It’s 43 degrees outside, the sun is making life difficult even with the air-con at maximum blast, and we're flowing with traffic at 100km/h (maybe that’s in miles, no time to check now) down highway 15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The BMW X5 M seems like it’s having a quiet nap, waiting to be prodded with the right foot.
There’s a BMW 7 Series Alpina B7 in front and a new Porsche Cayenne Turbo on the right. It’s just a typical day on the great American highway. The land of the free, and – at least for the moment - the very hot.
There’s something about the X5 M that sets it apart as a proper sports car, not just a glorified and fast SUV. It looks angry and it sounds even better. If it were a celebrity, it would have the body of Dwayne Johnson, the acting chops of Michael Fassbender, the smarts of Garry Kasparov and the efficiency of a German… umm, let's forget about that one.
Unlike offerings from rival German powerhouse AMG, the X5 M has the dynamic capability to be a track car, if the owner is mad enough. On that same note, it’s the first BMW M car that outdoes its equivalent and far more expensive offering from Porsche, the Cayenne Turbo (comparison here).
Lost in thought for just those few seconds, the Alpina has pulled away. Never has a 7 Series accelerated so fast. The Cayenne Turbo is following in pursuit and the only thing left to do is grin, and stretch the right foot.
All engine and suspension settings are dialled up to Sport+, each gearshift resonates through the cabin like a Panzerbüchse hunting down its prey. My wife is asleep in the car. The X5 M is so unbelievably smooth, she hasn’t noticed I am cutting down our journey time to Vegas in half. I am sure she won’t mind.
The flowing red leather interior wrapping the sports seats is supple and beautiful. There’s an extreme sense of coherence inside, lacking in many modern cars today. Nothing exists without a purpose. There’s no need to show off, the X5 M is the 10th Dan supreme grand master of its class; its weaponry is always there, but seldom does it get challenged.
With 423kW of power and 750Nm of torque, the BMW’s 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 heart is unrivalled. Even Porsche’s larger V8 can’t match it for power. This shows as the Cayenne disappears in the rear-view mirror. The speedo is probably in miles.
There’s a bark, the 8-speed ZF transmission has hit 6th and the engine is not letting up, there’s so much torque it’s starting to become a little ridiculous. Who said cars are becoming dull? What world do we live in where an SUV as large as X5 M is faster from 0-100km/h (4.2 seconds) than James Bond’s Aston Martin DBS?
Alas, we're now in Las Vegas. Not sure when it happened, but we are here already. The 480km journey mostly drains the X5’s 85L fuel tank, but it’s worth every cent. It’s time to engage comfort mode.
The X5 M becomes an X5, just sharper. Much sharper. As an SUV, the X5 is brilliant. There’s plenty of room inside for families of four or even five, and the boot can take tons of baggage and a large pram. The build quality is top-notch. But it does have one problem: it’s still an X5.
Why buyers pick a Porsche Cayenne Turbo over the X5 M is simple, it’s wearing a Porsche badge and there’s fewer of them.
If Porsche had the X5 M as a standalone model, it would cost another $80,000 and no one would even bat an eyelid. It’s a better car in all regards. Alas, that’s brand snobbery at work.
In Australia, the BMW X5 M costs $185,900. I could tell you how much it costs in the United States, but you’d only cry. Okay… it’s $99,695.
Blame BMW Australia if you want, but the fact of the matter is, Australian models are subject to almost $30,000 in luxury car tax. They also come with more standard kit than the American models, and have to be specifically modified for our market’s unique design requirements.
Actually, taking out the LCT and considering the current exchange rate, the American X5 M cost about $138,000 AUD. Consider the extra shipping costs and additional standard kit, and all of a sudden the $157,000 non-LCT price of the local car seems pretty reasonable. So you can stop sulking now.
Alas, the question remains, why would you buy an X5 M instead of a regular one? Well, because if you have the means to, you should. Sometimes in life, having the best is uncompromising. Sometime in life, you go with the heart.
This is currently the world’s fastest SUV. The Tesla Model X will outdo it in a few months (0-100km/h in 3.3 seconds) but for now, it can take your family on a great relaxing holiday or scare the hell out of a supercar from a standstill. It doesn’t come more versatile than that.
Having driven its mechanically identical but frumpy cousin, the X6 M, on a racetrack at full blast (review here), I can tell you it’s surprisingly fast, and grippy as hell.
The downside of driving in America is that the roads and highways are mostly straight. Corners are a rarity. Thankfully, the amazing roads heading from Vegas out to the Grand Canyon proved beyond a shadow of doubt the X5 M is brilliant dynamically.
It comes to a point where the physics start getting a little murky. It doesn’t lean when pushed hard into a corner, yet it doesn’t understeer. It’s comfortable, yet remarkably precise even on rough roads.
On the upside, the Americans enjoy rather cheap fuel, which was a blessing as we filled her up for the return drive. My wife suggested we leave Vegas only a few hours before the flight out of Los Angeles, since the initial journey didn’t take as long as Apple maps had suggested. I didn’t argue.