2020 BMW X5 M First Drive Review: Master of Illusion

BMW builds a 5,400-pound sports car shaped like an SUV

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Once, 600 horsepower was the exclusive bastion of sports cars. Now enters the 2020 BMW X5 M, muscling its way into these lofty ranks wrapped in the shape of a five-passenger SUV. Does that make it a sports car? BMW believes so, presenting the $106,095 X5 M as a “track-capable” vehicle that just happens to weigh (and cost) as much as two actual sports cars.

Based on powertrain alone, the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 makes a good case for this claim. The X5 M, like its X6 M fastback SUV sibling, cranks out an even 600 horsepower and a stout 553 lb-ft of torque available between 1,850 and 5,860 rpm. That’s a 33-hp bump over last year’s model, along with a peak torque band that’s 1,200 rpm wider. X5 M Competition models feature an additional 17 hp at the same 6,000 rpm with the same peak torque. All that power is transferred through an eight-speed automatic to all four wheels.

Helping keep the X5 M shiny side up is a prolific array of standard driver assistance systems, accessible through the latest iteration of BMW’s iDrive system. BMW refers to the 12.3-inch touchscreen interface as Live Cockpit Professional, which, despite its name, does not offer a karaoke app. Instead, the system focuses on connected personalization, allowing drivers to take their preferences from one BMW to another via cloud access.

Endless configuration is also a hallmark of M cars, and the X5 M doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Drivers can tinker with a variety of settings, including steering, suspension, throttle response, and even braking effort. Two all-wheel-drive modes offer the choice of maximum traction or a more rear-biased system. Tragically, there’s no drift mode. It’s just as well, since this pointlessly entertaining feature is best limited to the M5. Perhaps that level of hoonery is a bridge too far, even for BMW engineers.

How Fast Is the BMW X5 M?

Punch the accelerator at highway speeds, and the X5 M will slingshot effortlessly well into the triple digits. Once you’re there, the optional Active Cruise Control can be used up to 130 mph. If those delusions of grandeur aren’t enough, the M Driver’s Package permits a top speed of 177 mph. You also get a voucher for a day at the M Driving School near the BMW factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina. (Honestly, for a nearly three-ton SUV that can speed you into felony territory in the time it took you to read the previous sentence, that single day should be extended to several, and attendance should be mandatory.)

Back in the real world, the X5 M reveals the unavoidable compromises of making a heavyweight dance. Significant tire noise punctuates an otherwise hushed cabin. A staggered setup of 295/35R21s up front and absolutely massive 315/30R21s in back (optional rear 315/30R22s some standard on Competition models) offer little cushion in the way of sidewall thickness. Every road imperfection shoots directly through the rubber and straight up into the chassis, where the stiffly sprung suspension passes it along unfiltered into the cabin.

It’s the suspension tuning that provides the biggest conundrum of the X5 M experience. Even the Comfort mode setting delivers a harsh ride on all but the smoothest surfaces, and Sport and Sport Plus both conspire to offer the kidney detox of a lifetime.

But it’s a sports car, right? Chuck the X5 M into a bend, and the most unnatural sensation occurs: All of that high-centered mass is held at bay by the active suspension’s electric servos, heroically keeping body roll to a minimum. There is the distinct feeling of two opposing forces duking it out for lateral supremacy, like a giant attempting to right a leaning skyscraper.

And with steering that offers little in the way of reliable, tactile feedback, the overall effect is an illusion of performance rather than a direct connection to the real thing. Make no mistake: The X5 M is supremely capable, with extraordinary high limits. But there’s not as much fun in approaching them.

Can the BMW X5 M Go Off-Road?

On the flip side of things, the X5 M offers 8.3 inches of ground clearance, so technically it’s capable of going off-road. But do you really want to with such skinny ribbons on the wheels? Perplexingly, the X5 M test drive featured no track driving but required the crossing of three vigorous creeks with rocky floors—not the most confidence-inspiring endeavor when shod with low-profile summer tires.

It might not be a sports car in the traditional sense, but the new X5 M demonstrates just how far BMW engineers have been able to transform this brute into a wickedly quick and capable machine. If they could incorporate some natural reflexes into the driving experience, that would be an accomplishment as worthy as breaking the 600-hp ceiling.

2020 BMW X5 M/X5 M Competition Specifications
PRICE $106,095-$115,095
LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 4.4L/600-617-hp/553-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto
CURB WEIGHT 5,450 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 117.0 in
L x W x H 195.0 x 79.3 x 68.9 in
0-60 MPH 3.7-3.8 sec (mfr est)
EPA FUEL ECON 13/18/15 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 259/187 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.31 lb/mile
ON SALE Spring 2020

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