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BMW X5 M (2017) review

CAR logo CAR 11/01/2017 CARMagazine
BMW X5 M (2017) review © Bauer Media 2017 BMW X5 M (2017) review

► Physics-defying performance SUV

► 2350kg and 0-62mph in 4.2sec

► A lot of car for a lot of money: £90k+


Lambast the concept all you want, but nothing – time, space, dawdling traffic, big families with even bigger piles of stuff – is immune to the crushing abilities of BMW’s £90k oxymoron, even cynicism.

Much as you might want to hate it, five minutes behind the wheel are about all it takes to prompt a spectacular about-turn, persuaded by the X5 M’s slick, seethingly powerful twin-turbo V8 and a package that’s at once compellingly sensible and disarmingly nonsensical.

The third-generation (F15) X5 went on sale in 2013, with the M derivative announced in late 2014. So while the current-shape X5 feels familiar there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet – a new X3, the X2 and an X7 are all due into the replacement station before the next X5. And talented though the big diesel X5s are, if you’re in no mood for compromise this is the one you want. There are few more hedonistic sub-£100k options than a turbocharged V8 SUV weighing 2350kg and capable of 0-62mph in 4.2sec.

Tell me about that engine

Ah yes, I see you’ve a keen sense of priority. Ultimately this is what you’re paying your entry fee for. (A not inconsiderable £90,170 before options incidentally – the humpbacked X6 M starts at £93,070). You’d imagine BMW’s test-drive-to-purchase conversion rate must be pretty high – say 99.8% – thanks largely to the V8’s charm.

Set the engine to full snooze – Efficient – and leave the eight-speed twin-clutch ’box in its laziest shift pattern (of three; love that gearbox and engine aggression are individually configurable and not one in the same thing) and the engine’s all whisper-quiet, silky inoffensiveness, albeit with a decent swell of off-cam, wrong-gear drive should you lean a little on the accelerator

Get busier with the throttle (and light a fire under its response by prodding the engine map through to Sport), push the gorgeous little snug-in-your-palm shifter from auto into paddle-management and everything changes. Poke it hard and the V8 bites back with 567bhp and a colossal 553lb ft of torque. The acceleration, almost regardless of gear and revs, is instant and awesome, hurling the BMW up to speed with laugh-out-loud alacrity.

Actually go to the effort of being in the right gear, with 4000rm dialled up on the tacho – peak power arrives at 6000rpm but the torque swell mushrooms to that fulsome 553lb ft at just 2200rpm – and the X5’s overtaking prowess is little short of miraculous, the behemoth ghosting past slower traffic so effectively no one really seems to mind. You’ll never be late again: choose X5 M; choose punctuality.

Throttle response is particularly pleasing, the engine unleashing its serious physics without pause or hesitation, and lag all but absent thanks to some pretty compelling engineering under the hood. Twin-scroll turbos, variable valve control and cross-bank exhaust manifolds (each turbo is plumbed into both banks of the V8 for a more consistent stream of exhaust gasses and improved response) all do their bit for ever-present performance. The eight-speed auto transmission is equally adept, shifting seamlessly, rapidly and with a nicely judged parp at each full-throttle upshift.

The on-demand creep takes a little getting used to but works well, your brain quickly adapting to the need to tap the throttle just lightly to prompt the car to start rolling, in traffic or when parking for example.

But is it an M car? Really?

It’s stretching the badge, granted, and this thing has nothing in common with a delicate, always-gently-drifting E30 M3, but the X5 does corners. The brakes can feel hard-worked at times – the set-up is suitably serous, with lightweight six-piston calipers, and fade isn’t the issue, just the mildly trifling sense that they’re working their socks off – but once you’re into a corner the BMW maintains a faintly ludicrous turn of speed while feeling all but uncrashable.

Roll is ably resisted by good old-fashioned fat anti-roll bars, the steering direct and fast (if almost entirely devoid of feel and unnecessarily heavy/sticky) and the grip and traction conjured by the car’s vast Michelin footprint and the xDrive all-wheel drive is phenomenal, even on wet winter roads. Choose the midway MDM stability control setting and the thing will even safely let the rear swing a little wide of the front, the monster’s attitude linked directly to hands and right foot. Sounds ridiculous but it’s a fabulous sensation, not least because it’s so brilliantly incongruous.

And on the inside?

Lovely. The optional Mugello Red Merino leather (£3675) in our test car will be a bit much for most tastes, and BMW’s mood lighting is still a little strip club, but neither can spoil what is a spectacularly refined, comfortable and well-appointed cockpit. There is, as Kevin McLoud might say, a spectacular sense of space and light (thanks to those huge side windows) and the fundamentals of the driving position are perfect: great visibility, great lateral support from the spectacular M-specific seats and nice details like BMW’s awesomely crisp and clear full M function head-up display and the tactile shift paddles.

iDrive is as beautifully resolved and as intuitive as ever. You wouldn’t dream of trying to tweak, say, your bass level or interior lighting colour on the fly with most touchscreen interfaces for fear of prompting a pile-up, but with iDrive you just get stuck in, so accurate are its inputs and clear its menus. And those all-important M function buttons make light work of the car’s endless drive options.

So it’s perfect?

Of course not, though it can feel pretty damn close when you effortlessly smash out a journey that normally takes an hour and a half in about 50 minutes, your passengers happy as pigs in poo with their internet and peerless seats.

While the adaptive dampers offer three settings they’re too similar, with anything beyond Comfort too unyielding for UK roads. A greater spread between the settings would be nice, with a real pliancy for Comfort even if that meant giving up some of that vice-like body control.

And while the adaptive headlights work brilliantly BMW’s rain-sensing wipers remain prone to bouts of unprovoked hyperactivity, the fuel consumption is predictably savage and the engine, while undoubtedly a marvel, could sound a little more special: there’s a little too much of the M3/M4’s soulless blare here.

Most annoyingly though, the steering is nothing more than a tool for dictating your direction of travel rather than gaining information, and ramping up to Sport or Sport Plus just exacerbates the already unpleasant treacly weight for additional delicacy or chatter. Perhaps that’s asking too much of an SUV.

Verdict

Commodious, comfortable, searingly quick and much, much more engaging to drive than it has any right to be, the X5 M is the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. No one needs one, but if you decide that you simply must have one then we quite understand. To sample its particularly sweet take on having your pie and eating it is to be smitten. 

Specs

Price: £90,170

Engine: 4395cc 32v twin-turbocharged V8, 567bhp @ 6000rpm, 553lb ft @ 2200-5000rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive

Performance: 4.2sec 0-62mph, 155mph (173mph optional), 25.4mpg, 258g/km CO2

Weight: 2350kg/steel

Dimensions: 4880/1985/1754

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