What is it like to drive?
It’s an odd moment. You climb aboard this evil-looking machine, which appears to be styled to look like some sort of robotic warthog. You know there’s a latent V8 under the bonnet. There’s M logos smattered around the cabin. So you prod the blood red starter button and… nothing. An electronic whoosh sound, and the screens come alive. The XM is ready to drive, but it’s rather an anti-climax.
This is of course because the XM is a plug-in hybrid, so it always sets off under electric drive. Within the eight-speed automatic gearbox lives a 197bhp, 206lb ft electric motor. That’s a whole Mk5 Golf GTI’s worth of power, but because the XM weighs more than 2.7 tonnes, it’s decidedly un-spritely under e-drive. Quiet, though. Freakishly so. Road roar from those massive tyres (base spec gets 21s, or you could have 22- or 23-inch rims) is impressively dampened out, and at town speeds it's near silent. Only as you head past 50mph or so do you start to notice the fussy M mirrors generate a colossal amount of wind noise.
I’ll buy an iX if I want an EV. What about the engine?
Handily, BMW has provided a V8 to drown this irritation out. Probably overkill, but arousing the 4.4-litre twin-turbo powerplant certainly puts the XM’s corpulent weight to the back of your mind. Now you’ve got 644bhp at your mercy, and 590lb ft (or 800Nm) of torque. Healthy numbers, but somehow in a world of 700bhp Aston Martin DBXs and 1,000bhp Tesla Model Xs, BMW’s very-fast-car-with-X-in-the-name isn’t outrageously powerful. Then again, the V8’s deeply unstressed, pumping out ‘just’ 482bhp. It can go much, much higher…
Is the XM fast?
Where the XM feels stupidly rapid is getting off the line. Squeeze throttle and brake together and the car tenses, as ‘eLaunch active’ pops up on the screen. Release the brake and for the first ten metres, it feels like a full-bore launch in a potent EV – all instant torque. That’s the electric motor doing the business as the turbos spool up. Right on cue, the V8 bellows into life and the surge continues. 62mph is passed in 4.3 seconds, 100mph not long after. It’s a relentless sensation, but would have more sense of occasion if the V8 wasn’t so strained and reedy-sounding. This is one M car where the dubbed-over engine noise autotune is actually welcome.
The powertrain suffers another quirk. We’re used to plug-in hybrids with imperceptible engine/electric handover by now. The XM isn’t so polite. BMW’s engineers say it’s a deliberate choice: V8s aren’t long for this world and they want to celebrate the moment it churns into life. Cute idea, but in real life driving it just feels clumsy. Peel out of a roundabout on part throttle and the e-motor whirrs you along quite happily. Then the V8 snorts into life and there’s a small but nonetheless irritating clunk in your momentum. It’s equally tricky to come to a stop smoothly: the brake feel is fine, but just as the wheels roll to standstill, there’s a shunt.
BMW launched the XM in the USA, where it felt like a tiny pipsqueak between all the chrome-laden GMCs and Super Dutys. Trundling across a grid-pattern city with a stop light every quarter-mile quickly becomes tiresome when a car is this difficult to drive smoothly. It’s a strange flaw, given non-M BMW PHEVs are unimpeachably well-mannered when juggling battery and petrol propulsion.
How’s the handling? Truly M car worthy?
The XM certainly doesn’t want for hardware. It’s had the whole kitchen sink, downstairs toilet and walk-in bathtub thrown at it: rear-wheel steering, 48-volt anti-roll stabilisation suspension bushings from the M5 all feature.
And if you break down how the car goes round a corner, then the XM stacks up: it’s reasonably agile, there’s no scrabbling from the unloaded wheels losing traction, and it does indeed remain uncannily level. The cornering speeds at your disposal are beyond impressive: they’re terrifying.
But as with so many cars which deploy space-race amounts of tech to cheat physics, there’s a remoteness to the overall experience that isn’t worthy of the M car that BMW repeatedly insists this car is. The steering’s indistinct just off centre – likely a result of the rear-steering counteracting any early inputs as it works to keep the car stable. It’s also lacking the outrageousness of an X5 M – an often-forgotten super-SUV which uses BMW’s rear-biased xDrive 4x4 system to spectacular effect.
In the XM, there’s a sense that all the right bits are present, but it just doesn’t gel into an entertaining car – not as ruthless at conquering a road as a Bentayga or an Urus, and not as flamboyant and entertaining as a DBX707 or BMW’s half-a-tonne-lighter X5M.
What about comfort?
This is where the XM really struggles to make a case for its own existence. When you’ve finished being a clown in pretty much any of the other super-SUVs that £150,000 will buy, they settle into a new-age high-riding GT car mood, cosseting you from the outside world. The XM is far too firm to offer the same bandwidth. Even out of the Sport and Sport Plus modes, in the default Comfort setting, it’s simply too stiff.
Partly this is BMW managing a huge amount of hybrid drivetrain mass in an already hefty car, but usually having 48-volt stabilisation stops a deluxe SUV from rolling over in the corners and lets it settle down on the straights. It’s as though the marketing department insisted the XM felt sporty all the time, so buyers would be constantly aware it’s an M car, not say, an ‘X8’. The result is a very fast SUV that’s not especially enjoyable to drive fast, clunky to pilot slowly, and not comfortable enough to succeed as a luxury express.