BMW X5 M (2015) Review

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First the debate centred on the merits of so-called on-road biased SUVs. Why does the world need expensive, complicated luxo-wagons loaded to the hilt with off-road technology that never gets used? But now everyone drives SUVs…

Then the argument grew even more intense when super powerful versions of these “pointless” vehicles were launched...

But here’s the reality. While motoring journalists (yours truly included) debate the merits of these vehicles’ mere existence, the companies that make them are laughing all the way to the bank. The public desire these machines, perhaps not always for likeable reasons, but nevertheless, there is a market for them. So there…

For a very long time the Porsche Cayenne Turbo has reigned supreme when it comes to SUVs with sportscar rivalling performance and startling dynamic ability. BMW, however, believes that its new X5 M has a serious shot at the title. How does it fare?

Hardcore appearance

The current X5 is an attractive, but ultimately quite conservative large SUV. To transform it into a fire-breathing “M”, however, BMW has endowed this SUV with some serious visual muscle.

Riding on striking 20-inch wheels and with a front-end littered with aggressive air intakes, as well as a rear view dominated by a quartet of pretty large-diameter exhaust tips, the X5 M is not subtle, even in this relatively conservative dark grey colour.

At this point in a review our attention usually turns to the interior, but seeing as we’re reviewed a current-generation X5 before and this M version simply brings more features and sportier trim to the party, I think it is more important to look under the bonnet.

Here you will find something rather special – a twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 that delivers a whopping 423 kW! Equally impressive is the torque figure, with a mammoth 750 Nm of twist available all the way from 2 200 to 5 000 rpm – promising great flexibility. Keep in mind, however, that this monster weighs more than two tonnes, so each one of those kilowatts will be required to deliver on BMW’s promise of a 4,2 second 0-100 km/h sprint time. Fitted with eight-speed automatic transmission that offers a launch control function, the X5 M does, however, feel every bit as fast as the numbers make it appear.

Addictive sound

It is rather strange to find BMW fitting an automatic transmission to one of its M-division vehicles, but there’s little reason to complain of its performance in the X5 M. Downshifts are crisp and precise, and it generally responds swiftly to throttle inputs, no matter what the mode. And when you’re not in a fast-driving mood, it is beautifully smooth and refined, much more so than what a double-clutch probably would likely have been able to deliver.

But always there to remind you that you are behind the wheel of something incredibly powerful is the sound when the throttle pedal edges closer to the footwell carpet. Admittedly BMW's engineers performed some acoustic "cheating", but it is nevertheless very addictive.

Fuel economy? Does it matter? Probably not… but even BMW’s claim of 11.1 L/100 km will be hard to match. Think closer to 15 L/100 km if you often delve into the X5 M’s performance capabilities, which is very hard not to do.

Dynamic finesse

Power is one thing, and to be honest it’s never been lacking on any of the super SUVs. Only one of these vehicles has however managed to marry all this power with super-sedan on-road dynamics successfully, and that’s the Porsche Cayenne. The challenge is obvious. These SUVs are heavy, and they have high centres of gravity. To make them feel planted and under control, the engineers face a stiff challenge, but BMW’s boffins have cracked it, in my opinion.

You can choose between comfort, sport and sport+ suspension settings, and most drivers are likely to spend their daily drives in comfort mode. This is where the X5 M delivers its first (and surprising) knockout performance. Even on those 20-inch wheels, the ride is remarkably composed and there’s enough suppleness to deal with bumps without disturbing the occupants. Sure, when the surface deteriorates, and when you find yourself in sport mode, it gets crashy, but considering its dual purpose, the X5 M possesses impressive ride quality.

With the suspension tuned to one of its sportier settings, the X5 M is transformed into an athlete endowed with the type of agility that belies its bulk. Body control is remarkably good for this type of vehicle, and the steering is beautifully precise. You tend to arrive at corners at a much faster rate of knots than you had anticipated, partly because the size and weight of the vehicle disguise the sense of speed. Good thing, then, that the brakes are so immensely powerful and easy to modulate.

Key to the X5 M’s dynamic prowess is its Xdrive all-wheel drive system. Don’t be fooled though – there’s not much off-roading purpose to this system when it comes to the X5 M. In this model it works with the Dynamic Performance Control system to largely make sure that the right amount of power goes to the right wheel(s) to ensure better traction… to go faster around a corner.

Comfortable cabin environment

So, in terms of performance and dynamics, the X5 M is now a serious challenger to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and possibly even the much more expensive Cayenne Turbo S. The rest of the package is good, too.

Our test unit was optionally fitted with beautiful red leather upholstery, rear TV screens, Connected Drive and a stunning Bang & Olufsen sound system. Note, however, that even with all these items fitted, the X5 M is still more affordable than the new Range Rover Sport SVR, for example.

This beast can quite comfortably fulfill daily commuting chores, though at a fuel cost penalty, obviously. The seats are superb, the ergonomics simple and rear legroom excellent. Even the boot, accessed through a split-opening tailgate, is of a decent size to accommodate a family’s holiday gear.

Conclusion and Summary

BMW has managed to silence many critics with the X5 M . Its brutal looks may lead you to believe that it is entirely one-dimensional, but even in the real world, this BMW delivers the goods. This is a super SUV that manages to combine the practicality of a station wagon, the kerb-side appeal of a muscular SUV and the power and dynamics of a super sedan. It truly is a freak of science.

And then there’s the small matter of its base price significantly undercutting the competition, too. We think the X5 M's greatest hurdle is not necessarily its rivals abilities, but rather their badges. We wait in anticipation to review the new Range Rover Sport SVR, as that vehicle is potentially a deadly rival. And, of course, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo remains not only an exceptional product, but also one bearing a more desirable badge. Then again, during the X5's time with us someone took a screwdriver to its tailgate in an effort to steal the "M" badge, so perhaps it's already got that licked too...

BMW X5 M Price in South Africa

The BMW X5 M costs R1 657 159 and comes with a two-year/unlimited km warranty and five-year/100 000 km Maintenance plan.

Second Opinion

It's quite insane that an SUV can offer sportscar performance in terms of outright speed and agility. The X5 M does just that and still delivers as a practical day-to-day SUV. If I was buying in this segment I would probably want a bit more badge appeal and lean towards the Range Rover Sport SVR or the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but if BMW is your brand then the X5 M won't disappoint. -Ashley Oldfield

We Like: Ferocious performance, excellent road holding, luxury, quality

We Don’t Like: Precious little

Also consider: Range Rover Sport SVR, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG Performance, Porsche Cayenne Turbo

Compare the BMW x5 M with the Range Rover SVR and Porsche Cayenne Turbo here

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