Over 400kW in an SUV? Yes, please...
Over 400kW in an SUV? Yes, please...
Words: Karl Peskett Photos: www.OzCarSightings.com
When the big blue beast fills your rear-vision mirror, there will be no mistaking it for a garden-variety BMW X5. Two huge openings in the outsides of the front bar reveal intercoolers behind them, hinting at the X5 M's potential. Below them sits a jawline that wouldn't be out of place on a champion boxer, with aggressive prongs jutting out on each side - in fact, the entire bumper is shared with BMW's other ICBM, the BMW X6 M.
It doesn't stop at the front, either. Flared wheel arches house massive 20-inch wheels, with 275mm tyres up front and a colossal 315mm set on the rear. The rear bar is also lowered and scalloped, cutting away at the bottom to reveal the four exhaust pipes which convey so much of the X5 M's character. Yes, it's the sound that really impresses.
This M has a deep bellowing growl that sounds nothing like its naturally aspirated V8 brethren. The M3 has a crisp, wailing roar, sounding exactly like a V8 should at lower RPM, while it gets better and more trumpet-like as it spins to over 8000rpm. The X5 M’s is completely different, due in part to its two turbochargers which alter its acoustics. It's more of a warbly, horizontally-opposed-style sound, with a distinctive thumping beat that ascends very quickly as you flex your right foot.
With 4.4-litres of capacity and two, twin-scroll turbochargers, the X5 M will crank out 408kW and a massive 680Nm from just 1500rpm. You can feel it, too. This SUV will haul from 0-100km/h in just 4.7 seconds - that makes it the equal quickest SUV on sale in Australia today, a title it shares with Porsche's much more expensive (and smaller) Cayenne Turbo. Because peak torque is delivered from such a low rpm, the X5 M is fantastically tractable, pulling in sixth gear by just breathing on the accelerator. In fact on part throttle, its drivability is brilliant, as it's a sinch to thread through gaps in the traffic with its near instant response.
We say "near instant" because there's a hint of softness as the turbos spool up – we’re talking milliseconds here - but for the size of the engine and for having two snails hanging off it, it’s effectively lag-free. As you paddle through the ratios there’s a fantastic, deep “whump!” from the exhaust and a hefty shove as the car whacks in the next gear behind the engine. Alternatively, you can just leave it in Sport mode. The beauty is Sport mode downshifts as you brake, setting the car up for the next corner with a lower ratio ready to go. It's so intelligent that after using it for a while, we left the paddles alone, and just let the automatic think for us. Sport mode also keeps the revs up, always maintaining boost for the two turbochargers nestled in the banks of the V-configuration.
But the automatic is has a split personality. Sport will whack each gear in, making for very quick changes, yet in normal mode, it's as smooth and seamless as any six-speed should be. Driving it normally, you'd be forgiven if you couldn't feel the changes, nor detect what kind of engine lurks under the bonnet. Perfect for keeping the drive smooth and the family happy.
Although it launches harder than any other SUV you would have ever felt (and will have you giggling like a four-year-old) it piles on speed in such a linear fashion that it's hard to keep track of how quick it actually is. And it's the top end where your eyes will be wide open. It does not let up. Ever.
Let off the leash of ludicrously low speed limits, the X5 M will run to its speed limiter with no effort at all. We saw 240km/h on test, yet it still kept pulling. It's a good thing, then, that it comes equipped as standard with a Head Up Display, keeping your eyes firmly focussed on the road in front of you, while being able to check your speed in a millisecond. Really, the HUD should be standard fare on any performance car; kudos to BMW for including it on its M cars.
And another M feature, the M button on the steering wheel, allows for personalised settings to come into play once it's pressed. You can set it to default to the Sport setting which opens the exhaust up and allows the maximum decibel level to bounce off walls and echo between city buildings. Oh yes, you will accelerate again and again just to hear it, and to watch bystander’s jaws drop as the bright-blue bullet of a barge rockets up the street.
There’s nothing more satisfying than blowing the doors off some cocky, pimple-faced P-plater in their “worked” SS Holden Commodore in a ginormous 2.3-tonne luxury SUV. But the acceleration is only part of it. Its grip and handling are so impressive that it's only when you've gone for a drive that you start to understand.
We pitted the X5 M against a Nissan 370Z on a country run at, ahem, interesting speeds. Through the long sweeping bends and undulating terrain, the 370Z would turn in sharply, but the suspension and tyres struggled to keep up with the constant direction changes, leading to a nervous, floaty feeling. The BMW, on the other hand, was flowing from bend to bend, anchored to the blacktop and begging you to go faster, soaking up imperfections and dispatching distance with such distain you'd be forgiven for thinking you were travelling a lot slower than you actually are.
I'm struggling to think of any other four-wheel-drive that you can get sideways in the dry - let alone one with 315mm rear tyres - but the X5 M ticks that box if you've got the space and the cast iron cajónes to match. It's rear-biased, and sort of feels like a tall Gallardo in its handling. The big Beemer's steering helps your confidence, too, with plenty of feel and excellent weight. Turn in isn't as sharp as the car's acceleration lends you to believe, with the first few degrees not yielding much yaw, but once more lock is applied it delivers a heft that couples with feedback to live up to the M badge. You soon realise that the steering is actually very accurate, with the perfect ratio for parking, city driving and track work (if that's your thing). If it is, then the X5 M will handle it, pardon the pun.
Even the ride is excellent. It's stiff, but we had the opportunity to really test it, with a passenger who had just undergone a hernia operation. The ride was compliant enough that he didn't bust a gut, if you get my drift.
The brakes particularly deserve special mention. Behind those gorgeous wheels sit massive rotors with whopping calipers that clamp down time and time again with zero fade. You'd think that after hauling up 2305kg over and over they'd give up the ghost, but not so. The pedal's feel and travel remain consistent no matter what you throw at them.
But the X5 M is not without practicality. There's heaps of space for all five passengers; foot, leg and head room for the rear row being particularly good, while the boot is just enormous - 620 litres is nothing to be sneezed at. There are also elastic straps which cover half the boot's sides, enabling the carrying of shopping, sports gear, or whatever you want not to roll around while you're carving up the corners. We packed the family into the car for a week and there were no complaints from anyone. Rather, cries of "Go faster, Daddy!" were shouted from the back row.
The seats are altogether brilliant in their support and bolstering, not to mention the perfect driving position. The chunky steering wheel also features stitching in the M colours, a nice little touch. It also comes equipped with just about everything - HDD high res nav, digital TV, DVD, automatic lights, wipers and mirrors, carbon-fibre trim, heated seats, self-levelling and turning headlights, a deep dual-lidded glovebox, reversing camera and the best touch - an overhead-view camera. This allows you to see each side of the car so you won't kerb your 20-inch wheels, as well as helping you park equidistant in between the white lines of parking spots.
Its as well specced as you'd like, so what's the catch? Well, if there was a black mark, it would have to be how much 98RON the X5 M likes to drink. At best it was 14 litres/100km and at worst 27.5L/100km. It averaged somewhere in between. But I guess if you can afford the car, you can afford the fuel.
If you can afford the car, you're going to be one very happy chappy. The ride is certainly firm, but it's not harsh (the electronic damping switch doesn't really do much, though), it's got enough room, it's comfortable, it handles and brakes like a big Mitsubishi Evo, and it shoves you into your seat quicker than you can say "408kW and 680Nm". The X5 M's sound will have you addicted, while there's still plenty of toys to play with.
And, if like our test car, you option the sun blinds for the rear doors, you've got the most perfect, most excessive family car money can buy.
The biggest hassle I had this week was trying to pry the keys from my wife's hands. Oh, and trying to ignore the calls of "Go faster, Daddy!"
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