The year was 2010 and MOTOR had arranged a comparison for the first ever M-badged SUV. Facing the newly launched E70 X5 M was the Mercedes-AMG ML63, Audi Q7 V12 TDI and a pair of Range Rovers, a Vogue and a Sport, both with the new 375kW 5.0-litre supercharged V8. As a sporting contest it was about as close as Mike Tyson versus Carl Williams (a first-round knockout for the non-boxers...). The X5 M was the quickest in a straight line, the most involving to drive and absolutely blew the rest away around Wakefield Park, seconds clear of second-quickest.
BMW purists spat in disgust at this monster; little did they know it previewed the future of M Division. Soon, all its major models will adhere to the recipe of all-wheel drive, automatic and a twin-turbo engine. So close now is the relationship between M’s SUVs and its sportier four-door models that if you like the idea of a BMW M5 but hate the fact it’s so low to the ground, then the new BMW G05 X5 M Competition is going to be right up your alley.
If the F90 M5 Competition is a dachshund, the X5 M is a Hungarian vizler; kinda the same thing, just taller. The engine is identical, a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 producing 460kW at 6000rpm and 750Nm from 1800-5800rpm. Even burdened with 2310kg, it’s a heroic engine, providing monstrous acceleration that won’t relent until you’re well beyond the legal speed limit. BMW claims 0-100km/h in 3.8sec, 0-200km/h in 13.4sec and a 290km/h top speed if you option the M Driver’s Package (250km/h otherwise). Brisk by any measure.
There’s a tad more hesitation than in the M5 – to call it lag is probably too strong – but from there the power continues to build and build. The specs suggest a peak at 6000rpm, but there’s still plenty of grunt beyond this given its appetite for the redline. It sounds good, too; smoother and more cultured than the equivalent AMG. A motorsport-spec cooling system, consisting of 10 individual coolers, keeps temperatures under control, which seems like overkill but should bring peace of mind on the school run.
What is new is the level of aggressiveness programmed into the X5 M’s transmission. Even with the drivetrain set to ‘Efficient’, enthusiastic use of the throttle injects a shot of adrenaline that quickly has the eight-speed automatic dropping gears and the engine primed for attack. It comes in handy for a quick overtake or to plug a gap in traffic, when usually you’re left waiting for the gearbox to make up its mind as the world passes it by. The auto is excellent, smooth when it needs to be and quick-shifting when you ask, its only shortcoming a tendency to deny over-optimistic downshift requests, but it’s probably better to use the torque in a higher gear anyway.
The deck is heavily stacked against any group of engineers attempting to make something this big and heavy handle with finesse, but the folks at M Division have thrown the kitchen sink at the problem. Not literally; a sink would be of no help whatsoever. Instead, there are staggered rims – 21 inches front, 22s rear – wearing massive Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres 295/35 and 315/30 respectively. Behind these sit 395mm discs gripped by six-piston calipers at the front and 380mm discs and single-piston calipers out back. In addition, there are adaptive dampers, variable assistance (and ratio) steering and active anti-roll bars.
It all works. The X5 M has a freakish level of ability for such a big vehicle, but what’s remarkable is it feels relatively natural. It has extremely quick steering, possibly too quick, but whereas in some SUVs this feels engineered in to create a faux sense of agility the BMW refuses to succumb to its weight. It has an incredible resistance to understeer and any that rears its head is easily countered with the throttle. The M xDrive system, again lifted from the M5, is rear-biased in its standard configuration and only becomes more so with its Sport mode engaged. Do not think that because the X5 M is all-wheel drive it can be driven with impunity, as it’s keen to play, as crazy as that sounds – its performance threshold is higher than every other SUV bar probably the Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
There is work required before the wheels turns a centimetre, though, as BMW sees fit to offer the driver plenty of scope for customisation. The engine, suspension and stability control each have three settings; the steering, brakes and all-wheel drive system a further two apiece; with all this controlled by a setup button in the centre console. It might sound complicated, but in M tradition, two favoured combinations of settings can be saved to the two bright red ‘ears’ on the steering wheel. There are annoyances: neither steering setting feels quite right and a choice of brake response feels redundant, made possible by the switch to brake-by-wire actuation. The juicy sounding ‘M Mode’ button also merely changes the infotainment and instrument displays.
There are plenty of positives, though, too. Road noise is quite pronounced but the ride is comfortable, there’s plenty of space and the Australian specification is absolutely loaded. Granted, $209,900 is a lot of money, but none of the three vehicles present at the launch had a single cost option fitted, despite being specced with different wheels, metallic paint, carbon interior trim and full ‘Merino’ leather interiors with contrast stitching. It’s an impressive package. The fast SUV field is a lot more talented than it was back in 2010 and it’s unlikely the X5 M retains the dynamic dominance it once enjoyed, but its breadth of talent for a vehicle of this kind means it’s almost certain to be in with a shot of remaining top dog.
2020 BMW X5M COMPETITION SPECS
Engine: 4395cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 460kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 750Nm @ 1800-5800rpm
0-100km/h: 3.8sec (claimed)
Likes: Huge pace; surprisingly playful dynamics; heaps of kit; daily usability
Dislikes: Thirst for consumables; steering cold be better
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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