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Road Test


Driven March 2010

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One corner - that's all it takes. By the time you brake, turn in and boot the accelerator, you realise this BMW X5 M isn't actually much cop. Oh dear.

It shouldn't be like this. BMW M cars have rarely been disappointing in the past because they've always had a purity of focus - they made you feel alive. James May would talk about his fizz.

In the X5, there are simple laws of physics which prevent that joy - for a start, it weighs nearly 2.4 tonnes. You can tweak suspension and engines all you like, but there's no getting away from its huge bulk in a corner. Worse than that, it's just not sharp enough, and it doesn't react to your inputs the way an M car should. Drive a Porsche Cayenne through the same corner, and you can feel the Porsche DNA - it's like a sports car. The Cayenne shrinks around you.

That doesn't happen in the X5 M. The steering is weighty and precise but far too woolly, and the quality of the link between you and the front wheels is poor. There's only a minimal amount of feedback. Yes, the X5 M is perfectly competent and you never feel like it's going to spit you into the nearest hedge, but there's no fun. There's a surprising lack of drama about the whole experience.

Plus, there's no fluidity to the suspension. The ride is knobbly all the time, even when you flick the electronic dampers onto a softer setting.

You can't fault the engine, though. On a straight, the twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 does a great job of disguising the X5's waist- line. The 547bhp slings you to 62mph in 4.7 seconds, and there's an addictive slug of torque on tap from 1,500rpm - no turbo delay here. But what's even more impressive is the way it revs so easily. Drop it into manual, and the needle whips around to the red line so quickly, you struggle to pull the paddle for second gear before hitting the limiter. Sure, it could be noisier, but this engine is where the M badge starts to make itself felt.

When the M3 was launched, the head of the M division said that he would never let his company apply its magic to an SUV or a turbo. He thought it would dilute the spirit of the brand. In the X5 M, both of those rules have been broken - you suspect more as a result of bean-counters' greed rather than engineers' desire.

So I'm encouraging a protest vote. Don't buy this car, then hopefully we'll never see its like again.

Piers Ward

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