– Unbeatable handling
– Ridiculous engine
– Practical interior
– Beatable on sand
– Not as quick as expected
– Looks mildly sportier
Time and again, we’ve mentioned that the BMW X5 is the best-handling 4×4 trucklet we’ve ever driven. While it can’t handle sand worth a damn, it can honestly take on all sorts of wannabe sports sedans on the tarmac. BMW also mentioned many years ago that they’ll never make an ‘M’ version of vehicles that are too big to be sporting, so it came as a surprise that, just a few years later, they went back on their word and created the BMW X5 M. How in the world could they make the best-handling SUV in the world handle even better?
Of course, the handsome X5 M doesn’t really need to handle a whole lot better to convince would-be buyers. It simply has to look the part, to do justice to the more powerful engine that an ‘M’ is predictably fitted with. And the X5 M does certainly look racy, with its larger bumper intakes, mild side skirts, rear bumper vents, integrated exhaust tips and big 20-inch alloy wheels. However, to the untrained eye, it looks almost similar to the “M Sport” package that BMW offers to owners of regular X5 models.
The interior, yet again, is typical BMW. The straightforward dashboard, the premium leather padding, and the bits of metal trim, all are exactly like in lower-spec X5 models. The only noticeable upgraded bit is the thick-rimmed steering wheel with proper paddle-shifters instead of simple knobs.
Even the red leather seats seem rather regular, although they do the job, with decent bolstering and full power adjustability. Cabin space is optimum, with good legroom both front and back. But while rear space is excellent, climbing on isn’t too elegant with the lack of side-steps. There are four covered cup-holders and some door pockets for small items, while the luggage area out back is sizeable. Only the top half of the rear two-piece tailgate is powered, with a manual bottom half. The cargo area can be expanded by folding down the rear seatback, while there is also a useful compartment under the load floor thanks to the lack of a third-row seat or even a spare wheel. The X5 runs on run-flat tyres.
The X5 M has almost every possible gadget from BMW’s catalogue. Our tester had intelligent keyless entry and starter button, iDrive computer with TV and navigation, working Bluetooth phone, cruise control, electronic gear shifter, a digital climate control system with vents and controls for rear passengers, heads-up display, parking sensors with a reverse camera with direction lines, opening panoramic glass roof, side-mounted cameras, front and side-curtain airbags, xenon headlights that swivel in the direction of travel, and an excellent booming stereo with buttons on the dash as well as the steering wheel, along with a USB port and a CD changer. The a/c obviously worked well during our rainy-weather March testing, while the rotary-controlled iDrive is getting easier to use with every generational update.
The X5 M is powered by a turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 monster of a motor that makes 555 hp at 6000 rpm, and 680 Nm of torque from only 1500 rpm all the way to 5650 rpm, all fed through a 6-speed automatic to an all-wheel-drive system. Predictably, acceleration is brutal from any speed. With the throttle pressed, it simply will not stop accelerating until it reaches its limited top speed of 250 kph, and it will do so without drama. Ironically, in our 0-100 kph test, we got an unremarkable time of 6 seconds flat, rather than the advertised 4.7 seconds, and that too in cool weather. This was even slower than the X6 xDrive50i we tested a year before. We later trolled through the internet and found out that the understated M button on the steering wheel was to turn on sportier throttle and transmission settings, and not a ‘mute’ button for the stereo. Were we really expected to read an inch-thick instruction manual for a 3-day test drive? We briefly tried out this ‘M’ mode within the city, and all it seemed to do was make first-gear response jumpier. We would’ve liked to try out this further, but then we had to return the car that morning, and BMW has since refused to give us the car again, so screw that.
This X5 notably has the first true automatic gearbox ever in an M model, skipping the tradition of semi-auto dual-clutch or even real-clutch manual gearboxes. However, while BMW is breaking its own rules for the M brand, this automatic shifts gears as instantly as any dual-clutch doohickey when using the big paddle shifters. But while we never even found sport mode, it still managed to burn fuel at an even 20.0 litres/100 km, about as bad as a Toyota Land Cruiser.
We did find the settings for the adaptive suspension though, but you’d have to be blessed with a sensitive butt to feel the difference between ‘normal’ and ‘sport’ modes. They all ride firmly, with almost no discernible body roll. While we can’t say how much better it handles than a regular X5, needless to say any X5 is already ridiculously agile for their size. Fitted with super-wide 275/40 front and 315/35 rear rubbers on 20-inch wheels, it is nearly impossible to squeal the tyres unless you try to take sharp U-turns like a Z4 roadster. The steering is sharp, moderately weighted and somewhat communicative. And the brake discs are bigger than extra-large pizzas. In short, this 2425-kilo sumo wrestler can dance like a fat ballerina.
On the comfort front, wind and road noise are kept within acceptably low levels. The ride is somewhat firm, but still smooth enough on most roads to retain its “luxury” tag. Hitting potholes or gravel can be a bit jarring, but that’s the price to pay for low-profile tyres and sporty handling. But gravel is about as much dirt as the X5 M can handle. Based on our not-so-good sandy experiences with the regular X5, we didn’t even bother taking this lowered “crossover” for any real offroading.
It needs to be said that the BMW X5 M is a far cry from our own M Roadster. While the big SUV doesn’t mesh with the ‘M’ philosophy of old, it does manage to be ridiculously clinical in what it is supposed to do. Also, given its ostentatious demeanour, there is definitely a market for these super-trucklets in this region.
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