BMW’s brutal SUVs are ready to rumble
So much power, so little responsibility for BMW’s fast, loud and luxurious X5 M and X6 M
Are these cars necessary? No. That’s the short version. It’s probably a matter of time before a more eco-friendly society comes to the same conclusion, if it hasn’t already.
Seeing a dozen of BMW’s new X5M and X6M Competitions in a line, warming up in the Arizona desert feels unmistakeably like watching dinosaurs grazing ignorantly as a killer asteroid approaches.
As the people and companies of the world are being dragged into greening up (and BMW keeps telling us they’re leading the way among German carmakers), it feels like a matter of time before that same world tells and shows X5M and X6M owners that these things no longer fit with societal norms.
The X5M was an acceptable, amusing oddity once, and then the field it roamed alone began filling up with like-minded machinery from Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, plus its own X6M stablemate. And then Lamborghini, Bentley and even Rolls-Royce turned up, too.
Now this market just feels a bit unseemly.
Still, you have to admire what BMW’s M division has accomplished in turning these things into their fastest ever SUVs and in forcing to much mass to move so very quickly.
Equally, perhaps even more so, it’s impossible to avoid questioning why they’ve done it in the modern era.
I mean, cash and demand are the obvious answers, but it feels like their time has either passed by or is about to.
What’s it about?
Both of these cars are the continuation of a formula that has worked well for BMW over three generations of the X5.
They simply take each generation of X5 or X6, then stuff it full of the basic engine and powertrain from the latest M5 and then stiffen the rest of the car up to match. Then they work on the interior to bring it up to what’s expected at the new price point.
That formula begins with BMW’s continued ethos to keep the X5 beneath the five-metre barrier, at 4,938mm, then stuffs it full of the M5’s 4.4l, twin-turbo, hot-vee V8 petrol motor.
Good for 460kW in the X5M’s Competition guise (or a more humble 441kW in the stock mode) and 750Nm of torque, from just 1800rpm.
The Competition versions have revised mapping over the M5, from which they steal this motor, and that gives them another 18kW of power over the low-riding sports sedan.
Uncontested Dominance. "Maximum presence and unrivalled driving dynamics make the BMW X5 M Competition unique."
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 2,385kg, that’s still enough protein to hurl it to 100km/h in 3.8 seconds, which was hypercar territory just a decade ago.
It takes another 9.6 seconds to greet 200km/h and it tops out at a limited 250km/h, though it’s a matter of time before BMW’s M division raises that for an extra dollar or two.
That hurts at the pump, evidently. It takes 13l/100km to meet the WLTP emissions standard test, but that balloons to 17.2l on the urban test cycle, which rather drains the 83l fuel tank in a hurry.
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 0.3l/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 rear suspension has five links to the body, while there’s a four-link front end. The front and rear tracks are wider than the fastest traditional X6 and X5 models, there is more camber angle at both ends, the active roll stabilisers (electronically variable anti-roll bars) are fiddled to favour speed over comfort and the standard tyre 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 is buying 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 centre of attention, and neither must its customers. It’s evidently a look-at-me machine, in a high-rise package.
It feels more aggressive, as well as looking it, and its ride quality seems multiples firmer 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 nuance that makes its ride and handling match its looks.
"The BMW X6 M Competition makes its true potential clear at first glance." Markus Flasch
The X5M is a far more mature proposition, presumably for far 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 brutal power and huge rubber seemingly dominant over every other part of the car when it comes to going, stopping and turning.
There are huge 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 notably better, in every respect, especially with the M Driver’s Package attached to give it a 290km/h top speed.
The engine note is deep and rich, and the barks and crackles on over-run frighten dogs worse than New Year’s Eve fireworks.
There’s anger there, all the time, and it really can be slung through a series of corners at a speed that will astonish the drivers of “proper” sports cars.
The active anti roll bars work to keep the body roll surprisingly flat through corners and the xDrive system fires most of the torque to the rear end most of the time, so it has a rear-drive feel to it and drives off the back end of the car a lot more than the front.
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 (650l 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, well, 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 running down on this style of car.
The new BMW X5 M and X6 M will arrive in SA around the third quarter of the year.