If you ask a certain segment of the automotive press, it seems that BMW is rapidly losing the plot. While I agree that BMW’s latest wares are bigger, heavier and more leather-clad than ever before, I can’t say thing is a bad thing in my mind. I upset a few people when I reviewed the then-new 335is by saying “BMW is the new Mercedes”. I’m not sure why noses were “rankled”, but there seems to be a large segment of TTAC’s readership that believe BMW has abandoned “sport” for “luxury”. Maybe they are right; the M3 and M5 have been gaining weight an alarming pace and now we have the X5M and X6M, a pair of 5,400lb SUVs wearing full-on M badges. The burning question at TTAC is: should the guy responsible for designing it be committed? Or should the vehicle be put in a straight-jacket for being a totally insane machine?
From the outside the X5M looks less “M” compared to its donor model than do the M sedans. Sure there are enlarged grilles on the front, unique bumpers, and quad exhaust tips out back, but the overall form doesn’t scream “something wicked this way comes” like an M3. Helping the X5M blend into the urban jungle is the 2” hitch receiver, a first on M vehicles as is the tow rating of a healthy 6600lbs. Closer inspection however reveals the subtle tweaks to this urban assault vehicle include some seriously wide 315-series rubber out back, ginormous brakes and a plethora of radiators visible behind the large mesh grill openings.
On the inside of the X5 it will take very observant passenger to tell the difference between the go-fast model and the plebian people movers. Of course there are bespoke X5M gauges greeting the driver and the thick rimmed M steering wheel is also along for the ride. Aside from the driver’s controls however the majority of the X5M’s interior is lifted directly from the lower models. Fit and finish was excellent in our tester (as you would expect at this price) but I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed by the so-called “carbon fiber” leather trim which appears to just be black leather embossed with a carbon fiber pattern. I think some dark stained wood or brushed aluminum would be been more befitting of the X5M’s target market, but what do I know? The only toll on the interior taken by the M conversion that we observed was the loss of the third-row-seat option. If you’re a family of seven with a need for speed, you might have to wait and see if Mercedes will sell you a 7-seat ML AMG.
By now the suspense is likely killing you, after all we haven’t even mentioned the new M engine under the hood of the X5M so here we go: Turbo lovers rejoice! Squeezed under the bulging hood of the X5M beats a 4.4L twin-turbo V8 engine cranking out 555HP and a mind numbing 500 lb-ft of torque. While this engine is quite similar to the X5 xDrive50i’s 4.4L twin turbo V8, there are some significant differences, most notably the broader torque curve. The “pedestrian” 4.4L engine delivers 450lb-ft from 1750-4500RPM while the X5M’s mill broadens the torque plateau to 1500-5650 and the difference is marked behind the wheel. Power is routed to all four wheels via a heavy-duty ZF 6-speed automatic transmission, BMW’s full-tine AWD system and of course, a torque vectoring rear differential. I have seen complaints by the forum fan-boys whining that BMW didn’t put their dual-clutch M transmission under the hood of the X5M, but to me at least, the softer (and more “normal” feeling) shifts of the ZF transmission are more suitable for SUV use.
Some years ago when I heard the first rumors about the X5M, I was concerned that BMW would make their first sports SUV rear wheel drive only. I’m sure a RWD SUV would have pleased the BMW purists in the crowd, however, the X5M may just be the sports car for the rest of us. How so? It’s all about applying the power for me. While Jaguar XFR and last generation M5 I tested were a blast to drive, both spent considerable amounts of time at the starting gates spinning their wheels. 0-60 testing a two-wheel drive high-output vehicle takes a certain amount of time and finesse to get the best possible numbers out of the vehicle. The X5M just requires a heavy right foot. The same can be said for the fun-factor of the X5M when on a windy mountain road: just mash the go pedal and hang on.
The X5M is not the best handling car I have ever driven, but it is quite possibly the most confidant. The torque vectoring rear differential helps the X5M feel like a much lighter vehicle on windy roads and the permanent AWD system means it’s easy to stomp on the throttle at just about any moment without everything going pear-shaped. For those of us that aren’t Jack Baruth, this much power needs four powered-wheels. Back to the handling; while the X5M is not a 911 on the track, it is (no kidding at all) at the top end of the handling scale in general. While on a twisty road I frequent, I let a brand new Porsche Cayman S pass (because I thought I’d slow the fun down), just to see how I’d do, I tried to keep up with the light-weight Porsche. To my surprise the X5M picked up its lederhosen and danced. While the Cayman was more nimble in the tight corners common to any coastal California road, the X5M’s massive thrust more than compensated in the short straightaways. With the right driver, on a closed course, I have little doubt the 5,400lb SUV would have spanked the bantam weight Porsche.
While the X5M weighs nearly 2400lbs more than a Cayman S PDK, our 0-60 tests revealed the BMW to be faster than all but the fastest of Stuttgart’s wares. BMW’s website quotes an official 4.5 seconds to 60, but our first run on a cool 50 degree morning yielded an eye-popping 4.05 second run. Amazed, disturbed, and incredulous we spent the next 30 minutes verifying and re-verifying our numbers. After a morning where we consumed about 15-gallons of premium dinosaur we arrived at two conclusions: The first is that the X5M has a “problem” with heat soak despite the mammoth intercoolers, and the second is that BMW is totally honest about the 4.5 second 0-60 time. What do I mean? Let’s talk numbers, our first run clocked at 4.05, our next was 4.1 and by the time we had done our 25th back-to-back run our times had “ballooned” to 4.51 seconds which represents a variance of about 12%. What should you get out of our experimentation? Unless you are really pounding the snot out of the twin-turbo V8, you’ll pretty much always beat that guy in the Carrera 4S next to you. Need some crazier numbers? The old M5 needed 4.4 seconds to achieve the same speed (as does the M3 in manual form), making the X5M not only the fastest car we’ve tested from BMW so far, but perhaps the fastest car TTAC has tested period.
Because the concept of “launch control” on a nearly three-ton SUV with a regular-old slush-box is about as insane as the SUV itself is, we must go over the feature as it did make a 1/10th of a second difference in the 0-60 time. Here’s how you activate it: With the vehicle stopped, you put your foot on the brake pedal, slide the shifter over to M/S mode and then use the paddle shifter to out the transmission into M1. You then need to put the stability control into MDM mode, select the sport program from for the M Engine dynamics control (these two actions can be linked to the M button on the steering wheel). You then floor the car and a little checkered flag appears in the cluster. You then let your foot off the brake pedal and the X5M takes off like a daemon possessed Chucky doll cranking out crispy shifts like a Gatling gun (as long as you don’t lift). As if common sense wasn’t enough, the manual reminds you to not use launch control while towing a trailer. We tested the X5M with a 5,000lb trailer and trust us, launch control was not required.
Competition to the X5M can of course be found from all the usual suspects: the Range Rover Sport Supercharged, the ML63 AMG, and of course the Cayenne Turbo. The Range Rover retains some of its off-roading ability making it far less capable on-road than the BMW (and not quite the same creature). By all appearances, Mercedes decided not to tackle the X5M head on with the ML63 as it’s down on power, torque and needs almost a full second more to get to freeway speeds. This leaves the Cayenne Turbo the sole competition for the X5M if you care about handling and speed. Strangely enough however, even with the brief 30 minute test drive I was able to finagle in a Cayman Turbo it was obvious the Porsche is more of a luxury SUV than a sports SUV with a more supple, less connected ride, a transmission more willing to upshift (and gear-hunt) and a considerably larger price tag. While the Porsche represents a more refined SUV without question, the BMW is by far the performance winner. It’s also the maddest in the bunch and if the X5M was a person it would be bound in a straight-jacket and locked in a padded cell.
OK, so it’s an insane vehicle that’s crazy fast and crazy fun, but who’s it for? This is twisted logic, so stay with me here: If you are the kind of middle-class guy that has a Porsche Cayman for the daily commute, a trailer for weekend camping which, because we’re Americans and we cannot possibly tow a 1,200lb “toy hauler” with our car, also meant buying a pick-up truck, you should save yourself the garage space and buy the X5M instead. It’s a far better sports car than a Cayman, and oddly enough the 555HP and 500lbft of torque make it one of the best tow vehicles this side of a diesel F-250. The price of this joy? $95,000. Still, that’s cheaper than a Cayman and an F-250. I’ll take my straight jacket in blue please.
BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Statistics as tested
0-30: 1.35 Seconds
0-60: 4.05 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 12.6 Seconds @ 111.2 MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 15.2 MPG over 483 miles