“There will never be an M version of the X5”. This exact phrase we heard it a few years back when BMW introduced the high-end X5 4.8is model. Fast forward a few years and the phrase turned into “This is not a real M car, what were they thinking?”
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No really, what was BMW really thinking? Or could they have really nailed it down with this first all-wheel drive M car? We took on the task of putting the BMW X5 M through an extensive review, both as a daily driver, but also as a race track performance monster.
Has it let us down? We shall find out next.
Not your regular M, but….still an M
At 5,368 pounds, the BMW X5 M presented a challenge to both the engineers and the marketing department. First task goes to the engineering team responsible for turning a heavy monster AWD into a race track performer; a car that not even its driver can tell it broke any socially acceptable weight levels. But thankfully, the BMW M Division came through. 555 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 501 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 RPM are enough to make us forget about the weight underneath and allowing us to treat the car as any other M we’ve seen before. Add to this intriguing combination the 4.1 seconds 0-60 mph performance, and we were ready to take this M quite seriously.
Second task might be even more difficult and the burden lies on the shoulders of the marketing department people. While some of the new customers to the brand might “fall” for the ///M colorful logo after the X5 badge, the purists and enthusiasts are part of the tough crowd, the same crowd that tends to resist changes and fully understand the history of BMW and what an M car truly represents.
Not an easy task, isn’t it?
Has BMW succeeded so far? Too early to tell, but several worldwide markets report more than decent sales in the X5 M and X6 M segment.
Just as any other M out there, the BMW X5 M brings all the visual characteristics of an M car: aggressiveness, sportiness and M-brand design cues. The X5 M gets an unique front-end treatment with large air intakes and front airdam, as well as gills in the front fenders, side skirts and a rear diffuser surrounded by quad exhaust pipes. Bi-xenon dual headlights including a daytime driving light function are standard on the X5 M.
Being a true M model, the BMW X5 M comes equipped with high-performance brakes combined with inner-vented lightweight brake discs. The X5 M also features specific 20-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires — 275/40 at the front and 315/30 at the rear.
M-branded interior design
Moving inside, the design is all about the M brand, starting with M sport seats, M steering wheel, M entry trim and footrest and finishing with a beautiful M shifter. There are some leather trim bits with a carbon fiber touch and the sport seats feature even more bolstering to counter the G-forces of which the X5 M is capable.
Other M-core elements
BMW X5 M comes as standard with air suspension and self-leveling on the rear axle, as well as Adaptive Drive with electronically adjustable dampers and active anti-roll control for higher stability. Due to the M Suspension, the X5 M sits about 0.4 inch lower compared to the regular models.
The 6-speed M Sports Automatic transmission is featured for the first time on a BMW M vehicle. There are two other modes available beside the regular Drive, Sport and M Manual. Gears can be manually shifted through the paddles located on the M steering wheel.
The BMW X5 M uses the same engine as its “twin”, the X6 M we tested on track last summer, a tuned up 4.4 liter V8 engine delivering 555 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 500 lb-ft of torque from 1,500 to 5,650 rpm. The engine uses the twin-scroll twin turbo technology with High Precision Direct Injection. By positioning the twin-scroll turbochargers together with the catalytic converters in the “V” section between the cylinders, it minimizes the turbo lag and offers better fuel efficiency. At least on paper….while no one argues that turbo lag is minimal to almost non-existent, the fuel consumption is inline with any other large SUV out there. At 13.9 mpg in combined cycle recorded by us, the X5 M is far from being fuel-friendly.
But has fuel efficiency ever been the goal of an M car?
Daily driving? Checked!
As we usually start with any cars we test, we began our quest by putting the 2010 BMW X5 M through one of the top worst traffic cities for commuters in the United States: Welcome to Chicago! Obviously when BMW designed the X5 M, track racing was not their top priority. In order to be successful, the X5 M needs to suit a large variety of drivers, from your executives looking for safety with the extra thrill, to the SUV lovers with high appetite for power, and also to your regular dad looking for a premium family car that he can later enjoy by himself as well.
And the X5 M is just all of that. We used the car as a daily commute for days in a row, putting it through all the hurdles as any other car would go to, from grocery shopping to family outings and to morning rush hours. Space wise, the X5 M fits comfortably five people and the trunk space, while not bigger than the regular X5, is more than adequate for your day-to-day activities.
Ride comfort is slightly rougher than on a standard model, but far less uncomfortable than we expected, mostly due to its computer-controlled suspension with self-leveling in the rear. The Adaptive Drive and Active Roll Stabilization systems play their role in this by quickly reacting to changing road conditions. Another interesting piece of technology in the X5 M is the FlexRay data transmission protocol, the automotive network communications protocol introduced in 2006 in the standard X5 and later made available in the F01 7 Series, and which enables the new and fast adaptive damping system.
Ohh…..did we mention the run-flat tires? Yeah, those certainly don’t help the ride quality.
But one thing that struck us the most when started the car was the absolutely exotic exhaust note. Sure, some might say the high rev engines and their exhaust note are to die for, but we certainly wouldn’t discard the X5 M, despite its quieter sound. Seconds after pushing that Start button, the M-like sound was more than obvious and we knew exactly what car we’re in. X5 M is still one of the most potent SUVs/SAVs you can buy and its throttle response is much more linear than that in the top X5 model.
The X5 M features a new power-steering system with variable mapping that is quick and scaring precise. Some say that it’s a bit too heavy for their tastes, but compared to previous BMW steering systems, this one wins by a landslide.
Now let’s move onto the race track and test some of the M characteristics of this car.
So heavy, but can be the “King” on track
Yes, yes, we know, it is heavier than any M car we ever wanted to be, but one cannot disregard its M DNA. To properly test the X5 M, we took it for a spin or two, around the race track at Autobahn Country Club of Joliet. Despite its heavy set and high center of gravity, the X5 M handles superbly on track; cornering is where the X5 M beats any other SUV out there and could even keep up with a more compact car. Its steering response and super handling somewhat remind us of a smaller M, but we won’t go as far as saying they’re a total match. Overall, cornering was a surprising experience in the X5 M and after tens of laps, we felt comfortable in pushing it even harder.
It is also worth noting that the X5 M’s xDrive system has a rear-wheel-drive bias, so that its handling and stability more closely mimics a rear-wheel-drive sedan.
The iDrive lets you program the steering wheel’s M button to customize the X5 M’s performance, and this where we started our track drive. Based on personal preferences, you can choose between sport or normal settings for both the suspension and stability control, and even select power or normal option for the engine. Shifting through the aluminum paddle shifters felt normal to us and as we rolled down the track, we browsed through the drive, sport and manual modes for fast launches.
The six-speed automatic transmission is as quick as it gets and despite our cry for a manual in this car, truth is that similar shifting results would be hard to achieve.
Not in the mood for paddle shifting? Yes, we tried that as well. Moved the X5 M to Sport mode and let it handle the shifting for us. While the fun was diminished, track times have improved for us.
But all that power needs to be controlled at times and the front 10.8 inches wide tires and 15.6 inches brake discs are doing a superb job. Of course, the rear tires and brake discs plays an equally important role: 12.4 inches wide tires with 15.2-inch discs.
After two hours on track and countless laps, we could certainly say that we did “drive it like we stole it”. And to make the test drive even more relevant to the other Ms, we had some extra fun racing against some heavily modified Z4 M and M3 race cars.
Did we win?
Clearly we haven’t, mostly because of the inexperienced driver relating this article.
“Ultimate Driving Machine” or just another gimmick?
Tough question that comes with multiples answers. First, how do we define the Ultimate Driving Machine? Are we going back in time ten, twenty years from now? If we do, the definition might not classify the BMW X5 M as the Ultimate Driving Machine. But what if we look forward, what if we look at the things the talented German engineers have achieved? Make no mistake, building a car like this is far from being an easy task. The M DNA needs to remain and there is no room for error, and without a doubt, the M Division has built a great car, despite our negative feelings towards an M SUV.
But here comes the essential question: why would one even consider this car? Well, if the reasons outlined above weren’t sufficient, someone summarized it simply in a single phrase:
“Simply a joy to drive”.
Photography by Adrian Nastase at www.AdrianNastase.com
Special mention to Mark Basso at Autobahn Country Club of Joliet.
BMW North America provided BMWBLOG this vehicle for the testing purposes.