Think of it as a concept car – a fully functional concept car. It’s the answer to a “what if” question. As in, “what if you could make an SUV drive like a sports car?”
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|1. The X5 M is powered by a twin-turbo 4.4L V8 with 555-hp and 501 ft-lbs of torque, enabling a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds!
2. Not only is it the first M SUV, but it’s the first AWD M vehicle, and uses a more sophisticated version of xDrive that not only distributes power front to rear, but side to side in the rear as well.
3. With a sticker price of $85,500, it’s easily the least expensive model in its class.
We’ll agree that the whole idea of the X5 M is ridiculous, but we’re not going to debate that issue. The reality is, there’s a market for vehicles like this and considering Porsche has been selling the Cayenne Turbo for almost a decade, it’s surprising BMW took so long to build this off-road bahn burner. Sure, Mercedes has the ML63, but that’s just not in the same league as the tossable X5 M.
SUBTLE BUT ATHLETIC GOOD LOOKS
It’s more athletically styled than the standard X5, but in true M fashion the upgrades are minimalist. Closer inspection will reveal a lower front air dam with large intakes. And those big openings aren’t cosmetic either, with intercoolers tucked behind to keep the powerful engine operating at maximum potential.
Highlights include slightly flared fenders with M-badging on the front, new side skirts, a new rear bumper with racing-style diffuser and a rear spoiler. The lower portions of both bumpers, which are normally exposed black plastic, are painted to match the rest of the SUV, which BMW says emphasizes that this is intended to be an on-road vehicle.
The X5 M also looses some of its off-road capability due to a half-inch lower ride height, with obvious benefits in on-road performance.
POWERFUL AND HIGH-TECH ENGINE LETS YOU KNOW IT’S ALIVE
Once you push the start button on the dash, it’s obvious this is no standard SUV – as the engine idles and the exhaust droans so loud you have to raise your voice if you’re standing next to it. Thankfully its much quieter inside, although the down side is the exhaust is still rather quiet when you tromp on the gas.
This is a shame because this truck moves. Sure BMW claims a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds and while that is impressive, with 501 ft-lbs of torque available from 1500 rpm, it pulls with equal ferocity at much higher speeds too.
How BMW managed to generate all that power is quite a feat of engineering and a testament to what the M guys can do. In short, the V8 uses twin-turbos, each of which have twin-scroll technology and there’s a specially designed single exhaust manifold for all cylinders. Plus, the twin-turbos sit in the valley of the V between the cylinder banks, away from where the cool air needs to come in to feed the engine, and extremely close to the exhaust manifolds to ensure the least possible lag.
MORE ADVANCED XDRIVE SYSTEM DELIVERS REAR-DRIVE DYNAMICS
Normally, with this much power, traction might be an issue, but the X5 M has AWD and as such is not only the first M SUV, but the first M to deliver power via all-four wheels.
And is it ever needed. Tromp on the gas and you can feel the behemoth try to break loose as it twitches ever so slightly while hooking up.
With the X5 M (and the X6 M), BMW took its xDrive system to new heights. In the rest of BMW’s lineup, xDrive distributes power front to rear, but in these models it gets what BMW calls Dynamic Performance Control, which then distributes power between the front and rear wheels. This becomes particularly important once you start fiddling with the M Drive.
M MODE MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE, POSSIBLE
Located on the steering wheel is the M Drive button, which can be programmed to deliver your specific M settings. To do so, just surf through the now easy-to-use iDrive menu to find the M Drive folder. There you can adjust the steering responsiveness, stiffen up the Electronic Damping Control (EDC) shocks and select an Eco or Sport mode – with the latter delivering improved throttle sensitivity and higher transmission shift points. The menu also lets you shut off dynamic stability control (DSC) – also known as activating M Dynamic Mode (MDM) – and then save all your settings. This personalized program can then be automatically called up via the M Drive button.
But be wary, as in M Dynamic Mode, the X5 M now behaves like a proper sports sedan – if a heavy one with a high center of gravity. Still, with power being sent mostly to the rear wheels, shod in massive 315/35/20 tires, it’s not hard to hang the rear-end out and drift the big SUV around corners with ease and control.
In short, it’s an absolute hoot. It has the sort of unbelievable torque that was so much missing on the old M5 sedan and gives us great hope for the future of that model. The ride is a bit stiff, but we gladly accept this one small compromise for all the added cornering ability and performance. Otherwise, the steering is direct and heavy and the big M Sports steering wheel makes you feel like you really are at home in an immensely powerful sports sedan.
AN M CAR WITH AN AUTOMATIC? BLASPHEMY!
Limiting the engine (which might just be a good thing) is the M Sports Automatic six-speed transmission. Yes, this is a slushbox – yet another reason for BMW purists to detest the X5 M.
As automatics go, its amazing, with BMW already offering the best traditional auto-boxes on the market and this special version shifting ever faster. The high-performance SUV gets paddle shifters, an “S” Sport mode, for heightened shift points, as well as an “M” mode were the transmission won’t automatically up-shift for you.
We’d prefer to see a 7-speed dual-clutch setup or perhaps BMW’s new 8-speed auto unit, which might make this beast even faster. What the 8-speed would really be good for, however, would be to help in the fuel economy department. BMW claims 12/17-mpg (city/highway), but we didn’t come close, registering around 9-mpg on average. BMW brags that the X5 M gets brake energy regeneration and an on-demand electric fuel pump, but with 555-hp you’ll be at the station looking for a premium fuel fix every few days.
Somehow BMW managed to install a launch-control system that works with the automatic transmission – or should we say, is supposed to work with. Fact is, try as we might, we never managed to get it to work.
TYPICALLY SPARTAN BMW INTERIOR, BUT A FEW NICE TECH ITEMS
Handling and performance aside, the rest of the vehicle isn’t quite as exciting. Sure the interior gets some M goodies, an 8.8-inch color monitor and a carbon-fiber type material weave, but much of the trim is standard X5 stuff and overall we were left wanting for a more luxurious cockpit – something that is true of almost all BMWs we test.
We do, however, have to give full credit to the well-bolstered M seats and it’s hard not to love the panorama glass roof despite the fact that it obviously doesn’t do anything to help lower the SUV’s center of gravity – another thing that’s sure to drive M purists to the brink of insanity.
Where BMW does have great success on the X5 M’s interior is in the technology department. Sure the M Dynamic Mode is a bit complex to figure out, but the new iDrive system introduced on the current 7 Series is a breeze to use and with independent buttons to control almost every other aspect of the car, you don’t have to love brute power and have a computer science degree to appreciate this machine.
Another great (and easy to use) tech feature is the optional Head-up display. Not only does it show vehicle speed, but once the M button is pressed, it also shows a rev counter with optimum shift times, as well as the gear currently engaged.
Those in search of added technology can find it, with options like Adaptive Headlights and High-Beam Assist. A Park Distance Control system is standard although we really think the back-up camera with Top View should be included.
But wait, there’s something the X5 M can also do that you really wouldn’t expect of a high-performance machine. That’s right, behind all that technology and engineering it still seats five with a reasonable amount of room. Sure there’s no option for a third-row like with the standard X5, but that vehicle never really had room for it either. As it stands, there’s roughly 18 cubic-feet of rear cargo room, which expands to just over 60 cu.-ft. with the second row folded flat.
With all the functionality of the standard X5, the M version doesn’t have the off-road capability, but does get all the M goodies and an outrageously powerful 555-hp engine. On paper or in a showroom it sounds like some sort of far-fetched engineering project – but it’s very real. The X5 M is a concept car come to life.
And that’s not even the best part.
While some will wonder who would buy such a turbocharged monster, both Porsche and Mercedes have already found thousands of buyers for similar models. Now, those two will no doubt see a noticeable drop in sales.
With Porsche offering the 500-hp Cayenne Turbo for $100,000, the Turbo S is a closer competitor when it comes to performance, delivering 550-hp, a 0-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds and an asking price of $126,000.
So what does BMW want for its version of the Cayenne Turbo S? Try $85,500. Yup, $40,000 less. Sure, the BMW doesn’t have near the lavish interior of the Porsche (which we really would like to see), but the savings is nothing short of drastic. In fact, you’d have so much left over you could buy a 335i Sedan.