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Best of 2023

Fail of the year: why the BMW XM is 2023’s worst car

Proof: BMW customers will not, in fact, ‘buy anything with that badge’

Published: 21 Dec 2023

No, it’s not just because of how it looks. The obscene BMW XM is 2023’s biggest miss because it doesn’t succeed on any level. Not even for the company that makes it (yet). Allow me to explain.

As a piece of design, it’s obviously a catastrophe. As a luxury car, it’s too firm-riding and frustrating to operate. As a sports car, it’s too disconnected and clumsy to drive. As a family car, it’s too expensive and not especially versatile. As a drag racer, it simply isn’t that fast in the realm of potty 4x4s. And as a hybrid, it’s a token sop to efficiency.

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Some cars (like the M3 Touring) are best in class by a distance. Most cars have their own minor victories and Unique Selling Points. Heck, even an X6 is undeniably impressive to drive, whatever you think of its Styled-By-Quasimodo posterior.

But the XM simply doesn’t work. There is no task you could ask of it that it could complete better than any other car. And in return for a car that’s gazumped and bettered at every turn (Including by BMW’s own X5M), BMW asks that you pay them one hundred and forty-eight thousand and sixty English pounds sterling.

I think if you got a BMW XM engineer quite merry and rueful, they’d probably spill that this was a cursed task too far, sent directly from the foolhardy marketing department. That the world of ‘X’ and ‘M’ are combined about as well as can be expected in an X5M. They did their best. They tried valiantly. But their irresistible force wasn’t enough to shift this immoveable object.

Now I know that it’s a festive time of year. The time to bring good cheer and wish peace on Earth to all men, women, children, pond life, and even to jumped-up BMW X4 drivers who can’t find the indicator stalk because it’s obscured by their grotesque wristwatch.

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So allow me to warm the cockles of your heart: the XM has tanked. It’s not just M car fans and grumpy journalists who have rejected it. So has the market. In the third quarter of 2024 BMW USA sold fewer than they did in Q2, and even those numbers were in the hundreds.

The US was supposed to be the XM’s happy hunting ground, where its profligate size and profane exterior wouldn’t offend. But even after reportedly slashing $10,000 from the sticker price to un-weld the XM from certain dealer showroom floors, it’s failed to catch on. It turns out that you can overdo an SUV. That it is possible to build something with a BMW badge that doesn’t storm the sales charts.

BMW M Division boss Frank Van Meel is defiant. He tells the reason the XM hasn’t done the numbers is because BMW made a bit of a cock-up.

The mistake? Revealing the 750bhp XM ‘Label Red’ too soon. Turns out anyone who wants the most offensive SUV possible isn’t happy to settle for the boggo version once they know there’s an even more tasteless spec waiting in the wings.

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So, the XM may yet come good for BMW, and become the dollar-printing cash-cow it was always expected to be. But it won’t be remembered as a great M car. Or even a half-decent one. Roll on that M5 Touring, eh?

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