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The new BMW X5M: Comprehensive upgrade to take on the competition

S. Muralidhar | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021

The new BMW X5M’s third-gen looks and feels promising. Can it now take on the biggies in the luxury performance SUV segment?

Early last month, when the world hadn’t yet been forced to lock itself up out of fear from a virus, BMW had organised an international media test drive for the new X5M and the new X6M. The location of choice for a lot of new sports utility vehicles during the last few years has been the US.

The land of Titans and Humvees, and trucks the size of apartments seems unwavering in its obsession with this vehicle body type. Oil crises, electrification of mobility, and congested metropolises don’t seem to have led buyers down the ‘downsizing’ path. I headed to Phoenix, Arizona for getting behind the wheel of one of these physics-defying mammoths.

BMW’s M division has been making souped-up, high performance versions of the brand’s regular road-going models. The X5’s two previous generations enjoyed the privilege of the M division treatment, but didn’t rock the market. They were either not special enough or maybe they were too early for their times. Now, the third generation of the X5 and its sassier counterpart - the X6 get the ‘M’ badge and seem, more than ever, to be deserving candidates. In arming these to take on opponents like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the change that makes all the difference is the V8 engine that now delivers 625hp (50 horses more than the previous generation’s), and a significant improvement in dynamics.

Power slides, after PDF

With the morning rush hour at the car allocation counter leading to a gridlock of journalists vying to get their hands on the shapelier X6M, I decided it may be a prudent choice to stay with the X5M, the one that will eventually land on Indian shores. And the only X5M at the drive was the slightly more powerful Competition model. The new X5M features the 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine with BMW’s proprietary TwinPower Turbo tech - basically two turbochargers sitting in the middle of the V8’s arms boosting its breathing abilities to deliver an emoji inducing amount of output. The engine generates 600hp of power and in the Competition model it is an even higher 625hp and 750Nm of torque. This behemoth weighing in at about 2.4-tonnes is surprisingly nimble-footed and can sprint to the ton in 3.8 seconds flat.


The servotronic steering gives the X5M Competition precise control even while cornering


What BMW’s claimed acceleration time doesn’t quite deliver, in terms of impact, is the surrealistic performance on the road. When you have to heave yourself into the seat of a full-sized SUV like the X5, you don’t really expect it to behave like a track-ready go-kart; carving corners like one and blitzing the landscape on either side on the straights. Looking around the interiors of the new X5M Competition, I don’t find any real attempt at light-weighting, save the few carbon-fibre panels adorning the dash. So, it messes with your brain when you realise that its top speed is 250kmph (electronically limited) and an even higher 290kmph in the performance pack version. Of course, driving mostly on interstate highways in and around the Phoenix area meant that I had to stick to the speed limits, a complete waste of the X5M’s potential.

But a closed off section mapped by BMW’s event team took me to a turn leading towards the low Arizona hills and gave me a small window of opportunity to experience the X5M’s remarkable road-holding, mind-bending acceleration and its immense stopping power. The 2020 X5M Competition is really built to be the perfect companion on a race track. You could notionally drive to the track in it, get your share of adrenaline there and head straight to your workplace after.

With its roaring exhaust note, which is electronically enhanced inside the cabin, it can serve up the right album while racing and also announce your arrival at the office. The servotronic steering, an ultra-stiff chassis and adaptive suspension with electronically controlled dampers gives the X5M Competition precise control even while cornering.


The servotronic steering gives the X5M Competition precise control even while cornering


On the kutcha stretches of road in the Cacti and rattle-snake infested countryside of Phoenix, there was no room for errors, but the X5M’s hardware and finely tuned dynamic abilities still inspire enough confidence in me to keep testing its, or maybe that should be ‘my limits’.

Heady performance

The V8’s output is fed to the wheels via a 8-speed M Steptronic transmission and the M xDrive all-wheel drive system. BMW engineers say that super-stiff engine mounts ensure direct transmission of power to the drivetrain. The AWD system works in tandem with an active differential at the rear axle which is already tuned for a rear bias in default four-wheel drive mode. But if you want to defy physics some more, selecting AWD sport mode will enable an even higher amount of torque being directed to the rear wheels.

In keeping with its position at the pinnacle of BMW’s performance division, the X5M is capable of offering a lot of individualisation for finding the right mix of vehicle characteristics. Changes to the transmission behaviour can be done using the Drivelogic button on the selector lever. I chose sport settings for the gearbox and left the suspension in comfort for handling the slightly broken back roads I had headed into. A setup button on the centre console allows changes to be made for the engine, dampers, steering, xDrive and even brakes, you can choose between two settings for brake feel. Two customised presets can also be stored and chosen at any time by clicking one of the red buttons on the steering wheel. If needed, you can also individualise the information thrown up on the instrument cluster and head-up display. The suspension is expectedly rigid, add to that the ride quality on low profile tyres, and you can expect it to be quite stiff and harsh while driving on Indian roads. So, despite the plush leather seats at the rear, you will feel all of the road if you are going to be chauffeured around. But then again, if you are looking for rear seat comfort, you shouldn’t be considering the X5M at all.

Wolf in sheep’s...

The 2020 X5M Competition I was driving gets a lot more visual differentiation from the regular X5. But all the versatility and practicality of the regular model is already embedded into its design. The X5M gets larger air intakes on the front fender, pixie-eared door mirrors that are a M-Division identity and kidney grilles that are surprisingly proportionately sized (compared to so many of the recent models, the X7 for example). Another M characteristic design element are the M gills on the front side panels. There are a lot of aero-optimising design bits including for the underbody. At the rear, a roof spoiler and a rear apron with diffuser give the X5M Competition a muscular, squat appearance. Two pairs of exhaust pipes sticking out of the rear fender give you a hint of what this hulk is capable of. The Competition model is also offered with two different rim sizes - 21-inches for the front and 22-inch for the rear. The specially designed M light alloys are a great complement to the vehicle’s overall design.


At the rear, a roof spoiler and an apron with diffuser give the X5M Competition a muscular, squat appearance


With the previous generation, one of the traits that seemed a bit underwhelming, for its position in the hierarchy, was the relatively similar cabin in the X5M compared to the regular model. In the new model, however, the cabin gets a lot of special additions and a general improvement in quality of materials. With a mix of double-stitched, quilted leather, brushed metal and carbon-fibre trim, the cabin has typical BMW flair and yet feels special. The seats feature tall, supportive side bolsters and broad base squabs, are perfect for long drives and, possibly, even sessions at the track. The general quality of materials used, and fit and finish is fantastic. The displays, controls, even the engine start button get typical M-Division treatment.

Sportscars beware

According to the presentation at the drive event, the X5M is supposed to be rolled out internationally starting April 2020. No updates from Munich yet about whether there will be any Coronavirus-related delays. It Is expected to make it to Indian showrooms by the middle of the year.

The 2020 model feels special and the equipment under the bonnet makes it quicker than ever before; that’s a coveted combination. I expect the X5M to be priced just below ₹2 crore.

Published on March 26, 2020
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