’t say anything else until the car suddenly arrived at the dealership just five days later, on November 6, 2021. Remember, I still couldn’t take delivery of it, because BMW had not yet released the software patch. That finally happened on November 13, 2021, a Saturday, and Garrett called me to let me know I could come get it that night.
I asked WASPy Ex if he wanted to accompany me, and he declined. Truth be told, he was extremely unsupportive of me buying this car—despite it having nothing to do with him financially—and that made me want it even more.
It was awesome getting to see a car I’d custom-ordered sitting in the delivery center with my name on it. I’d selected the Phytonic Blue exterior color, with the Cognac interior color. That said, the touchscreen wasn’t the only deletion from which my X5 suffered, just the largest. Over the past several months, BMW had deleted many features from the X5, citing price shortages. Mine lacked the laminated front glass, fog lamps, wireless phone charger and cargo-mounted rear seat releases. I’d also been restricted to the base sound system, as only the X5 M was able to be equipped with premium audio at that time. Garrett even told me that the day after we put in my car’s order, BMW stopped allowing customers to spec the towing hitch, so I got lucky there.
That didn’t dampen my excitement in that moment. I sat patiently, while the delivery specialist helped me set up a myBMW account and ran me through how to use the car’s more-basic features. Even he mistakenly jabbed at the screen a few times, expecting it to do something. Mine was the first car he’d interacted with that had the touchscreen-delete, and it threw him off.
After that, we got paperwork finished, and I cruised silently home on a fully charged battery, so that I could pick WASPy Ex up and we could go to dinner. He got in the car, took one long, disapproving look at it, and immediately declared the sublime 20-way seats to be “uncomfortable.”
Because of course he did.
The next few days were great with the X5. Since my prior BMW, I’d interacted with a range of cars that were entirely touchscreen, so even I jabbed at the X5’s screen a time or three before remembering it wasn’t touch-enabled. But, other than that, it was great. I don’t think I used very much fuel at all. It always had 30 miles of EV range, often closer to 35. That said, BMW annoyingly chose to use a 3.7-kW onboard charger on the X5 xDrive45e, which meant that a full charge took 5-6 hours. If they’d have installed a 7.2-kW charger, as they did on their EVs, it would have taken half the time, which meant that a self-employed work-from-home person like myself could practically get multiple full charges out of it a day.
When the touchscreen panel finally arrived in the mail, I immediately set out to perform my retrofit. In order not to tear up my new luxury car, I started out by subscribing to a day’s use of the BMW technical documentation and looking up the procedure to remove the touchscreen. I was hoping it’d be plug-and-play, but it wasn’t. The new panel behaved just like the old one, and the car didn’t respond to any touch events whatsoever.
Okay, time for the coding part. I got out my old Windows computer, got out my OBD-to-ethernet cable, and booted up the BMW e-SYS application. I connected to the car, found the module for the iDrive system, which I believe was labeled “MGU Head Unit” (but in German), read the configuration file for that, and found 6UY in there. I deleted those three characters, then re-coded the config file back to the unit. When the iDrive system re-started, I tapped the screen and it worked! I was thrilled! It even added the Backup Assistant back. Moreover, when I later took the car in for its first service appointment and the dealership performed a software update, it didn’t erase my efforts.
I figured I was the first person in the world to figure it out, and I immediately got on the forums to share the good news. I pledged to go back and write up a tutorial to share what I’d done…and then someone in the family had a health crisis that put it right out of my mind. I never did make that tutorial, and I feel awful about it, though I’m sure some of the other folks there have done so.
My first trip in the X5 was a short one. WASPy Ex and I drove to Tulsa to do Thanksgiving with his (absolutely lovely) family, just 90 minutes and about that many miles away. The X5’s air suspension soaked up the bumps nicely, but it only managed 20 MPG on the highway. The battery wasn’t of much use, but it was 800 lbs of dead weight; a regular gasoline X5, even the V8, would’ve done better. But the adaptive cruise control was the best I’d ever used, and still is. It would even automatically change lanes for you. All you had to do was tap the indicator in the desired direction and the car would—when safe—swiftly and composedly move over a lane on the highway.
The X5 got its first application as a workhorse in January 2022. I mentioned selling my 2006 XJ Vanden Plas to someone in Tulsa, and the X5 ended up towing it there. It’s worth noting that the xDrive45e’s towing capacity is substantially diminished versus the other X5 trims (5,952 lbs instead of 7,200 lbs), but the XJ was aluminum, and the U-HAUL trailer didn’t weigh much, so we managed.
In June 2022, the X5 got its first scar. I had a pegboard at the front of the garage with tools mounted to it, and somehow managed to accidentally bump it while the car was parked in there. A torque wrench fell and put a nice dime-sized dent in the hood, right on one of the creases. That one cost me roughly $1,100 to have pulled out and repainted (it cracked the paint). But it could’ve been worse, especially if it had fallen onto my head.
I went on several more long trips with the X5. I visited family in Texas and Colorado, and even ended up in Maryland with it. It never proved to be anything less than high-tech and comfortable. But, again, that battery was a giant weight penalty in extended highway driving.
The X5 got its second scar this past July. I was leaving my sister’s apartment complex, and an 8-year-old who’d stolen a foot scooter was looking completely behind him as he ran that scooter into the side of the car. I saw him and tried to avoid him, but he caught the right side of the rear bumper, and put some deep scratches in it. Another $1,000 to fix. Shortly after that, it had its first and only unscheduled service visit. I went through the car wash and observed a small amount of water leaking from the passenger-side microphone. Apparently, this is a common—and trivial—repair on the G05 due to a defective seal; the dealer replaced it in short order under warranty.
It might surprise you, but the X5 is still my daily driver, and it still brings me as much joy as it did when I first bought it…which is a tough ask when it comes to me. This November will mark two years of ownership and it currently sits at 28,113 miles, of which 11,099 have been fully electric.
I imagine the mileage would be much higher if there weren’t several other cars that have cycled in and out of my fleet since purchasing the X5…which you’ll hear about in the coming weeks.