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2020 BMW X5 M Competition review

By Georg Kacher, 14 Mar 2020 Reviews

BMW X5M Competition review feature

An amazing performer, for a different age

THE BMW X5 M Competition and its companion, the X6 M Competition Coupe, are steadfast supporters of the high-performance combustion engine. The solitary battery feeds exclusively the starter motor. The art of hybridisation has yet to be embraced by the M division.

Also conspicuous by their absence here are other items often found in oversexed soft-roaders, such as air suspension (not sporty enough), rear-wheel steering (weight, complexity), adaptive aerodynamics (allegedly no need) and carbon-ceramic brakes (packaging constraints).

The drivetrain has proved its worth in the M5. In Competition guise, the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 revs to 7000rpm and produces 466kW at 6000rpm – up 37kW from the previous-generation engine – and 750Nm from a subtly growling yet commendably sudden 1800rpm to a phonetically dense and usefully lofty 5800rpm.

Mated to the high-revving V8 is BMW’s trademark fast-acting eight-speed Steptronic transmission with three operating modes, while the AWD system combines a fully variable front-rear torque distribution and active side-to-side torque split at the rear. Most of the time, the X5 M travels in rear-drive; only when it approaches the limit of adhesion do the front wheels grab some of the momentum. Locking xDrive in Sport stimulates tail-happiness, which can be further enhanced by selecting M Dynamic mode or by deactivating DSC altogether.

Inspired by marketing’s inherent search for fresh frivolities, the driver can choose from various steering, brake and suspension calibrations, but anything beyond Comfort in the latter requires a painkiller or two on less than perfect roads because of the unforgiving nature of the dampers and hyper-stiff 295/35 R21 and 305/30 R22 Michelin tyres.

Like most BMWs, the high-end SUV twins indulge in multiple-choice ergonomics that land somewhere between confusion and enlightenment. The commendably advanced voice control could replace most of the buttons and switches, but instead the X5 M continues to inform and distract the driver with a maze of displays, knobs, thumbwheels and touchscreens. The sheer number of available interfaces is too much of a good thing, but mercifully the red M buttons can be programmed to disable start-stop and the most interfering assistance systems.

Standard luxury equipment includes laser lights, heated and ventilated massage seats, sunroof, music by Bowers & Wilkins, TV, soft-close doors and double glazing.

MOTOR opinion: We think it's time for a Performance SUV of the Year test

The X6 M, which costs $4000 more than its boxier brother, can put away one less suitcase and is design-wise even more of an acquired taste.

However, the dynamic talents of the X5 on steroids make the mind boggle. Acceleration from 0-100km/h takes just 3.8sec, top speed is 291km/h, and the big beast will stop from 100km/h in just 32.2 metres (even eclipsing the M5 sedan thanks to the extra bite of the wider tyres). However, while the four exhaust tailpipes look imposing, the top-of-the-line X5 sounds more like puberty vocal change.

At 2385kg, its mass and inertia make tyres squeal under hard braking and even harder cornering. Give her stick and the brakes will steam at the foot of a long, rapid descent, while the V8 burns fuel at the rate of an open fire.

The X5 M Competition justifies ultimate driving machine status with a number of merits. The engine spreads torque over a wider rev range than most of its challengers, throttle response is sharp but not jerky, the adaptive transmission does not really depend on driver inputs to deliver, grip abounds almost irrespective of corner radius or surface quality, the handling is neutral and the car follows the chosen line in a fuss-free and stable yet admirably dynamic manner. Switch off DSC and there is almost always enough grunt on tap for second- or third-gear slides. 

But there are downsides. Stiff tyre sidewalls destroy the low-speed ride, the steel brakes do not match the stamina of carbon-ceramic rotors, the steering could do with a more relaxed high-speed calibration, and the software that governs the multi-stage transition from glide to slide interferes early and in ragged steps. Not to mention the bewildering instrument graphics, the overstuffed centre stack and busy steering-wheel controls, all of which look great in the brochure yet lack a Kimi-style leave-me-alone exit mode.

Let off the leash, this thing reels in tarmac like a grotesquely overweight greyhound, but it is questionable value at $210K.

Engine: 4395cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 466kW @ 6000rpm 
Torque: 750Nm @ 1800-5800rpm
Weight: 2310kg    
0-100km/h: 3.8sec (claimed)
Price: $209,900

Likes: Lusty engine; slick auto; luxury appointments; handling
Dislikes: Harsh ride; brake performance; too many modes; electronic interference; graphics; excessive controls

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars