The BMW X5 M was one of the pioneers of the super-fast SUV segment, but cars like this are still an engineering marvel. How anyone can make a 2.3-tonne lump of metal slip through the air like a teardrop – even though it has the aerodynamic efficiency of a block of flats – boggles the mind.
And then you look under the bonnet and discover what’s been done to counteract the laws of physics.
The all-new, third-generation 2020 BMW X5 M is capable of epic acceleration – even though it weighs more than a Toyota HiLux ute – thanks to a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 with a phenomenal amount of power.
With outputs of 460kW and 750Nm paired to an eight-speed auto and all-wheel drive, it can do the 0–100km/h sprint in a Porsche-like 3.8 seconds – 0.4 seconds faster than its predecessor.
We tested the 0–100km/h claim and in fact snuck under this figure (3.76 seconds) time after time. We conducted so much, er, research that we nearly ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere during the preview drive. Fortunately, we made it to the nearest town on fumes after driving the last 20km with the instruments showing 0km range remaining.
It’s at about this point I wrote in my notebook “needs a bigger petrol tank”. Having done a quick online search, it seems I’m not alone with this view. At highway speeds, the BMW X5 M can in theory travel 600km between refills. But having spoken to owners of current models, they claim they’re lucky to get 350km out of a tank around town and, no doubt, while occasionally exploring the engine’s potential.
This is the price one must pay for moving such a large mass at such an incredible velocity, regardless of what badge is on the bonnet.
To keep the epic engine cool, BMW has fitted a front apron with massive air intakes. In fact, there’s more mesh than there is bumper to help feed air to the 10 coolers fitted on, or under, the car.
Assisting with cornering grip are massive wheels and tyres – 22 inches in diameter and 315mm wide on the back, and 21 inches in diameter and 295mm wide up front (in tyre geek speak: 315/30R22 and 295/35R21).
Our test cars were equipped with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres, but Pirelli rubber is also available. Customers don’t get a choice. They get whatever the car comes with as it’s delivered from the US factory. So, if you’re fussy and want the Michelin tyres (every car on the preview drive had them, if you want to interpret that as an indication of which is the better of the two), it would be worth asking the dealer nicely if they can swap them with someone else’s yet-to-be-delivered car that has the Michelins fitted.
Bringing all this mass to a stop are six-piston calipers clamping 395mm discs up front, and rather small floating calipers for the 380mm discs at the rear. We know front brakes do most of the work, but surely BMW could put a four-piston caliper on the rear, even just for show? The puny floating rear calipers are one example of weight-saving that may have been a step too far.
Nevertheless, the claimed stopping distance from 100km/h is just 32m. This, too, is Porsche territory. And, presumably, why the bean-counters won the fight for a cheap rear caliper. It stops brilliantly anyway.
To help contain the kilos, the BMW X5 M's body is a mix of steel and aluminium. The doors, front fenders and bonnet are aluminium while the roof and rear fenders are steel.
Inside, BMW has decked out the interior with M Performance sports seats and lashings of carbon-fibre trim.
The driver can individually select the attitude of the engine, suspension, steering and brakes, from Comfort to Sport or Sport Plus. Or you can press one button and the car will decide what’s best. There are paddle shifters on the steering wheel if you want to select gears manually.
Being a large SUV, the cabin is of course roomy – front and back – and the split tailgate is handy when loading and unloading. However, this is still a five-seater, not a seven-seater.
According to the official numbers, the BMW X5 M has 650 litres of cargo space versus the X6 M with just 580 litres of cargo space due to its sloping roof line. Under the boot floor is a space-saver spare tyre.
Standard equipment includes radar cruise control for the first time (BMW couldn’t surrender the cooling space to locate a sensor in the front bumper of the previous model), and laser headlights with auto-blanking high beam.
Inside, there is ambient lighting, four-zone air-conditioning, and two 12.3-inch-wide display screens: one for the instrument cluster and the other for infotainment (which also has gesture control). Wireless phone charging, Harman Kardon audio and digital radio are also standard fare. Apple CarPlay is standard, but Android Auto is due to be added later.
BMW M seats – trimmed in leather – are standard, as is Alcantara roof lining, a panoramic sunroof, and soft-close doors.
The warranty is three years/unlimited kilometres, and BMW offers a pre-paid service package that covers routine maintenance for the first five years/80,000km for $4134.
On the road
With its blunt proportions, it takes a lot of energy – and power – to push so much air out of the way as quickly as the BMW X5 M does. It’s in the same company as the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Audi RS Q8 and Lamborghini Urus, all of which are covered by a few tenths of a second in the 0–100km/h dash.
The good news is that the X5 M is definitely as capable as BMW claims in the brochure. As we indicated earlier, we not only matched the BMW claim of 3.8 seconds for the 0–100km/h dash, but we beat it by a fraction, time after time. Few cars can do those sorts of numbers with such repeatability.
But, of course, the BMW X5 M is not just about straight-line speed. It might be a 2.3-tonne SUV, but it feels as nimble and as responsive as a hot hatch, with so much grip and so much power on hand. It has the reflexes of a much lighter car.
It sits flat in corners and doesn’t toss you around inside. Braking performance was equally impressive. The BMW X5 M feels stable under brakes, even from high speed. The brake pedal is responsive and precise, but you can also choose between two settings: Comfort and Sport modes.
In Comfort, the brakes are more forgiving in stop-start traffic and less jerky. In Sport, you feel their full force with millimetre precision. To be clear, if you slam the brake pedal in either mode you will come to a stop in the same distance. It’s only the pedal feel – not the brake performance – that BMW is playing with here.
Dislikes? There aren’t many. Aside from the aforementioned petrol tank size (another 10 or 20 litres would be welcome). The BMW infotainment system isn’t as intuitive or as user-friendly as other brands, and the high-performance, low-profile tyres are a touch noisy, though that’s the price you pay for having so much grip.
Overall, the BMW X5 M is an impressive engineering feat, but you’ll pay for the privilege. The 2020 BMW X5 M is priced from $209,900 plus on-road costs – a $23,300 increase over its predecessor two years ago. The BMW X6 M coupe starts from $213,900 plus on-road costs, which is an increase of $18,500 over the previous model.