While you might think a combination like this would be as disastrous as a figure-skating bodybuilder, it's nothing of the sort. The X5 M proves once again that if you're willing to spend enough money — it starts at $85,500 — there's really nothing you can't have. In this case, what you get is crossover space and versatility — including a 6,000-pound towing capacity — with moves and power reminiscent of a sports car.
In short, the X5 M is everything enthusiast drivers could want in a crossover but never thought they could have.
A More Muscular X5
The X5 M's styling is more aggressive than the regular X5's, but the changes have been tastefully integrated into the overall design. One thing that might be deemed a little over-the-top is the front end, which is punctuated by gaping, mesh-covered vents for enhanced engine and brake cooling.
Otherwise, changes are subtle. The lower-body cladding that's black on the regular X5 is body-colored here, and there are new M turn-signal indicators in the front fenders. Around back are the quad tailpipes that are characteristic of M cars. The standard 20-inch wheels with high-performance run-flat tires are indeed large, but they don't look excessively so thanks to the overall size of this crossover; combined with the X5 M's 10-millimeter-lower suspension, they fill out the wheel wells nicely.
Going & Stopping
You'd never suspect the X5 M is powered by a 555-hp V-8 if you were simply riding along running errands, because it behaves like any luxury crossover would in that situation. Acceleration from a stop is smooth, without any of the noise that often accompanies high-performance engines. Stops are just as ordinary, as the brakes — which feature 15.6-inch front discs gripped by four-piston fixed calipers and 15.2-inch rear discs with single-piston floating calipers — aren't grabby in the least.
You start to get a glimpse of this crossover's performance potential on the highway, where you soon realize that interstate speed limits are painfully slow when you have so much power available at just a prod of the gas pedal. Conversations about vehicles that need to be driven on a racetrack to be fully experienced are usually limited to sports cars, but the X5 M falls into this category, too. You'll pay for this performance at the gas pump, as the X5 M gets an EPA-estimated 12/17 mpg city/highway and, not surprisingly, uses premium gas.
I was particularly impressed with the clutchless-manual mode incorporated into the X5 M's six-speed automatic transmission. Nudging the gear selector forward or backward results in a quick downshift or upshift. The system's swift response makes it more engaging than most, which tend to be slow to react. A manual transmission isn't offered.
The X5 M's exhaust note is a little odd. It doesn't have the typical rumble of a V-8, but instead has the sound of a high-revving V-10. That's explained by its unique exhaust manifold, which features four equal-length runners connecting pairs of cylinders on separate banks.
Ride & Handling
One of my main criticisms of the regular X5, which was redesigned for the 2007 model year, is its regular suspension doesn't offer the balance between ride comfort and handling prowess that I've come to expect from BMW. Sure, the X5 is quite a bit larger than a 3 Series, but I would have thought BMW could have worked its magic on it nonetheless. Unfortunately, the X5 delivers a ride that's overly firm, paired with unexceptional handling. I had to toss those impressions out the window after driving the X5 M; the characteristic BMW-ness that was missing from the regular X5 has been unearthed here.
Perhaps the standard Adaptive Drive adaptive suspension, which is an option on the regular X5, played a part. The X5 M's ride quality is very forgiving despite its large wheels and low-profile tires, and it exhibits very little body roll when driven hard through turns. It's this combination of comfortable suspension tuning for everyday driving and poise when cornering that's partly why BMWs are as revered as they are in enthusiast circles, and the X5 M continues that legacy.
The crossover's M Drive feature allows drivers to customize the characteristics of the throttle, transmission and electronic stability system — among other things — via a menu on the standard iDrive system's screen. Once you've made your selections, they can quickly be recalled by pressing the M button on the right side of the steering wheel. It's a quick and easy way to change the character of the X5 M if you find yourself on a winding road and want to push it a little.
The M button also controls how much effort it takes to turn the steering wheel. There's quite a bit of assistance in normal driving, so you don't have to exert yourself. Steering response is good, but like in the regular X5 there's not a lot of feedback. If you have M Drive configured for the system's Sport mode, though, steering effort notably increases when you press the M button, which gives you steering feel that's closer to the BMW norm. The extra effort felt appropriate for sporty driving, but considering this is a crossover that likely won't be driven hard all the time, it's nice to have the more relaxed mode available.
Cabin Design & Roominess
In keeping with BMW tradition of late, the X5 M's cabin is somewhat austere. High-grade materials are used, including great-looking available woven leather trim that looks like carbon fiber. BMW calls it Carbon Leather. Still, there aren't a lot of frills to distract from the driving experience.
The front M sport seats are finished in leather and include 14-way adjustment and a memory feature for the driver's seat, steering wheel and side mirrors. The seat cushioning is firm but comfortable, though I was a bit surprised the wide seats didn't offer greater side bolstering; this is an M car, after all. The thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped M steering wheel is great to hold onto.
The backseat is spacious, with good legroom even when the front seat is adjusted for a taller driver. The seat cushion, however, is low to the floor, which means taller passengers will sit with their knees raised. That doesn't translate to much thigh support. The backseat isn't adjustable, either, so you can't slide it forward or backward or recline the backrest. The regular X5 can have an optional third row that increases seating capacity to seven, but that feature isn't offered in the X5 M.
The cargo area measures 35.8 cubic feet with the backseat up and 75.2 when it's folded. That's similar to the Land Rover Range Rover's cargo space, but notably more than what the Porsche Cayenne offers. That's enough space to pile four golf bags behind the backseat for a trip to the course. When the backseat is folded, the extended cargo floor is nearly flat — there's just a slight incline to it — and there aren't any gaps in the floor or protrusions that could catch a piece of luggage as you slide it in.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags for both rows, and active front head restraints.
For a full list of safety features, check out the Standard Equipment & Specs page.
X5 M in the Market
Purists might grumble about the revered M badge spreading to BMW's crossovers, but as other manufacturers have shown, there's money to be made in high-performance SUVs; you need only look at Mercedes-Benz's lineup of AMG SUVs or high-powered versions of the Porsche Cayenne to realize that.
Whether or not the X5 M ruffles feathers within M-enthusiast circles, it's sure to shake things up in the high-performance SUV category. It's extremely well-executed, blending everyday drivability with remarkable performance.
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