Source: BMW via Bloomberg
Car Reviews

The BMW X5 M Is an All-Business, American-Made Power Broker SUV: Review

$99,000 before you splash out on all the M Series necessities

Last week I drove the Range Rover Evoque. You know the one—angled like a chrome stiletto with body lines so sexy that Victoria Beckham was its spokesperson.

The BMW X5 M that I drove this week couldn't be more different. It’s rather more serious. This is a right proper SUV for adults.

I don’t want to generalize or presume or assume when it comes to characterizing cars. I try to go into each one with an open mind; I love being surprised with something unexpected about how it handles or how the interior feels, whether it’s good or bad.

But there is no denying the solemnity you encounter with high-end cars from German engineers (this one, it should be noted, is manufactured in Spartanburg, S.C.). It’s always there. It has to do with the razor-edge precision of their handling, the solidity of their smooth, minimal lines, and the generally perfect design of their components. These cars have the same effect as the lead surgeon when he walks into the operating room. Type A. Things are well in hand. Everything’s going to be OK.

The X5 M comes with a 567-horsepower V8 engine.
The X5 M comes with a 567-horsepower V8 engine.
Source: BMW via Bloomberg

Adrenaline Machine

Which is not to say the BMW X5 M is anal.

This is the $99,000 five-seat vehicle you buy when you need something big, but want that coveted M badge, BMW's demarcation of sport-tuned ferocity. (The version I drove around Manhattan and Brooklyn and Connecticut cost $116,000 because it came with upgrades. I’ll get to those later.)

Press on the gas and the X5 M will lunge forward like a pit bull on a leash. It barrels forward from all four wheels at once, gathering itself from behind and then leaning ahead from the shoulders, straining against inertia as it barks. You find yourself screaming "YES!" in your head when you floor it.

Credit that feeling to the pervasive M tuning: It’s on the M twin-turbocharged V8 engine, the 8-speed M sport automatic transmission, the M-tuned chassis and suspension, and that aforementioned AWD. Each drive mode shifts seamlessly to the next—everything in sync.

The X5 M is the biggest SUV BMW makes.
The X5 M is the biggest SUV BMW makes.
Source: BMW via Bloomberg

Compare it to the Audi SQ5 ($53,000), Mercedes G-Class ($115,000), Porsche Cayenne Turbo S ($158,000), Range Rover ($84,000), or Cadillac Escalade ($73,000). If you want brute strength and ample sporty space inside without sacrificing athleticism, it should sit at or very near the forefront of that list.

Gas Hog

This car weighs 5,200 pounds, and yeah, you feel it. But the 567-horsepower and massive torque compensate well to help push it to 60 mph in 4 seconds. That’s nearly 3 seconds faster than the regular-grade BMW X5 and just fractions slower than the $115,000 Porsche Cayenne Turbo. (The Cayenne Turbo S gets to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, if you must know.)

Thing is, you pay for the weight and the speed with loss of fuel efficiency. Combined mileage on the X5 M is only 16 mpg, and the official federal rating has it at only 14 mpg in the city.

Those are horrible statistics.

It’s 2015—there is no excuse for such poor efficiency, even from a “performance” vehicle, SUV be that as it may. Most SUVs range from 20 to 27 or so miles per gallon combined. That means if you spend $3.80/gallon and drive 15,000 miles a year, you’ll spend about $6,750 more on fuel for your X5 M than for the average new vehicle over five years, according to EPA estimates.

The instrument cluster and interior trim in the X5 M are unique to BMW's performance M line.

The instrument cluster and interior trim in the X5 M are unique to BMW's performance “M” line.

Source: BMW via Bloomberg

I get it. When you spend $100K on a car, $6,000 over several years’ time isn’t that much. But it’s important to note the inefficiency and expense nonetheless. This is one of the things where the impetus is on the automakers to improve, not the consumer.

Like a Boss

But it is a handsome devil, isn’t it? Like a cleanshaven 40-something former quarterback in a slate suit with sophisticatedly graying hair. Which is to say it looks professional, if you’re into that type.

Even better, it doesn’t look as oddly swooped as its competitor the Cayenne, and it has more personality than the Audi Q5. The kidney grilles and coolers on the front chrome frame are reassuring (yes, you’ve spent your money well, on a German luxury brand), and they combine nicely with the 21-inch M alloy wheels, high-gloss roof rails, and LED Xenon headlamps with LED fog lamps. (Don't be shy flashing those M badges along the sides and rear as you pass people. Lord knows you paid for them—$46,000 more than the non-M X5—you might as well get your money’s worth.)

Smart Design

BMW has kept the interior minimal, but lest you forget you've upgraded, the M-specific instrument cluster (more M badging) and baseboard badging help you remember. So do the unusually comfortable “M Multifunctional” seats. They’re set deep, with high side bolsters and angled shoulder sections and come with a lot of adjustment options, contrast stitching, and double lap seams.

The X5 M comes with M-tuned suspension and transmission that push it faster and more powerfully than the regular X5.
The X5 M comes with M-tuned suspension and transmission that push it faster and more powerfully than the regular X5.
Source: BMW via Bloomberg

The X5 M I drove came with the $1,900 option of blazing red Mugello merino leather covering virtually every surface in the car, except the black dash. It’s bold in a good way. Other add-ons worth the additional outlay include a heated steering wheel, ventilated and heated front and rear seats, adaptive headlights, a head-up display (with optional night vision), and a Bang & Olufsen sound system, which alone costs $3,700 extra. In short: It’s a lot of options that dramatically raise the price. Yet that ability to add bragging-rights goodies is what makes an M an M. Go all-in.

I loved the panoramic sunroof that stretched from the front to the full rear of the car—these are becoming increasingly normal in luxury SUVs—but what made it even more special was the fact that it would stop in certain stages of openness, controlling how much light you let inside.

Active blind spot detection, drive assist, and side and top view cameras fortify this like a fortress, too. (The latter are much better than industry standard.)

Compare the X5 M to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and the Mercedes G-Wagon.
Compare the X5 M to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and the Mercedes G-Wagon.
Source: BMW via Bloomberg

But the shifter (drive, neutral, reverse) can take a moment to appreciate—the car has to be in drive for you to engage the parking brake and walk away. If you leave the car in neutral and throw on the parking brake, it won’t allow you to lock the car. Alternatively, the car doesn’t creep forward in first gear nearly as easily as other cars. You know that thing we do in traffic when we let our foot off the brake and expect our car to crawl forward? The X5 M doesn’t do that—you actually have to give it gas. It’s not a bad thing, just different.

But that, really, is the point of this car. It is different from the smaller, more chic (and expensive) crossovers suited to late nights in cosmopolitan centers that we’ve seen lately. Let the supermodels have their fun in those. The X5 M is for business.

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