BMW, in general, makes cars that drive beautifully; this is part of the brand’s DNA. And it’s not just cars – this is true of its SUVs too. Back in 1999, in an effort to make sure the first X5 could proudly wear the badge of ‘ultimate driving machine’, it chose to build its first SUV on a monocoque frame rather than a heavy ladder-frame chassis. This created waves; it was an SUV that drove like a sporting saloon – a first. And then in 2009, to amp it up, BMW’s M division created one of the sportiest SUVs around in the original X5 M. Now, more than a decade later, we see this third-generation performance version of the X5.
One look is, in fact, all you need. You can instantly tell that this is the most powerful version of the X5. From the glossy black M grille with the double bars, to the contours of the front apron and the M gills on the side, there are plenty of giveaways. Then there are the aerodynamic double-arm wing mirrors, which have a gap to let air through – also unique. For optimal cornering performance there are different-sized wheels for the front and back axles, with 21-inch wheels used in front and 22s at the rear. Look at it from the rear, and you also get twin exhaust pipes and a roof-mounted spoiler.
On the inside, the X5 M gets M specific seats with a quilted design and an M-specific instrument cluster that gives you additional information. On the centre console, gone are the individual buttons for engine, damper and steering; now, instead, there is a single button that accesses a menu in the central info display, allowing you to customise your setup.
The rest is pretty much the same as its less powerful version.
Driving a performance car in the USA is frustrating with the strict speed limits. Luckily, BMW has accounted for that and closed off a wonderful section of road that snakes along the Arizona scrub. With elevations, dips, and roller-coaster-like twists and turns – it’s the perfect setting to push BMW’s most powerful engine and test the SUV's dynamics. One thing’s for sure: there’s no dearth of power; the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, churns out 625hp in the X5 M Competition variant, with 750Nm of torque present from relatively early on in the powerband.
The engine fires with a low growl from the tailpipes. Floor the pedal and it propels you down the road with a burst of energy that pushes you hard in the back, the speedometer needle rising like in a sportscar. Power delivery is so clean, in fact, that there is just one massive linear wave of torque from get go, all the way to the very high 7,200rpm redline. No sudden bursts of power – just clean and strong acceleration.
The engine is mated to an 8-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox with Drive Logic. Basically, the Drive Logic comprises three drive modes that let you decide how aggressive or relaxed you want the gearbox to be. Selection is via a button on the gear lever, with the lowest ideal for city use, response time and aggression quickening as you go up the scale. In the third and most extreme setting, it holds gear till you shift up manually. However, even in the most relaxed setting the shifts are quick and there are always the paddles.
Despite the massive weight, performance is seriously strong. 0-100 takes just 3.8sec (that’s Porsche Cayenne turbo territory), and with backing vocals provided by the roar from the tailpipes, this over-two-tonne SUV just flies down the road. In addition and around corners it feels so car-like to drive, it is genuinely impressive. Body roll is so well contained it corners like a fast car, and the setup is so good, it is equally adept when it comes to changes in elevation. It just never misses a beat. It inspires so much confidence from behind the wheel, you often don’t realise how quick you are going; until you look down at the dials.
The competition has different tyre sizes – 295/35/21 for the front and 315/30/22 for the rear – which give me a lot of grip; and the Active Differential works to equalise the different rotational speeds of the rear tyres by distributing torque to the wheels as needed. The Active M system doesn’t just account for rotational differences but takes into account many other variables like accelerator input, the difference between the targeted and actual yaw rate, and, of course, transverse acceleration.
The result is sportscar-like handling, and what adds to this is the steering, which has a really nice heft and feels direct. While it weighs up beautifully as you go quicker when carving corners, it is also light and easy to use in slow-moving city traffic. You can choose to set the steering feel that you are most comfortable with. In fact, you can also choose settings for the engine, dampers, brakes and xDrive opting between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus levels. You can mix and match these settings and also store your preferred combination to two individual shortcut buttons (M1 & M2) on the three-spoke M steering for easy recall. To simplify things, there is the 'M mode' button that allows you to toggle through the preset Road, Sport and Track modes, which show up on the instrument cluster when selected.
I must mention the brakes – an intrinsic part of the performance envelope. They deliver massive confidence and literally put you at liberty to throw this two-tonne car around. In fact, the brakes can shed speed just as quickly as the X5 M can build it, and that’s thanks to the motorsport-inspired M Compound disc brakes. In fact it's quite unique that you can set pedal feel too, to either 'Sport' or 'Comfort'.
Talking about comfort, that’s one area where the X5 M takes a bit of a beating. Even at its most comfortable setting, the ride is firm and the sharp ruts and road divisions all filter through. The low-profile tyres just amplify the feeling and create a lot of road noise. The India-spec model will probably make adjustments on tyre size but one should be prepared to trade away some back-seat comfort.
The X5 M is both irrational and brilliant. Headed to India in May at an expected price of around Rs 1.8 crore, it will go up against the likes of the Mercedes GLE 63, Porsche Cayenne turbo and even the Lamborghini Urus. There is no doubt that the new X5 M comes with hardcore performance at its core. On a suitable road the X5 M is a veritable sportscar, with searing performance and a leech-like grip. Once you get to know it and trust it, you can really hurl it around. What you also get with this performance is space for five, plenty of luxury and oodles of pampering. However, a point to note is that rear-seat passengers will not be as comfortable as they would in the regular X5 due to the stiffer suspension setup, and it remains to be seen if anything but ‘Comfort’ works well on our roads. Still, if you want BMW M-division thrills, good ground clearance and the ability to carry five, this Super SUV is right up there with the best.