Strident performance, lack of road noise
Punishing ride, iffy hybrid powertrain response, never getting let out of junctions
What is it?
The most expensive BMW money can buy, the most powerful M car ever made, and only the second ever M-only model, after the M1 supercar of the 1970s.
As you can see however, this is no supercar. It’s an enormous SUV, as BMW seeks to splice the success of its best-selling X cars with M Division power like never before. Sounds a bit like those diet plans which claim you can eat all the cake and chips you want and still end up shredded enough to turn in an Oscar-winning performance as a comic book superhero.
In fairness, BMW has pulled off the ‘have your tall, compromised SUV cake and eat it’ trick before, with the original X5 and then the X6. Those cars uprooted the goalposts for what was expected of how a big, heavy, high-riding car handled, and didn’t do BMW’s bottom line any harm either. Which is why there’s now a bijou X1, an enormous X7 and every number in between is covered. There’s even an electric-only crossover: the iX.
So why isn’t the XM called, say, the X8? BMW’s engineers say it’s because simply giving it the next number up underplays how much oomph and extravagance the XM offers (and calling it the X93,421 would’ve looked a bit messy).
This is also the car that moves the M Division into the plug-in hybrid universe – set to expand rapidly in the next model cycle as the M5 and replacements for the X5M and X6M morph into petrol-electric mutants with dizzying power outputs.
How powerful is the XM?
If you’re buying a car that declares ‘get out of my way’ quite as threateningly as the XM, you’d expect a big lump of power. And you get it. Lurking behind those enormous LED-illuminated nostrils is M’s twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8, developing 482bhp. It’s boosted by a gearbox-nestled electric motor, for a total of 644bhp and 590lb ft. That’s sufficient to punt your 2,710kg declaration of deep personal insecurity from 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds and keep on galloping all the way to 174mph.
It's improbable you’d need a faster super-SUV, but BMW’s built one anyway. Just in case. Not an XM Competition, but an XM ‘Label Red’. It develops 745 horsepower.
Why does the XM look so aggressive?
Because the biggest market for this car will be the USA, followed by China. Catch a news bulletin lately and you’d imagine those nations have little to nothing in common, opinion-wise. But they do at least agree on 4x4 design: no grille is too engorged, no bodywork too musclebound, no alloy wheel too vast.
BMW insists the XM has a coupe-ish roofline and doffs its cap to the M1 with the twin roundel badges etched into the rear window, but that’s like claiming the Burj Khalifa pays homage to the pyramids of Egypt because they’re both pointy at the top.
This is very possibly the most obnoxious looking car ever devised, and while you could call that brave or daring, there’s no getting away from the fact that the XM invites people to judge you. It dares anyone who claps eyes on it to respond with hate.
At a time when the planet is once again crisis-ridden and divided, would you choose to transport your beloved family in a vehicle that invites such scorn?
What's the verdict?
The XM predisposes everyone to dislike it because it looks villainous. But BMW has form for bolshy-looking SUVs that then woo you with sports saloon-handling and mature cabins. What’s surprising about the XM is that it lacks the raw talent to earn its forgiveness. There’s a sense this car’s been asked to do too much – to ensnare too many different customer groups in a board meeting somewhere in Munich.
It’s too stiff to be a luxury car, and too compromised to be a benchmark performance car. M cars used to be defined by high-revving motorsport-derived engines, and latterly by innate chassis balance and huge configurability. The XM isn’t just clumsy to look at: it also drives with a ham-fisted heavy hand.
A X5M is a superior car to drive, an iX is infinitely preferable to travel in, and if you want a plug-in hybrid super-SUV Porsche’s ageing Cayenne Turbo S e-Hybrid (set for a big update and range boost in summer 2023) is a much more rounded device. Each costs considerably less than the XM.
Apparently order books are already bulging, which will be all the justification BMW needs to say it’s got the pitch for the XM spot on. And it’s far from alone: Purosangue, Urus, Bentayga, Cullinan… super-SUVs are money printers. Even if the hopelessly vulgar image seems woefully out of step with the cars the world really needs right now.
Usually, we end up grudgingly respecting the engineering that lies beneath. The XM is the first X car not to enjoy that reprieve. BMW’s engineers have done their best, but the more you fiddle with the XM’s modes and try to unlock its potential, the more you might suspect the people who brought us the stunning M5 CS and superb M3 Touring have been sold down the river by the greed of the marketing department on this one.