The first BMW SUV – or Sports Activity Vehicle, as Bavaria chooses to market them – debuted in 1999. The BMW X5 brought the sporty handling and premium appointments of a BMW sedan to a new market. This market prizes ground clearance and cargo capacity above all else, and that’s why it didn’t take long for a whole family of BMW SAVs to crop up within a decade. Today, with almost a dozen variants and even full M versions, SUV shoppers are spoiled for choice. Considering your first (or next) BMW SUV? We’re here to help.
Compact SAVs: BMW X1 Through X4
The most affordable and most compact BMW SAV is the BMW X1. With a redesign for 2023, it now boasts an astoundingly modern interior, tons of standard driver aids, and lots of usable interior space. Much more capable than the (apparently) now-defunct X2, it only falls slightly short of the X3 in terms of total cargo capacity (57.2 vs. 62.7 cubic feet) while remaining almost 9 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower. Considering the upgraded iDrive 8 software and standard all-wheel drive, the BMW X1 is an excellent SAV buy and not a significant downgrade from the X3.
The most significant advantage of the BMW X3 and its Sports Activity Coupe counterpart, the BMW X4, is the M40i trim. These powerhouses get a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six good for 382 horsepower. They sound great and look great, and the X3 offers a bit more space everywhere than the X1. The X4 is a purely stylistic buy, providing less space than the X1 and a significantly higher price tag. The X3 and X4 also get a full M treatment in the X3 M and X4 M, and are definitely the enthusiast’s choice. Though they ride a little stiff, the potent powertrains more than make up for it.
Larger Than Life: BMW X5, X6, and X7
The BMW X5 carries on its heritage well and just got a refresh for the 2024 model year. Now you’ve got iDrive 8, the curved display, a slimmer shifter, and modern styling that remains pretty inoffensive. There’s no longer the option for three rows of seats, but you get 3 more cubic feet of storage space than you do in the X3. You’ll also get more spacious rear seats while sacrificing just a hair of front seat space. Another huge advantage of the 2024 X5 is a towing capacity of up to 7,200 pounds with the factory hitch, more than the X3’s 4,400 pounds.
The X6 is the Sports Activity Coupe version of the X5 and offers most of the same amenities. One notable advantage is that the M Sport Package comes standard, adding some attitude. Both the X5 and the X6 have available V8-powered variants, the X5 M60i and X6 M60i. These use the same engine from the full-blown M model (X5 M and X6 M), so they sound fantastic and pull strong. The X5 and X6 are great choices for people that need more space than the X3 and X4 can provide – or crave a V8 engine.
At the top of the food chain is the three-row X7, the largest SAV BMW offers. It does everything the smaller SAVs a bit, well, bigger, even offering second-row captain’s chairs for a rich passenger experience. It tows 300 pounds more than the X5, too. Plus, you’ll find it’s offered with the same V8 engine as the M models in the X5 and X6. The X7 looks vastly different from the other Sports Activity Vehicles thanks to a redesign. Is it a good look? That’s up to you to decide.
Electrification and the BMW SAV: X5e, iX, and XM
Shoppers looking for EV and hybrid offerings will be pleasantly surprised. The 2024 BMW X5 xDrive50e offers up to 40 miles of range on a full charge – very competitive – and up to 516 pound-feet of torque. It’s a seriously standout choice in the segment, even against tough competition like the Genesis GV70, Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid, and Volvo XC90 Recharge. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a PHEV SAV.
The iX was BMW’s first EV, and my BMW iX review acknowledged its radical achievements. It’s one of the best-driving EVs – and BMWs – for sale today. Though packaging has changed a lot since I drove it due to supply chain constraints, it’s still easy to recommend in the EV space. There aren’t many downsides, and few competitors – especially if you exclude Tesla – can match the driving experience.
Finally, there’s the XM. When we took the XM for a drive, it fell short of expectations. We’re not the only ones who felt that way, either. It is currently the most expensive BMW available and does offer some bespoke touches you can’t find elsewhere in the lineup. And it isn’t actually a bad vehicle. But price-conscious shoppers will probably find what they need elsewhere.
Here are some of the pros of each SAV:
- X1: Pros: Affordable, efficient, good handling.
- X3: Pros: Good balance of performance and luxury, available with M40i trim.
- X5: Pros: Luxurious, spacious, available with V8 engine.
- X6: Pros: Stylish, sporty, available with V8 engine.
- X7: Pros: Very spacious, luxurious, available with V8 engine.
- X5 xDrive50e: Pros: Efficient, good range, available with M Sport Package.
- iX: Pros: Luxurious, powerful, good range.
- XM: Pros: Powerful, luxurious, bold styling.