The march won’t stop. Range-topping high-performance SUVs like the 2020 BMW X5 M will continue to grow in size, performance and ability. That’s probably a good thing, but at what point does it become ridiculous?
Here. At this point.
The new X5 M is an extraordinary feat of engineering. Up front, a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine shoves a loaded 460kW and 750Nm to the ground with enough clout to rocket the 2.3-tonne family hauler from 0–100km/h in 3.8 seconds.
Those engine outputs are achieved in a rather broad-spectrum way, too. Peak torque arrives at 1800rpm and holds on until 5800rpm, while from 6000rpm the power peak hits and lasts until redline at 7200rpm.
Who needs that? Absolutely no-one, but need and want are two very different things, and enough people want the king of engines in their family freighter to warrant the X5 M entering a third generation.
If you already own the previous generation, you’ll be pleased to know that, come trade-in time, you’ll be getting a 37kW boost, a 0.4-second faster sprint time and a 204kW/tonne power to weight ratio, up from 190-ish.
Competition spec is all Australia gets, at least for the moment, so fully loaded and fully powered up are the order of the day. The ticket of entry gets a bump, too, to $209,900 before on-road costs – a hearty leg-up over the old X5 M of almost $21,000.
At this level inclusions are, as you’d expect, comprehensive. Inside, the X5 M Competition comes with four-zone climate control, Harman Kardon audio, keyless tailgate, entry and start, soft-close doors, powered front seats and steering column with memory, panoramic sunroof, full leather interior (including sections of the doors and dash), heated and cooled front cupholders, an Alcantara roof lining, and an M-specific head-up display.
Infotainment is via a 12.3-inch screen with the option to use touch inputs, a console control wheel, conversational voice inputs or basic gesture controls depending on the function.
At least you can choose how you’d like to interact with the system. That’s a huge plus.
I’m still to be convinced BMW’s 12.3-inch digital display makes the best use of its capabilities, with a backwards tacho and a cluttered, barely customisable display. A traditional clockwise tacho display in a performance car shouldn’t be impossible, should it?
Still, there’s a nifty fighter-jet style M mode for both the HUD and the instruments, so that’ll have to do if you’re keen on exploring the X5 M’s performance depths.
To that end, you get the aforementioned V8 engine, a bi-modal exhaust (which you’ll probably never put into hush mode), and the usual multi-stage M settings for things like steering, suspension, engine and transmission. There are also some newer ones on the array for brakes (in two stages) and the AWD system, which has a tail-happy 4WD Sport setting available with stability control off.
You could ponder for ages to find the right settings, but M1 and M2 buttons let you save your favourites or road, sport and track modes are quick and easy to dial up. The baseline settings are perfectly agreeable for day-to-day shuffling, and the peak modes are sure to terrify the Labradors should you invoke them on a wild strip of zig-zag tarmac.
That’s where the X5 M starts to defy physics. It’s a huge beast of an SUV dedicated to family haulage, so tipping into corners and firing out in double-time really ought to have it squirming, rolling and bucking about erratically. It barely breaks a sweat.
The launch drive we enjoyed rained almost from start to finish. Not ideal for wringing everything out of the X5 M, and yet the traction and stability systems were able to maximise the available potential and deliver a thoroughly sporting experience.
While the eight-speed automatic might be a torque-converter design and not the harder-edged dual-clutch available from competitors, you’d never tell. It’s responsive and resolute in its actions. I’ve criticised the smaller and less potent X3 M for falling down in this area, and the X5 M looks to have righted those wrongs.
I’ve also taken aim at the X3 M for a ride that’s too ridiculously hard-edged and hard to live with, but thankfully the X5 M is less aggressive, though there’s no escaping the firmness of the ride. Even in the softest setting, the M adaptive suspension jolts, jars and jiggles its way over the most minor surface changes.
That’s an effect made all the more noticeable as the incessant tyre roar starts to grate on your nerves. Regular X5s are anechoic compared to the M, which in fairness has massive staggered 295/35R21 and 315/30R22 rubber resulting in a huge contact patch.
That’s where the X5 M Competition starts to come undone a little. It can never fully breathe out and relax – it’s a pointy weapon no matter what you want to do with it. Firm, alert and on edge.
That’s a set-up that makes sense in a coupe, because they come with comfort and practicality compromises in the first place. But, the X5 seats five with second-row space to spare, and a 650L boot to aid the carriage of groceries, small furnishings or luggage.
It can’t do long-legged country touring. It’s always looking for an opportunity to show off its wild side. When it does, it impresses with speed and accuracy, yet because you’re up so high, the feeling that it could be faster, sharper and better still never goes away.
It may have track modes built in, yet the idea of flinging one around your local raceway is a bit of a laugh. If you had the means to track one of these, you’d surely have a special dedicated car for that weekend task, rather than risking Monday’s school run by binning the X5.
Not to mention the fact the X5 M seems to hate short drivers. At just under 170cm, the X5 M conspires against me – there's no way to adjust the HUD high enough to be fully visible and the seat back puts its lumbar bump too high, hemming shoulders in with its pronounced bolstering, and grips thighs too tightly.
They’d be marvellous front seats were it not for their sizeist shortcomings, and it’s an odd call-out to make, I know. Other team members tried and had much more luck behind the wheel, proving it pays to try any new car on for size.
While it may not be the ultimate deciding factor, BMW published a 12.5 litres per 100km consumption claim. After a fierce day of driving fun we landed 14.2L/100km, which is not too shabby.
It could be that the X5 M Competition makes a strong case for its cheaper, less aggressive X5 M50i sibling – an SUV that can lope lazily when required, but still rewards when conditions demand. Though not as uniquely M-specific, it’s forgivable to the tune of $58,000, or enough to buy yourself a dedicated track toy if that’s what you’re really after.
By being good at so many things, the X5 M Competition manages to be great at none of them – forced to compromise comfort for speed, and speed for sheer weight and size.
Impressive, yes. Accomplished, certainly. The best car that BMW’s M division makes?
No, that title belongs elsewhere.