It’s easy to admire what BMW’s go-faster M Division has done with the X6M and more practical X5M, but it’s harder to admire why they did it.
The X5M and X6M are everything their predecessors were, but more.
More speed, more noise, more profligacy and more belligerence.
Neither is remotely economical, nor remotely concerned with their place in a forward-looking society, so the X5M and X6M continue to be the jarring counterpoint to BMW’s earth-friendly projections.
Yet, instead of being ostracized by an auto industry heading for a greener age, the X5M and X6M have more competition than ever before.
Where once they shared this field only with Mercedes-AMG’s SUV offerings, now they’re swamped with rivals from Porsche, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Benz’s upscale Maybach brand, Audi Sport’s RS Q8, Jaguar’s SV version of the F-Pace and a squadron of fast Range Rovers.
Are any of these cars remotely necessary?
An increasingly eco-conscious society must be on the cusp of the same conclusion, if it’s not there already.
But a critical mass of people aren’t there yet, and that’s why this market segment is booming, but it feels increasingly unseemly.
Seeing a dozen of BMW’s new X5M and X6M Competitions in a line, warming up in the Arizona desert earlier this year felt unmistakably like dinosaurs grazing as a killer asteroid approaches.
Still, you have to admire what M has accomplished in turning these things into their fastest ever SUVs and in forcing so much mass to move so very quickly.
What Are They About?
Both of these cars are the continuation of a formula that has worked well for BMW over three generations of the X5.
M takes each generation of X5 or X6, then stuffs it full of the engine and powertrain from the latest M5 and then stiffen the rest of the car up to cope.
Then they work on the interior to bring it up to what’s expected at the steeper price.
BMW’s continues to keep the X5 beneath the five-meter barrier, at 4938mm, then M stuffs it full of the M5’s 4.4-litre, twin-turbo, hot-vee V8 petrol motor.
Good for 460kW in the X5M’s even-faster Competition guise (or a more humble 441kW in the stock mode) and 750Nm of torque, from just 1800rpm.
The Competition versions have revised electronic mapping over the M5 and that gives them another 18kW of power.
That’s about 37kW more than the outgoing X6M and X5M had, and puts it 55kW up on the Cayenne Coupe Turbo and 18kW up on the already-impressive Audi RS Q8.
Even though the X5M weighs a frightening 2385kg, it has enough fast-twitch fibers to hurl it to 100km/h in 3.8 seconds and it tops out at a limited 250km/h.
The flipside is that it takes 13 litres/100km to meet the WLTP emissions standard test, which balloons to 17.2 litres on the urban test cycle, which rather drains the 83-liter fuel tank in a hurry. It spits out 296 grams/km of CO2 emissions.
And that’s why the X5M and its X6M sibling (they share the same wheelbase and the same engine outputs, but the X6M is 15kg lighter, 0.1 seconds faster to 100km/h and 0.3 litres/100km more efficient) have a limited future.
The power and torque spreads to all four corners after being corralled by the eight-speed automatic transmission, then sent where it’s needed by an all-wheel drive system that includes an M locking differential on the rear axle.
The front and rear track widths are wider than the fastest traditional X6 and X5 models, there is more camber at both ends, the active roll stabilisers (electronically variable anti-roll bars) are fiddled to favour speed over comfort and the standard boot sizes rise to 295/35 ZR 21 rubber up front and 315/30 ZR22 at the rear.
How are they to drive?
Let’s be clear here. Nobody with a shy and retiring nature should buy either of these cars. They are loud to see and louder to listen to.
It’s just that one of them is louder than the other.
The X6M Competition doesn’t shy away from being the center of attention, and neither must its customers. It’s a look-at-me machine in a high-rise package.
It feels more aggressive, as well as looking it, and the way it rides seems multiples harder than its brother. It’s not just in the way it refuses to buckle for bumps, either, but in the throttle response and even in the way its steering wheel helms the front end.
And it’s just too much. It quickly becomes irksome, with a total lack of the nuance that could make its ride and handling match its looks.
The X5M is a more mature proposition, presumably for more mature drivers, in everything it does, but it still doesn’t qualify as supple or remotely calm.
The X6M is fast and it is demanding, but it’s a blunt instrument, with the brutal power and the huge tires seemingly dominant over every other part of the car when it comes to going, stopping and turning.
There are massive complications in the gearbox, transmission, braking and suspension systems, but you don’t notice them, except when the torque forces a clunky gearshift now and then.
There’s no subtlety in driving it, slowly or quickly. Driving it quickly is a matter of hammering the throttle, then slowing down enough and leaning on all that rubber before punching the gas again.
It’s an unsatisfying way to drive, and it gets less comfortable as you drive it slower.
The X5M is better, in every respect.
The engine note is deep and rich, with a trace of artificiality sneaking in through the rear end, and the barks and crackles on over-run frighten dogs more than New Year’s Eve fireworks.
There’s over anger there, all the time, and it can be slung through a series of corners at a speed that will astonish the drivers of “proper” sports cars. But, like its X6M sibling, it’s more a matter of go, turn, hang on than it is real driving.
The active anti roll bars work to keep the body roll surprisingly flat through corners and the all-wheel drive system shoots the torque to the rear end most of the time, so it has a rear-drive feel to it.
While the X6M is so hard that it’s only for dedicated X6 fanatics, the X5M is more of an every (rich) man’s fast SUV, capable of carrying more luggage (650 litres versus 580), with more shoulder and headroom in the rear and more maturity everywhere.
Should You buy it?
Well, I wouldn’t, but I’m not everybody.
BMW has drawn criticism for making the M5 so heavy, but it feels like a tactile featherweight next to this pair and it’s demonstrably a better driver’s option.
Still, we live in an SUV age and this is the fastest SUV BMW has ever built. That’s an engineering achievement in its own right, even if the clock is (hopefully) running down on this style of car.