BMW's X5 gets the M treatment; all 575PS worth of it. Jonathan Crouch takes an early look.
Ten Second Review
BMW wheels out its biggest gun in the shape of the 575PS X5 M, a super SUV that features a quite brilliant eight-speed automatic transmission, is packed with kit and which will scuttle to 62mph in just 4.2 seconds. You'll need £90k for the privilege, but even this doesn't seem an outrageous ask given the amount of car you get.
We all have guilty pleasures, whether it be that song on your iPod you know you shouldn't like but do, the food or drink you treat yourself to just once in a while or the car that you know you shouldn't really indulge in. Monster power SUVs aren't for everyone, but they make up such a tiny slice of the nation's vehicles that getting hot under the collar about them is a bit self-defeating. That's why we don't really have too much of an issue with the latest BMW X5 M. When the X5 was first launched, the most powerful version you could buy was powered by a 286PS 4.4-litre V8. Now you can buy an X5 with more than twice that power and which, incidentally, gets better fuel economy to boot. That's a clear demonstration that BMW takes its environmental responsibilities seriously, while still delivering for the keen driver.
The BMW X5 M has more power than a Porsche 911 Turbo or a Ferrari 458 and is only a few ponies shy of genuine supercar royalty like the McLaren F1. Make no mistake, this one's got some serious artillery under the bonnet. In a neat bit of lineage, That 575PS power output comes courtesy of a 4.4-litre V8, this time boosted by two twinscroll turbos, which include cross-bank exhaust manifolds, direct fuel injection working at a pressure of up to 200 bar and VALVETRONIC variable valve control. It's deployed via an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission with Drivelogic to all four wheels and will propel over two tonnes of vehicle to 62mph in just 4.2 seconds. A lot of overtime budget has been spent on suspension tuning, the X5 M riding 10mm lower than other X5 models. There's Dynamic Drive active roll stabilisation and self-levelling air suspension at the rear. Dynamic Performance Control with COMFORT, SPORT and SPORT+ modes allows the driver to personalise the suspension settings at the touch of a button. Big 20-inch alloys are fitted as standard with 21-inch rims on the options list. Both wheel sizes run 325-width Pirelli P Zero rear rubber. The DSC stability control system includes the additional safety functions Brake Standby, Brake Drying, Fading Compensation and Start-Off Assistant (a launch mode). DSC now allows three driving modes - 'DSC on', in which case the electronic systems provide maximum help to maintain stability; 'M Dynamic Mode' (MDM), which allows some mild drifting before the electronics come to the driver's assistance; and 'DSC off', which could prove expensive.
Design and Build
The M treatment to the X5's exterior is purposeful but functional. The four large air intakes and flaps at the front and the diffuser at the rear perform essential cooling and aerodynamic functions, for example, and the same is true of the M-specific Air Breathers behind the front wheels, which reduce turbulence in the front wheel arches. The headlights with integrated washer system are borrowed from the BMW X6, while flics on the outer front air intakes reduce lift. There are the trademark M twin-stalk exterior door mirrors with integral indicators as well as body-coloured M aprons and a distinctive four-tailpipe exhaust. The interior also looks a good distance removed from a garden-variety X5. There's an M leather steering wheel with gearshift paddles, an M gearshift lever, an M Drive menu in the information display and M Drive buttons on the steering wheel. The M front sports seats, like the rest of the upholstery, are trimmed in Merino leather with contrast stitching, and there are embossed M logos. Door sill strips with model lettering, aluminium interior trim strips and an anthracite-coloured roof liner from BMW Individual complete the effect. Practicality hasn't been forgotten, with 40/20/40 split fold rear seats and a minimum of 650-litres of luggage space and fully 1,870-litres in two-seat mode.
Market and Model
The market for super-premium SUVs has changed a lot in recent years. Spool back a decade and if you were seriously cashed-up, you could spend £900,000 on a Bugatti Veyron sports car or £350,000 on a Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine, but if you wanted a status symbol super-SUV, the market ran out of steam at around £68,000 for a Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Nowadays things are a bit different and the BMW X5 M doesn't look disproportionately priced at just over £90,000. You certainly get a lot more power and gear these days. Standard features include adaptive dynamic suspension, hill descent control, front and rear park distance control and a rain sensor with automatic headlight control. There's also electric driver's seat adjustment with memory, heated front seats, downlights in the exterior door handles, High-gloss Shadowline exterior trim including the roof rails, metallic paint, a split tailgate with a powered upper section, two-zone automatic air conditioning, a leather-trimmed instrument panel, aluminium interior trim with pearl grey chrome finishers and a DAB radio with a single CD player. There is also a 20GB hard disc drive and a socket for connecting auxiliary devices. Then there's Bluetooth featuring voice control, BMW ConnectedDrive services (Apps interface, emergency call, online services, TeleServices, Information Plus, real time traffic information and remote services), an M-specific head-up display, BMW Professional Multimedia Navigation and trip computer. That enough for you?
Cost of Ownership
Perhaps the most remarkable comparison point between this X5 M and the Mk1 X5 4.4-litre V8 flagship model is not that the M is over twice as powerful; it's that despite being more than twice as powerful, it's more economical - and not just by a small margin. Where the old car managed 20.3mpg on the combined cycle, this X5 M will get 25.4mpg which equates to CO2 emissions of 258g/km. That's a 25 per cent improvement in economy for a 101 per cent increase in power. Right there you begin to appreciate the genius of BMW's engineers. The eight-speed M Steptronic transmission with Drivelogic delivers many of the advantages in terms of responsiveness of the M Double Clutch gearbox, with the smoothness of a torque converter automatic. It also allows for a wider spread of gear ratios to foster greater fuel efficiency and, for the first time in a torque converter automatic, it permits 'creep on demand' through the Low Speed Assistant system. The Drivelogic function allows the driver to prioritise fuel economy, comfort or sports performance, while gear changing can be fully automatic or driver-controlled via paddles on the steering wheel.
Nobody needs a steroidal SUV like the BMW X5 M, but plenty of people want them. The £90k asking price is going to sift quite a few out, but those that can stump up the requisite readies will be treated to one of the most astonishing road cars available at any price. Packing 575PS from a twin-turbocharged V8, the X5 M is of course brutally quick - 750Nm of torque sees to that - but what's perhaps even more amazing is that it returns better fuel economy figures than some rather boring saloon cars. The eight-speed automatic transmission is a brilliant piece of technology and the X5 M is packed with a stack of other clever tech that will keep you enthralled. It's not an easy car to love but it's difficult not to admire the thing. BMW has just reasserted the X5's authority in this sector. It'll be interesting to see the responses from the rivals.